E.T. Explains, He Was Inspired By The Divorce of Steven Spielberg’s Parents

At the TCM Classic Film Festival commemorating the 40th anniversary of his film “E.T.” director Steven Spielberg discussed how his own childhood divorce influenced the creation of the film.

According to Variety, the director revealed that the experience of making the film was the catalyst that caused him to suddenly change his mind about becoming a father and instead add that goal to his vision board.

Spielberg said on Ben Mankiewicz’s show, “What happened was, I had been working on an actual literal script about the separation and divorce of my parents.” This was in the late 1970s. While filming the climactic scene, I had a sudden realization: Wait a second.

Steven Spielberg Parents Divorce
Steven Spielberg Parents Divorce

Worse yet, what if the critter never made it back to the ship? But what if the creature was actually a participant in a cultural exchange program? What, [Richard] Dreyfuss leaves, and he doesn’t? To leave, or to stay?'”

When he thought about how his family drama could be transformed into “a story about children and a family trying to fill a great need and great responsibility,” the idea clicked. A divorce can bring on a lot of new responsibilities.

There is a sense of community among us siblings, and we all help each other out [after parental separation or divorce]. And what if Elliott—or the kid, whose name I hadn’t yet come up with—becomes responsible for a living being for the first time in his life to helping fill the void in his own heart?

The director shared his story of growing up as a child of divorce with the opening night audience at the TLC Chinese Theatre. When my parents, whom I trusted completely, told my sisters and me, “We are separating, and we are going to be living not just in two different houses but two different states,” I felt like the world had come to an end.

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The roof caves in on you. Anyone who has been a child of divorce or a divorcing party themselves “knows the responsibility of how you have to super take care of your kids,” he said. It’s like a stain that won’t go away no matter how many times you wash your clothes, and I can say that it has shown up in many of my films, albeit subtly and unintentionally.

To which he added, “And in the latest film that I’ve just made, it comes out very directly,” referring to the semi-autobiographical film he co-wrote with Tony Kushner, “The Fabelmans,” which will be released this coming November.

Steven Spielberg Parents Divorce
Steven Spielberg Parents Divorce

When Mankiewicz asked Spielberg if he had ever thought about becoming a father, Spielberg replied, “No. Due to my hectic schedule jumping from movie to movie and script to script, having children was never an option for me. Halfway through “E.T.,” it hit me: I was a parent in that movie.

When I first met Henry Thomas and Mike McNaughton and the rest of my cast, I felt a strong urge to protect them, especially Drew Barrymore, who is only six years old. And I began to wonder if this might not one day be my actual life.

It was the first time I seriously considered becoming a parent. And perhaps a director is like a parent.” Director Steven Spielberg responded to Mankiewicz‘s tongue-in-cheek question, “Did you have children, Steven?,” by saying, “I have seven kids and six grandchildren.” So, yes, I enjoyed “E.T.”