E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of the most successful and beloved films of all time, telling the story of a lonely boy and his bond with a lost alien. But behind-the-scenes, there was an equally heartwarming bond forming between director Steven Spielberg and child actress Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore, who was just 7 while filming the 1982 classic, came from a difficult home life. As a descendent of the well-regarded Barrymore acting family, she was Hollywood royalty, but her own father John Drew Barrymore was an abusive alcoholic.
“My mom chose a wild card for my dad. He was a mad poet hedonist man child! But I understood that as a kid,” Barrymore would later write.
Barrymore never had a real relationship with her dad, who abandoned her mother Ildiko Jaid Barrymore when she was a child, but she does have memories of his erratic behavior, coming home whenever he needed money.
“Talk about someone who was not a careerist,” Barrymore told Vulture recently. “He was like, ‘I will burn this f***ing dynasty to the ground,’” she said of her father who was the son of acclaimed stage and film actor John Barrymore.
Barrymore herself later struggled with her own problems with drug and alcohol abuse as she grew up in the Hollywood spotlight. But during her time making E.T., she found a father figure in Steven Spielberg.
Speaking to Vulture, Barrymore had high praise for the acclaimed director, calling Spielberg “the only person in my life to this day that ever was a parental figure.”
Spielberg recalled keeping the iconic film’s set kid-friendly, trying to keep the magic alive by telling Barrymore that E.T.’s puppeteers were the alien’s “assistants.” He also shot the film in continuity order to make things easier for the kids.
Barrymore and Spielberg formed a bond: according to Vulture, she stayed with Spielberg during the weekends, he gifted her a pet cat and took her to trips to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. When she showed up to set wearing red lipstick, he told her to wipe it off.
Spielberg recalled that Barrymore asked him to be her “dad,” and the director had to say no, though he agreed to be her godfather. The director recalls feeling “helpless” that he could only do so much to help her during this difficult time.
“She was staying up way past her bedtime, going to places she should have only been hearing about, and living a life at a very tender age that I think robbed her of her childhood,” Spielberg said. “Yet I felt very helpless because I wasn’t her dad. I could only kind of be a consigliere to her.”
Perhaps he related to the young actress. Like Barrymore, Spielberg also came from a broken home: his parents’ divorce had a huge impact on his life, providing a major theme of his films from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Fabelmans.
Barrymore isn’t the only former child star who looked up to Spielberg. Ke Huy Quan, who worked with the Spielberg on The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, said the director still sends him Christmas gifts every year and kept in touch with him while his career was struggling.
“He gave me my first job and, so many years later, he has not forgotten me,” Quan told The Guardian. “Every time I needed help, he’s always there.”
E.T. launched Barrymore’s acting career at a young age, and despite her troubled youth she went on to be a very successful actress, appearing in dozens of hit films. She now hosts her own daytime talk show.
Over the years, she has remained close with Steven Spielberg, who is still her godfather.
In 2020, Barrymore opened up about her real father in a Father’s Day Instagram post. She expressed some regret that she didn’t have a stable father in her life, but also said she has “zero baggage or dad issues.”
“I think I would have liked to have a dad who didn’t look so out there. Or who stayed. Or was capable of anything really. But his wildness runs through me. His gifts are here. His demons to overcome are mine to break!”
E.T. is one of the greatest movies of all time, and it’s heartwarming to hear that young Drew Barrymore had a great parental figure on set in Steven Spielberg.
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