It doesn’t have to be easy being a child actor and starting off with an epic bombshell: ‘ET the Alien’ marked the start of two kids whose careers couldn’t have been more uneven: Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas. We all know the problems that the first one had with the use of substances that accompanied a successful career, but, although many of you will know it, it is worth taking a look at what, in parallel, happened to him. And is that, what happened to Henry Thomas?
At home, phone
Henry Jackson Thomas Jr was born on September 9, 1971 (I’ll spare you the math: he’s just turned fifty) the son of a stay-at-home mom and a hydraulic machinist. He grew up on the outskirts of San Antonio (Texas) and it was there that he watched PBS, the American public channel, changed his life at the age of eight and decided what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: it was a special about being actor. Two years later, at an open casting call at a San Antonio hotel, he landed his first role in a movie alongside Sissy Spacek.
‘The beggar’ was a tremendous failure, but it did not prevent the following year from meeting in a casting a director who had just chained success after success: ‘Jaws’, ‘Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Encounters in the Third World’ phase’… And now, this director asked her to show sadness to get the leading role in his new movie. Thomas thought about the death of his dog and even Steven Spielberg himself ended up crying that day. It was the beginning of ‘ET the extraterrestrial’.
Thomas had a hard time looking the doll in the eye because they were so far apart and he had to repeat the kiss scene four times because he got nervous having to do it with someone two years older than him, but none of this stopped him from becoming the doll. Hollywood toy of the moment: ‘ET’ grossed almost 80 times what it cost and everyone wanted to work with the new child actor. But we all know that Hollywood toys inevitably end up breaking.
Ever since ‘ET’, Thomas had a problem choosing his roles. ‘Misunderstood’ (which in the Spanish picaresque became ‘Elliot’, despite the fact that no character was called that!) was a flop, and that was the tone in the 80s: ‘Frog Dreaming’, ‘Valmont’ , ‘Fire in the sky’. Nothing could come back at the box office. Little by little, the adorable Elliot faded into the collective memory, but the actor was so sure of what he was doing that he didn’t hesitate to drop out of college after only one year.
The philosophy and history career did not fulfill him as much as acting full time, so he decided to dedicate all his effort to what made him happy. And the results were… well, mixed. He was lucky that films like ‘Fever’ were shown at the Cannes festival and he was even nominated for the Golden Globes for the series ‘Indictment: the McMartin trial’ in 1996, but the tonic was chaining failures because of films like ‘All the pretty horses’ or ‘Niagara, Niagara’, in which he also put the soundtrack.
And it is that Henry Thomas did not put all the eggs in the same basket. He also composes music and, in fact, in ‘Honey Baby’, by Mika Kaurismaki (Aki’s older brother) he was able to collaborate on the soundtrack composing with Nikki Sudden, who sadly passed away shortly after, without giving them time to compose an album. Kaurismaki is very important in his life: he was the one who introduced him to Marie Zielcke, his partner at the time (a real German star) and became the godfather of his daughter Hazel. He got divorced in 2007, by the way, but don’t worry about him: he’s already married to another girl named Annalee, with whom he has two more children.
Scare or death
Henry Thomas’ working life never made it to series B: his appearances in movies, even if they were unsuccessful, were constant, and he even rubbed shoulders with directors like Martin Scorsese, who signed him for a supporting role in ‘Gangs of New York’, or Lasse Hallstrom, with whom he shared ‘Dear John’. And suddenly terror came.
There is nothing special about the way Henry Thomas met the person who was going to change his working life: he and Mike Flanagan greeted each other at a meeting preparing the ‘Ouija’ prequel, which ended up being a box office hit. Since then, Flanagan has counted on his in all of his projects in stellar supporting roles that have brought him back to life and removed the label of “the kid from ET”. ‘Doctor Sleep’, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, ‘Midnight Mass’… The wheel has turned again for Thomas.
It’s not that he’s denying the role that made him famous, far from it: in 2019, the actor had an emotional reunion with ET in an ad for Xfinity. Since then he has moved to Wilsonville, a small town in Oregon with about 25,000 inhabitants, and his phone has not stopped ringing: he will star in his own horror movie soon, ‘Crawlspace’, and will appear, of course, in ‘The Fall of the House Usher’. Not all fail-and-comeback stories are great epics with big scandals to tell. To the quiet No hurries. He will be there… Always.