On June 11, 1982, the world was introduced to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
Director Steven Spielberg’s story of a young boy’s unique bond with an alien from another world captured the hearts of millions and rocketed the film into the record books, where it had the distinction of being the highest-grossing film of all time for 10 years.
Today, Universal celebrates the 30th anniversary of “E.T.” with the film’s first release on high-definition Blu-ray. The disc features the fully restored 1982 theatrical version of the film and a variety of extras, including making-of documentaries, cast interviews, deleted scenes and more.
Fresh off appearances in “The Stepford Wives,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Howling,” 33-year-old actress Dee Wallace landed the role of a lifetime in “E.T.,” in which she played the recently single mother of three children (played by Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton and Henry Thomas) desperately trying to hide their new alien friend.
I recently caught up with Wallace, now 63, to reflect on the beloved sci-fi classic, talk about her famous movie children and confront my childhood fear of menacing scientists.
David Onda: How did you come to be cast in “E.T.”?
Dee Wallace: I auditioned for Steven [Spielberg] for a film called “Used Cars.” And I didn’t get it because he saved me for “E.T.,” because he loved my child-like quality. [laughs]
Onda: At the time “E.T.” came out, it was pretty rare for movies to have single mother characters.
Wallace: Yes. I believe I was actually the first single mother in a major film. I had so many people come up to me over the years saying, “You know, you kind of saved me when I was younger, because my family was a single [parent] household and I felt like an outcast. I felt like I wasn’t normal. And this film enabled me to take some kind of pride in my family and know I was OK.”
Onda: What was Steven like as a younger man?
Wallace: You know, I think he was just a younger genius than he is now. For example, on the Blu-ray, there’s an amazing feature where a lot of the making-of footage [shows] Steven directing us, and the kids doing different scenes, and interviews with us from the set. So, it’s amazing to me that he did that 30 years ago. People just weren’t doing that 30 years ago. Now he’s older and he’s coming up with even more innovative, genius things, but I think we all know from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to – what I lovingly call “the truck movie,” I can never remember the name of it – he always had it.
[Editor’s note: The “truck movie” is Spielberg’s first full-length film, the 1971 thriller “Duel.”]
Onda: What I love about this Blu-ray is that it’s the original theatrical version of “E.T.” from 1982, which features the incredible animatronic E.T., rather than the computer-generated enhancements added in later editions.
Wallace: Oh, yes. I love that too. And somebody asked me, “What do you think about ‘E.T.’ being remade with computers?” And I said, “I don’t think it would have the same soul at all.”
Onda: It’s amazing how many people it took to bring the E.T. character to life.
Wallace: Yes. There were many, many, many people that kept E.T. alive and that was really, really important for the kids. Especially for Drew [Barrymore]. The people on the hydraulics would actually keep him alive when he was over standing in a corner, because Drew would go over and talk to him all the time. It helped all of us. It helped all of the actors, including me, because you really felt like you were working with another actor.
Onda: Did you ever imagine Drew would become such a big star?
Wallace: Yes. Yes, I did. She was very precocious, very sure of herself and knew absolutely what she was doing.
Onda: If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, you forget just how good she was at such a young age.
Wallace: You had two young actors who weren’t actors at all. Both she and Henry [Thomas] – it was the first thing that they had done, I believe. They were just real, and they were in the moment, and it’s the magic of a really great director that he can take a child and really mold them into what he wants them to do without them knowing it.
Onda: If you were watching this movie with an audience, what are some of the little things you love about the movie that you’d point out to them.
Wallace: One of the things that’s most interesting is the scene in the kitchen – where E.T.’s walking behind me – there’s a little boy with no legs, and they put him [in the costume] upside down and he’s literally walking on his hands. That’s how they got the great walk.
Onda: The scene in which the scientists invade the home to study E.T. when he becomes sick terrified me as a child.
Wallace: Well, you’re just wussy.
Onda: That’s very possible.
Wallace: I think a lot of kids get scared by “E.T.” Sometimes when I do the science-fiction conventions, I’ll have a 35-year-old guy with tatts and piercings all over, and he comes up and says, “You know, it scared me so much I still can’t watch it.” I’m going, “Dude, you watch Rob Zombie, but you can’t watch ‘E.T.’?” [laughs] I just had a kid – oh, she must have been 2 or 3 – at a speaking engagement that I just did, and she pointed her finger at me and went, “Mama, E.T.!” I think there’s a whole new generation of kids out there that are gonna get the magic of this film, so that they can pass it down when they’re 20 or 30.
Onda: It’s fitting that the 30th anniversary of this film coincides with the 100th anniversary of Universal, because the studio really took a chance on “E.T.” when no other studio would.
Wallace: I think it speaks a lot to Universal, and I’ve been in a lot of projects that Universal has taken chances with. The other people that took a big chance was Reese’s Pieces. I said, “The guy at M&Ms was fired the day after the movie came out.” [laughs]
Onda: Were you sick of Reese’s Pieces by the time you finished shooting?
Wallace: No, they were props, so you couldn’t eat them, darling.
Onda: That must have been torture for the kids.
Wallace: I’m sure whatever the kids wanted, they got.
Onda: Do you own any dogs?
Wallace: Yes, I have a beautiful White Shepherd. Why do you ask?
Onda: Just curious.
Wallace: Are you referring to “Cujo,” by any chance?
Onda: A little bit.
Wallace: I love dogs, and let me tell you – the five dogs in “Cujo” were trained within an inch of their lives. They were beautiful babies that went after toys all the time.
Onda: No one wants to hear that.
Wallace: Well, they were taken better care of than I was, dude. I can tell you that.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.