He was the adorable little boy who protected the lovable alien in Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but at 34, actor Henry Thomas has a child of his own with his German actor-wife, Marie Zielcke.
His more recent projects have included Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, Billy Bob Thornton's All the Pretty Horses, and TV's Nightmares & Dreamscapes from the stories of Stephen King.
Q. Why do you think you are so good at playing outsiders?
A. Because no one talked to me at school. (Laughing) I'm totally kidding. They are a lot of fun to play, probably because everybody's known people like that. It's fun to play quirky characters.
Q. You're a good-looking guy, which makes you even more eerie in those roles.
A. Thanks. Yeah, I also think it's good not to be stereotyped too much. I've met some really interesting people who, just by looking at them, I wouldn't have thought so. Actually, I thought just the opposite (laughing). I think it's good playing a character like that because the audience can identify with you on a really accessible level.
Q. That's sort of your trademark.
A. I am a bit of ... well, I'm close enough to the Everyman that I can slide over or under the wire, whichever way you look at it.
Q. Do people recognize you, or can you pretty much run around like the rest of us?
A. I do run around like the rest of us, but people do recognize me quite often. You know, it depends. I don't have the kind of fame that makes it awkward for me to go places. People do recognize me, but they're just not excited by recognizing me (laughing). They say, "Wait! This is bothering me, You are the guy from E.T., right?" and I say, "Yeah." Then it's over.
Q. Was being so identified with E.T. a blessing or a curse for your career?
A. Well, I think it's more of a blessing than a curse because I am easily identifiable with that role, and people generally have good memories of that film. So that's a good thing when people remember you for something they liked. Any way you look at it, being involved with a successful film is a good thing for an actor.
Q. Did being a famous child actor cause any strain with family and friends growing up?
A. Well, sure, of course it did. You know it literally changed my life. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and came from a relatively poor background. We didn't have a lot of money. We didn't have a lot of, you know, upward mobility in the family. I don't know what I would have done, but it wouldn't have been in the entertainment industry. So I'll tell you that much. I would have held down a regular job.
Q. Were your parents surprised by the sudden success?
A. Yeah, they were surprised. We were all kind of out of our element. In my early teenage years, I kind of stopped acting. I did a couple of projects when I was in high school and decided that I wanted to become an actor. So I moved out to New York and then L.A. and pursued it full time.
Q. Would you allow your children to pursue an acting career before they were 18?
A. I'm sure I would allow them to if they really wanted to, but I would advise them against it. Just because I think it's more important to kind of be your own person when you're a kid. You should learn the ins and outs of the world before you start working. It's my experience, and I don't look back on it and regret it; it affected me the way it affected me. But it didn't ruin me or anything (laughing). So I could guard my kids against a few pitfalls if they decided that's what they wanted to do.
Q. Is there a casting prejudice against former child actors?
A. I don't know. I mean casting is a very bizarre process to begin with. I'm sure that's happened. I think that I've proven through my work, and in castings for things, that I can play a variety of roles. Every time you get a job you kind of have to re-prove yourself, but that's what this is.
Q. Do you have a preference when it comes to directing styles?
A. As an actor, what you appreciate in a director is one who respects your work. You want to feel that they are genuinely interested in and understand how you go about doing what you do.
There are a lot of directors who direct actors kind of like set pieces. It's not conducive to getting the best work out of an actor. It's like someone saying, "I want you to do that again, but more." OK, I'll turn my dial up to 9.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sheridan is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.
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