E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released over thirty years ago; it’s an enduring story about a lonely boy who makes close friends with an abandoned alien called “E.T.” The film’s concept was based on an imaginary companion that a then-teenage Steven Spielberg conceived of after his parents divorced. Spielberg once described this imaginary alien as “a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn’t feel I had anymore.” Years later, he sought to make a movie based on this concept.

Enter ten-year-old Henry Thomas who had just had his film debut playing the role of Harry in the 1981 Sissy Spacek film entitled Raggedy Man. Now as an adult, Thomas recalls the day this way: “I read a scene from some early version of the script, and then I was asked to do an improvisation. I think the gist of the improv was, ‘You found someone, and they’re going to take them away from you, and it’s your friend, and you really don’t want your friend to go away.’ So I started crying, and really going for it I guess.”

Thomas managed to hit it out of the ballpark, making everyone around, including Spielberg cry. “Okay kid, you got the job!” you can hear the famed director say. There lies the power of improvisation! It’s been reported that Thomas tapped into the memory of when his dog died for inspiration in the audition.

Continuing on with the movie shoot, spontaneity was so important to Spielberg that he didn’t storyboard most of the film, and he shot the movie in chronological order to give the child actors as real of an emotional experience as possible; he also tried to hide the puppeteers controlling the beloved character of E.T. to make the kids’ relationship with the alien seem as authentic as possible.

It all certainly seemed to pay off. The film is currently classified as number 50 on the highest-grossing films list; but when the list is adjusted for inflation, E.T. jumps to number six placing just after The Sound of Music.

Can you watch this clip without shedding a tear?

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