'E.T.'s' Henry Thomas: Flying Bicycle Scene 'Was Nowhere Near as Exciting to Film as it Was to Watch
It’s been 30 years since Henry Thomas, 41, appeared alongside one of the most famous alien’s in movie history: E.T.
Thomas, who played E.T.’s friend and emotional companion, Elliott, talked to PARADE about the lasting impact of the 1982 film, shooting that famous flying bicycle scene, and more.
On the lasting impact of E.T.
"It’s great to be a part of something that's managed to stick around for 30 years. I certainly didn't expect that when we were making it. It gives you the warm, fuzzy feeling inside that at least some of your work has been appreciated. When I look back on it now, I just remember the camaraderie. I remember the feeling of excitement that we were doing something special.”
On working with director Steven Spielberg.
“It’s an experience that is part of my childhood, so I remember it well. It was exciting. I was 10-years-old, and it was the second film that I had ever worked on. I was really, really excited to get the part and be working with Steven Spielberg, who was a hero of mine because of Raiders of the Lost Ark and his affiliation with George Lucas and Star Wars. Even as a kid, I knew enough to know that working with Steven was kind of like winning the lottery.”
On costar Drew Barrymore.
“We see each other every once in a while just through E.T.-related things. I'm the worst pen pal in the world, and I'm terrible at staying in touch with people, but Drew is very successful and she has a busy life, and whenever we see each other, it's always nice.”
On his early reaction to E.T., the alien.
“I had seen pictures and drawings of him when it was being developed. Steven [Spielberg] would take us kids to all the different departments on the lot, and he took us to the special effects lab and the art department so we could see how it all came together. He really had a hands-on approach to every aspect of the film. I think if he could've done it all himself, and not involved anyone else, then he probably would have. When I first saw E.T., I remember thinking I’d never seen anything like it before. It's not what I expected an alien to look like, which I think was the point. It was also a little bit reminiscent of some of the creatures from Close Encounters, so it was familiar and accessible. This was the first film ever that I remember as a kid where the alien was actually a good guy. I think that's part of the reason why the film was so successful. People weren't expecting that.”
On the famous flying bicycle scene.
“It was nowhere near as exciting to film as it was to watch! We were on the cutting edge of technology in 1982, but that basically consisted of me on a bike that was bolted onto the end of a camera crane and being lifted and dipped in front of a blue screen in a studio. But it was exciting to see, and of course, that's the thing that nine times out of ten, even today, people will still ask me, ‘How did they do that? How did they get the bike to fly?’”
On not falling into the typical trapping of childhood stardom.
“I was raised pretty responsibly. I never really felt famous or had a sense of entitlement. I was just never really interested in robbing liquor stores or becoming a junkie. I think child stars are always stereotyped as being one thing or another because when you're a kid and you're working in an adult world, sometimes you're expected to act like an adult and behave like an adult, and I think a lot of kids just grow up too fast in that regard. For me, I was never really inundated in the industry in my personal life. I come from a pretty humble background. My parents were just working class people and that wasn't my world. My world wasn't Hollywood and it never has been. I never really thought of myself as a child star when I was a kid. I just kind of viewed it almost as a lucky break and treated it almost like what I imagined a summer camp to be like. It was sort of like a working vacation.”