IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dee Wallace Talks 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial' Anniversary Edition Blu-ray and DVD

Monday, 08 October 2012 16:40 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dee Wallace Talks 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial' Anniversary Edition Blu-ray and DVD

Last year, I had the rare chance to spend my birthday on the phone talking with legendary actor Ron Perlman (Hellboy). It almost seems like that is one birthday memory that would be impossible to top. However, I may have succeeded this year as I spent the evening of my birthday talking with iconic actress Dee Wallace, or better known as E.T.’s mom!

Available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning October 9th is the 30th Anniversary Edition of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which features a fully restored version of the 1982 classic and several new bonus features. As if you didn’t already know, the movie tells the story of a meek and alienated little boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) who finds a stranded extraterrestrial. He then has to find the courage to defy the authorities and help the alien return to its home planet. 

When the Steven Spielberg directed movie was first released in 1982, it went on to initially gross over $600 million worldwide and create a genuine cultural phenomenon. In addition to Thomas, the movie’s success also made a household name out of Drew Barrymore, who played his mischievous sister Gertie. Actor Peter Coyote (Erin Brockovich) and actress Dee Wallace (The Howling) rounded out the cast as a government agent, and Elliot and Gertie’s mom, respectively. 

As I mentioned, I recently had a chance to speak with actress Dee Wallace about her iconic role as Mary in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The actress candidly discussed making the film, the family like atmosphere on set, Barrymore and Thomas’ adult careers, her first reactions to the script, Spielberg’s passion for the project, why Mary was really just one of the kids, seeing E.T. come alive on set, John William’s score, the cultural event the movie created, and how many times since the film’s release has somebody said to her, “E.T. Phone home.”

Here is what she had to say:

IAR: I watched E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial again last night and I probably haven’t seen it since I was six years old. I think people often take for granted what a classic it is and I forgot just what a timeless story it has.

Dee Wallace: You forgot the magic didn’t you baby?

I did, but I remembered it when I watched it last night. I also had a chance to watch some of the extras on the Blu-ray and there were some recent interviews with you, Steven Spielberg and the kids where you all talk about how you were like a real family when you were shooting on set. Can you talk about creating that family-like atmosphere and working with Steven and the kids on set?

Wallace: Well it’s true. It was very much a family atmosphere. We all hung out together and played together on set. The minute the kids and I got together it just was like maybe in another life we were a real family. I don’t know, but it was magic.

Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas have both grown up to be extremely impressive filmmakers and performers in their own right. Since you became so much like a family on set, have you watched their careers with a sort of motherly pride as they’ve grown up over the years?

Wallace: Well I don’t think it’s motherly pride, but I think I have great appreciation for what Drew had to go through growing up in front of the entire world and how what a great, majestic woman she’s turned out to be and talented. Henry is a beautiful, beautiful actor, still very quiet and personal and to himself. They really are very much what they were back then. 

They both gave such astonishing performances as really young children; do you remember being impressed by them even back then? 

Wallace: Oh yeah! I remember trying to just keep up with them and be as honest as they were. I think Henry had done one little film and that’s all he’d done and Drew hasn’t done anything I don’t think. Yet they were brilliant actors because they were able to stay in the truthfulness of the moment.

Mr. Spielberg says on the Blu-ray’s extras that to this day E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is still the best screenplay he’s ever read. Did you have that same impression when you read the script?

Wallace: The minute I read it I knew it was beyond special. (Screenwriter) Melissa (Mathison) just created this beautiful and amazing script. We all knew that we were working with something really special here. Of course you never know how far it’s going to go or how big it’s going to be, that’s up to the public. 

Can you talk about Mr. Spielberg’s passion for this project and the childlike enthusiasm he was rumored to have had on set?

Wallace: Yeah he was pretty childlike and I think any creative person has that attribute where they have to delve into their naiveté and their imagination and that’s very childlike. Steven just seems to be able to multitask all kinds of childlike creativity and it’s at the same time in the same brain. It’s quite amazing to watch. But on the footage of the behind-the-scenes shooting, if you watch Steven watching the kids doing the scene he’s just sitting there like a big kid watching it himself and loving it. 

On the Blu-ray's extras, both you and Steven describe Mary as one of the “big kids,” and just a kid herself. What did you mean by that and how do you feel her role is similar to the kids in the film?

Wallace: Well that’s why Steven cast me in the part because my essence was young and childlike and to this day I still think you can say the same thing. But Mary was just along for the ride. She was trying to hold her head up above water taking care of everybody. The most adult moment that Mary has in the film is at the dinner table when all that stuff about Mexico comes out and she has that reaction. Then you see the adult trying to cope by being a child. But if you look at the Halloween scene she’s very much a child with the costume and that yell she lets out when she sees who she thinks is Gertie. It was a mixture of an adult trying to be a child so that they can be an adult.

Did the kids ad-lib a lot on set or did they stick pretty close to the script?

Wallace: Well we were given freedom to bring in our ideas, throw in some ad-libs and make it real. Steven encouraged us to do that. We worked around the script so it was the best of both worlds. 

When you first saw the E.T. on set, did he come alive instantly or did that “magic” have to be created by the actors around him?   

Wallace: Oh no, absolutely just the suit sitting there was magical in itself. There was vulnerability in the way it was constructed in the eyes and everything. There was a vulnerability and availability that just endeared you to it. 

There was another important element that helped make E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial such a special film, and that was composer John Williams’ score. What did you think when you first saw the film with the completed score? 

Wallace: I felt expanded, I felt emotional, and I felt like that score completed everything that the film was about. 

When E.T. was first released, with the possible exception of Star Wars, there had really never been a cultural experience in America like that previously. Can you talk about the mania that followed the films release?

Wallace: I think it was an idea whose time had come and a truthfulness that every single person in the world wanted to believe in. That when you’re good, you keep your heart light on and you really believe, anything can happen.    

Are you surprised by the legacy that the film has created and the fact that it’s endured and really expanded over so may generations?

Wallace: Not at all, I’m sure fifty years from now we’ll all be hanging out on Mars going what do you want to watch tonight? You want to watch E.T.?

Of all the movies and television projects that you’ve been a part of in your career, is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the movie that you are most proud of?

Wallace: I’d have to say most of my big films I’m really proud of. I’m incredibly proud of my performance in Cujo. But I can absolutely say that of all the films I’ve done I’m proudest of what this film has done for the world and for the expansion of love in the world, which I think is the most important thing in the world. 

Finally, how many times in the years since the film’s release has somebody come up to you and said, “E.T. phone home?”

Wallace: Oh please! If I only had a dollar for every time, I’d be a wealthy woman!

Does it ever get old? 

Wallace: No, it doesn’t because I can see the joy of E.T. behind it. 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Anniversary Edition will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning October 9th.

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