When your career starts with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, you end up chasing ghosts. That’s where a ten-year-old Henry Thomas started. In the 39 years after E.T., it’s a height he has not been able to reach again. That’s not saying Thomas hasn’t had a successful career to this point, he has. It’s just tough for an actor when E.T. is the table-setter.
HENRY THOMAS WASN’T READY FOR FAME
Henry Thomas was ill-prepared for the level of fame he would get as a ten-year-old. Not that it was his fault, he was still a child. But the actor didn’t feel his mother did him any favors as he was dealing with his new-found fame. Thomas was one of the actors on the documentary Showbiz Kids that featured interviews from actors discussing being famous child actors.
“[E.T.] was kind of a sensation [in the theaters] for a few months,” Thomas said in the film via the San Antonio Current. “That seemed like forever as a kid. I was in San Antonio, Texas, and people were like, ‘Oh, my God! It’s the kid from E.T.!’ I wasn’t set up for that at 10 or 11.” In what would come as a shock to Thomas, some kids are simply cruel. “[Kids] called me Hollywood or E.T.,” he said. “I had been designated as being that guy. I was always gonna be that guy. I just [wanted to] have friends and go to school and do normal things.”
Most of Thomas’ issues early on stemmed from how he felt his mother “resented him” as she was the parent who had to take him to auditions until he was 17. It also didn’t help that his mother always thought people were trying to take advantage of them as a family. “That was her attitude,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it necessarily did me a lot of favors career-wise because I think she was labeled as difficult to work with. Consequently, I was labeled as difficult to work with.”
Thomas was able to share a light-hearted moment when discussing the first time he met Drew Barrymore (Firestarter, The Wedding Singer) on the set of E.T. “The first thing Drew Barrymore ever says to me is, ‘How many movies have you been in?’” he said. “And I say, ‘Uh, just one.’ She goes, ‘Oh, you poor thing. I’ve been in four.’”
As for E.T. the movie, it was an immediate blockbuster, jumping past Star Wars as the high-grossing film of all time. It would hold that record for 11 years and is also considered one of the greatest films of all time. Top that, Henry Thomas.
ONLY ONE PLACE TO GO
When you start at the top of the mountain, it’s hard to go any higher. The success of E.T. afforded Henry Thomas some time before he was on to his next gig. Two years, in fact. But he was finally working again, this time on a film called Misunderstood with Gene Hackman. He followed that up with a fun film, Cloak & Dagger, playing Davey, an 11-year-old boy who lost his mother and has a father who is much too busy. Enter super-spy Jack Flack, Davey’s imaginary friend, who looks remarkably like his father. One day, Davey witnesses a murder but before the victim dies, he hands Davey a Cloak & Dagger game cartridge that has military secrets inside. Davey must now go on the run with Jack Flack.
Thomas followed this up with The Quest, again trying to play on his E.T. success by starring in another family-friendly film. While this and Cloak & Dagger were decent enough films, it’s difficult when the bar is set so high.
HENRY THOMAS GOES PSYCHO
When Henry Thomas turned 18-years old, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to leave E.T. in his rearview. First came the R-rated movie Murder One and then he flowed that up with another R-rated piece, Valmont. Then came a bit of controversy in the form of Psycho IV: The Beginning. This was the third sequel to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock slasher, Psycho. In it, Thomas played the young Norman Bates in flashback scenes. Anthony Perkins reprised his role as the dress-wearing, “Mother” speaking slasher.
While the movie wasn’t awful, it gained some notoriety in the scenes where Thomas was being seduced by his mother, played by Olivia Hussey (Romeo & Juliet, Black Christmas). The movie shows how Norman was punished by his mother for the erection he got while she was seducing him, then goes on to show how he eventually killed her, taking over her personality to suppress the guilt he felt for murdering her. This movie would mark the final appearance for Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates as well as his last movie before he passed away.
Henry Thomas truly has enjoyed a nice career. He has found roles in some big movies such as Legends of the Fall, Suicide Kings, All the Pretty Horses, Gangs of New York, and The Last Sin Eater. He has also found a director with whom he likes to work with. That would be Mike Flanagan and it seems Flanagan also appreciates Thomas’ talent because he keeps hiring him. Flanagan has brought Thomas in on Ouija: Origin of Evil as well as two Stephen King adaptations, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep.
TROUBLE CALLS FOR HENRY THOMAS
Henry Thomas’ career is not without some trouble. Granted, for the bulk of his career he has been in the news for the movies he makes, but last year Thomas was arrested in Oregon for driving under the influence of intoxicants. The intoxicant in question was marijuana. It appears Thomas was passed out in the driver’s seat when police pulled up to his car. When he finally woke, the police state his movements were “sloth-like”.
When Thomas finally got out of the car, he refused a field sobriety test, so he was arrested. The police tried to administer a breathalyzer, but Thomas continued to put his hand over his mouth. They then asked for a urine sample and when he came from the bathroom, he produced a container of clear liquid, leading the officer to conclude he filled it with toilet water. Thomas was released the next morning and initially pleaded not guilty to the charges. Later, though, he reached an agreement with prosecutors so he could avoid jail time.
E.T. CAME HOME
It had to happen. Maybe not how fans expected, but it just had to happen. E.T. and Elliott. The two were back together again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a movie, but an extended Xfinity commercial that saw E.T. return to Earth and spend time with Elliott.
“The audience is going to get everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original and the special place it has in people’s minds and hearts,” said Thomas, in a statement provided by Comcast via Variety. And they did. It was a wonderful holiday commercial that was produced last year and debuted during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you are up for some nostalgia, check it out above.
The Mike Flanagan-Henry Thomas connection continues on. On top of the Flanagan-Thomas movies, most recently the duo worked together on the Netflix horror series The Haunting of Hill House. They then followed that up with the new horror series, The Haunting of Bly Manor. Both series enjoy rave reviews. So, why not give it another go? The pair are teaming up next for the mini-series Midnight Mass.
Chances are Henry Thomas will never find the ultimate high of E.T. again, even though the Xfinity commercial did tug at the heartstrings. But Henry Thomas has enjoyed a good career. And as long as Mike Flanagan has a say, Henry Thomas will continue to get some work.