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SYFY WIRE E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Why Steven Spielberg "Felt Very Helpless" While Directing Young Drew Barrymore On E.T.

"I felt very helpless because I wasn’t her dad."

By Josh Weiss
Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore on the set of E.T. (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of the greatest coming-of-age films ever made, but if you ask its director, one cast member in particular may have come of age a little too quickly.

Speaking to Vulture for an in-depth profile on the life and career of Drew Barrymore, Steven Spielberg explained how he attempted to be the father figure the actress never had (her own dad, actor John Drew Barrymore, was an abusive alcoholic).

He agreed to serve as Drew's godfather and and went to great lengths to preserve the illusion that the titular visitor from beyond the stars was 100 percent real. It's actually one of the main reasons why he famously decided to shoot the seminal sci-fi project in chronological order.

RELATED: Steven Spielberg admits editing the guns out of ‘E.T.’ in later cut ‘was a mistake’

During an interview with SYFY WIRE last year, Dee Wallace (who played mother to Barrymore's wide-eyed Gertie) recalled how it was a common sight on-set to see Drew in the corner, talking to the lifelike animatronic designed by Carlo Rambaldi. "I really, really loved him in such a profound way," Barrymore said during an E.T. cast reunion on her talk show last year. "I would go and take lunch to him."

When the girl once saw a large team of operators fiddling with the E.T. puppet early in the shooting schedule, Spielberg ordered them to leave. "I didn’t want to burst the bubble," the filmmaker admitted to Vulture. "So I simply said, ‘It’s okay, E.T. is so special E.T. has eight assistants. I am the director, I only have one."

Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore with E.T.

Other times — including an instance where Barrymore walked into his office wearing red lipstick and was immediately told to wipe it off — Spielberg found himself in disciplinary mode, though he never felt like it was his genuine place to tell the girl how to live her life.

"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,” the director continued. "Yet I felt very helpless because I wasn’t her dad. I could only kind of be a consigliere to her."

"[He was] the only person in my life to this day that ever was a parental figure," Barrymore said.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is available to purchase in a number of different incarnations from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Want more sci-fi offerings? Head over to Peacock for Terror of Mechagodzilla, Galaxy of Terror, Hulk, Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, Land of the Lost, The Invisible Man, M3GAN, and more!