Saturday, 25 July 2015

Robert MacNaughton points the finger

5 Elliots, 2 Gerties, a Mary and about 12 E.T.'s... But was I ever going to get a Michael???

I ripped open another pack of stickers, maybe this time? It was all I needed to complete the whole set, but I just wasn't lucky enough I guess... I'd tried swapsies, I tried offering cash... I'd even tried bribery.. But no 3 in the set... The picture of Michael on his own eluded me... Was I ever going to finish and complete my set???

Hold on? It was only 6... That late night comic book store was open for ages yet and they sold E.T. stickers. It wasn't far, I could walk it.

I grabbed my coat and scarf and made my way out into the cold evening, this quest of mine may have seemed ridiculous to some, but to me it was my mission... and like Elliot getting E.T. home, so I needed to finish my sticker album!

The store was just a couple of blocks down from my place, it was a cool hangout, they had everything, comics, - obviously - figurines, pencil toppers, posters, Pez and, of course, Panini stickers.

The bell tinkled as I walked in, the place always had an air of cool about it, I could stay for hours, just perusing the merchandise, flicking through the comics, or dreaming of the day I would have enough cash to buy that life-size E.T. figure... Now that would look good in my room!

I rushed to the desk and grabbed 5 packs of stickers, flinging them on the desk and handing the guy a handful of crumpled notes and ignoring my change I feverishly ripped open the paper wrapping and eagerly flicked through the cards... Nothing... I opened the next... again nothing... and another.. and another... There was only one left now, I held it nervously, as if it were a chocolate bar that may contain a golden ticket and tentatively tore the little packet open... E.T. with Gertie... Keys and Elliot... E.T.s finger... but then... oh but then... my hands started to shake and my brow beaded with sweat... Oh my god... Oh my lord... Oh my... Oh my... Here it was... No.3 Michael!... After months of searching, my collection was complete!

I held it aloft in disbelief and started to laugh to myself... I thought nothing could beat this moment, but I was wrong... As I slowly lowered the sticker I noticed something... Or someone behind it... There standing in front of me, waiting to get to the desk was Michael... I mean Robert MacNaughon... I was dumb struck...

Robert MacNaughton (born in New York City December 19, 1966) is an American actor, best known for his role as Elliott's brother Michael in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, for which he won a 1982 Young Artist Award as Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Robert also played the lead role of Adam Farmer in the 1983 film I Am the Cheese, based on the young adult novel by Robert Cormier.

This was my chance, would I dare to ask him a few questions? You bet I would!!

So, I've got to talk about ET... I just have to! How did you get the part? "I was doing an off-Broadway play, The Diviners, at Circle Repertory Company and a casting director 
Barbara Claman saw it and wanted to cast me in a role in "The Entity" with Barbara Hershey. I wasn't old enough for the part so when that fell through she said I hear there's something going on over there with Spielberg you might be right for so she made a few phone calls and got me in late in the audition process." Did you go to drama clubs as a small child? "No. I started going to acting classes at South Coast Repertory when I was 11 and started working professionally when I was 12." Now, you were only 12 when you got your first role, how did it feel to go for auditions at such a young age? "I was eager to audition because it was a chance to act. The only auditions I didn't like doing were for commercials."

And so when did you get your first agent? "When I was 13 in New York City. Nancy Carson at the Carson/Adler Agency who was great." What did your friends think about your acting? "Friends?"

I'm guessing that was a joke...
Now my parents wanted me to be a doctor, or a vet and were never really encouraging of my sticker collections, or my film memorabelia... But i'd show them, all this rubbish would be worth something one day... So I wondered if his parents encouraged him... Or was it his idea to become an actor? "I was the one who dragged them into it."

But did you want to be anything else?
"I started out wanting to be a writer." Back to E.T....

At 14 you got the part in ET. Do you remember the audition?
"The first interview with Spielberg was very memorable. It was the day President Reagan was shot and it was a very informal meeting with my biggest hero ("CE3K" was my all time favorite film). He asked what my interests were and I said I played Dungeons & Dragons and he laughed and said "That's actually in the movie." I said I also liked to ride bikes and he said "That's in the movie too" so it went well."

I interupted him... Asking hopefully... Do you still play?
"No, I haven't played D&D in years.
The next audition they had me improvise the scene where I first see E.T. with several of the potential Elliots. My favorite audition was actually at Harrison Ford's house with the other guys that played our friends in the movie and Harrison Ford's kids playing
Dungeons & Dragons with Steven, Kathleen Kennedy (the producer), & Melissa Mathison (screenwriter) watching us. The reason we were at Harrison Ford's house was because he and the screenwriter of E.T.,
Melissa, were a couple. It was cool because we played D&D at a table Harrison had made because he has also been a carpenter which impressed me, not to mention he was Han Solo and Indiana Jones! And this was when the first "Raiders" had just come out."

Harison Ford... Cool

What was it like to act with ET? "It was just like working with another actor because it could do just about everything you could see on the screen. And Steven read E.T.'s lines during filming. When I see the movie, and I know it's the same for Henry and Drew, we sometimes hear Steven's voice in our heads when E.T. is talking." I heard horrible rumours that Drew Barrymore was drinking alcohol during filming... "Absolutely not true. That's ludicrous. There were child welfare workers on the set at all times along with Kathleen, Melissa, etc. I was with her constantly and she was like a daughter to Steven. There is no way that would have gone unnoticed or been allowed."

What was she like?
"She was adorable. She's exactly like you see in the movie times ten. Every day one of us was her pretend boyfriend. One day it would be me or C. Thomas Howell, or Henry. She rode on my shoulders everywhere. I was her primary means of transportation on the set. She had a very active imagination. She would tell us she had a punk band, the "Purple People Eaters" and that she was the drummer. But that might have been the alcohol talking--just kidding. Of course I'm forever indebted to Drew because she set me up on a blind date with my beautiful wife, Bianca."

There was a lot of talk surrounding ET and Michael Jackson... Do you know anything about this? Did you ever meet him? "I never met him. He contributed a song to the E.T. storybook album and Steven was so grateful that he gave him one of the life sized E.T.s that was used in the movie. I heard Michael kept it in his home right next to the front door at the Neverland Ranch opposite a life sized Mickey Mouse."
What was Michaels surname? Do you know? There were none in the script. 
"We didn't have one. When the movie was coming out a publicity guy at Universal added the name Taylor in a press kit. I think because he thought it would be cute for Elliot's initials to be E. T. In the script it was Gertie, Michael, Elliot, Mary, and Peter Coyote's character was called "Keys.""

What was Spielberg like to work for/with? "He was enthusiastic and fun, like a teenager himself. Sometimes he would give directions I didn't understand because he's seen so many movies and he thinks everybody's seen them. One example is the scene where I'm getting ready to steal the van and I'm wearing the hazmat suit. Steven told me to pull my hood off just like Richard Basehart did in some 1950s film I'd never heard of. I wanted to say to him "Steven, I'm only 14.""

What was Dee Wallace like as a mum? "She was also a lot of fun. Dee is great. She's gregarious and lovely and a damn fine actress. Her performance in E.T. is so underrated. She was very protective of Henry and Drew especially. When E.T. died she was very comforting because Drew believed it was real." Was it true that you all found it hard to look ET in the eye as they were too far apart? "No."

Note to self... Stop listening to rumours!

But I do know both Corey Feldman and Harrison Ford were due a part in the film, but their scenes were cut, do you think the film dynamics would have changed with them in it?
"Corey might have tried out for it, but he was not in the movie orcut out. He wasn't even an extra. Harrison, on the other hand, was in the movie and cut out. He played the school principal, Principal Harold Solo, and had a very funny scene with Henry. Ithink Steven felt it interrupted the flow of the movie right after E.T. and Elliot get drunk. Or maybe the fact that it was Harrison distracted from the plot. The whole cast was relatively unknown which was good. You can see that scene on YouTube."

Now there was something that I had always held out hope for... But, I wondered, did Robert ever think there might be an ET 2?  "It was never a real possibility." Ah.. Shame...

What did it feel like to be catapulted to fame with the release of the film? "Awesome and bizarre. I went back to high school after the movie came out and all the sudden I was invited to all the football parties with the popular kids and I was being offered roles instead of having to audition for them."

And, I apart from me, I asked, do you still get recognised much?
"Yes. More so in the UK for some reason."

Now, the first half of the film was filmed from kid height, how did this seem on set? "We never took notice of the angle of the cameras. It made no difference to our performance."

And with so many kids on set, you must have some great stories...
"I usually hung out with Henry and Matt Demerrit, who did the stunts for E.T. and we used to get into some trouble playing around the lot. Just being rambunctious kids. One day we pretended Drew was invisible the whole day which drove her crazy. And we had school on the set with the 3 kids from Poltergeist. Dominique Dunne and I hit it off. Dominique was my same age, Oliver Robins was Henry's age, and Heather O'Rourke was Drew's age too (both 6). I was stunned when Dominique was murdered right after Poltergeist came out. I was really impressed by her poise and dedication to her craft. And of course I was deeply saddened when Heather died so tragically at such a young age. Drew had tried out for her role in Poltergeist and that's how she got the role in E. T. Her and Drew were complete opposites. Drew had to be the center of attention and Heather was this beautiful, quiet, calm child."
Any romances? "Not that I knew of although I had a major crush on Drew's Mom and I know some of the other guys who played my friends had crushes on Dee."

Did you hang out off set?
"I hung out with Henry all the time. We would play D&D when were on location in the Redwoods in the motel, and Steven dropped by to join in one time but his character got killed by a giant snail which made me nervous because I was the dungeon master."

And what was it like to meet the Princess of Wales?
"It was an enormous thrill to be invited to the Royal Premiere with the Prince and Princess of Wales and to be able to attend with my grandmother who was born in Reading. I was so nervous that I attempted to shave the night of the premiere for the first time and nicked my face. When I was in the ceremonial greeting line, Steven told me to stand up straight and Henry to take his hands out of his pockets. Then he said to me, "Just watch Harrison, he's done this a lot before." When I shook Princess Diana's hand I can't remember ever having seen anyone so beautiful up close before.
Toward the end of the screening, we were tapped on the shoulder and told that Charles and Diana wanted to meet us in private. She left before the credits rolled to fix her makeup because she'd been crying and Charles told me he had laughed so much he cried. I found him to be very amiable and not stuffy, as I had expected. He did all the talking. That was a very special moment I'll never forget.

I was still 14 when I met her, 10 days shy of my 15th birthday.

NO! Sorry got that wrong!!! I was 15 when I met her, 10 days shy of my 16 th birthday

Quite a guy's sweet 16 bday to meet Princess Di, huh?"

Better than mine, my mom, dad and nanna, in the livingroom with a small glass of sherry and a Bert and Ernie cake...

"Well for what I did on my actual 16th bday, only 10 days later when I was back in California, I have no idea. Can't remember for the life of me. I'm sure it wasn't much!"

Now, I remeber the first time I saw the film... I had dogged my parents to take me... Eventually, after clearing out the basement and doing all my summer homework early, my mom had taken me... It was as good as I had imagined and blew my tiny mind! But how did Robert feel?
"I saw it without music initially and I was amazed at how skillful Steven's direction was. And then absolutely floored when I saw the version with music." And how do you feel about the films phenomenal success? "Incredibly lucky to have been a part of something that means so much to so many people."

I clocked the life-sized E.T. and wondered if he had kept any memorabilia? 
Yes we do have some of the old memorabilia. When I met my wife I only had the Michael interactive action figure and my dog had chewed the nose and hands up, but she started buying anything she could find that had me on it like the lunchbox that comes with a thermos. We have the E.T. bedding, which looks nothing like me, a dish set, a coloring book. She's found some items I've never seen before. But we really don't have that much compared to the E.T. fans that send pictures of their incredible collections. I'm just happy to have the set of action figures of everyone: Drew, Henry, Dee, Peter, and myself. And how could I forget! E.T. of course.

Now, apart from E.T. he'd done so much more... I had to ask...

You've also acted with the fabulous Bob Newhart, can you tell me something about that? "He's an amazing pro who effortlessly makes comedy appear so simple when it's the hardest thing to do. The show I was on, we barely rehearsed and then suddenly we were in front of a live audience." And lately you've been in some less lighthearted films, what do you prefer? "I prefer stage, which is how I started and what I've mostly done throughout my career."

Robert politely checked his watch, he was patient and kind enough to talk to me... But I couldn't keep him here forever, I must let him get off... And I said I'd only be away for 15minutes... My wife was going to kill me... She indulged my passion for retro movies and memorabilia and I know she would forgive me once I explained, but I had promised to pick up Chinese food on the way home... So maybe just one last question,

So, Robert, what do you think the family and ET would be up to today - you know, if they were real! - I'm a fan, but I'm not crazy... 
"I always thought Elliot's character would go on to work with Keys in some way. There's a funny sequel trailer on YouTube called E. T. X which shows a picture of me now and says Michael's been abducted. It's pretty funny.

Perfect I thought and exited Coopers Retro Comicbooks with a story to tell, some questions answered, a memory that would stay with me forever and ofcourse my completed sticker album....  

This was too exciting... I had to tell someone... Yes, this was my moment to phone home....

For more information on Robert Visit IMDB, Wikipedia or just Google him!

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