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Star of 'The Fabelmans' watched Steven Spielberg's early home movies to prepare for pseudo-biopic

While not a straight-up biography, the film draws heavily from Spielberg's upbringing in Arizona.

By Josh Weiss
The Fabelmans (2022)

How do you prepare to play a young Steven Spielberg? You go back to the start and watch his old home movies, of course!

Upon landing the coveted role of burgeoning filmmaker Sammy Fabelman in The Fabelmans (a pseudo-biopic heavily inspired by Spielberg's formative years in Arizona), Gabriel LaBelle gained exclusive access to the amateur 8mm features produced by the legendary director when he was just a kid with an insatiable hunger for moving pictures. Funnily enough, those very home movies were eventually restored and transferred onto tape in the early 1980s by a pair of future Hollywood giants: J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves.

In particular, LaBelle watched the World War II-inspired Escape To Nowhere and its accompanying behind-the-scenes footage, given that Fabelmans recreates the making of the project onscreen. "It was a cool way to see how Steven walked and moved back then," the actor said during an interview with Empire for the magazine's final issue of 2022 (now on sale).

RELATED: 'The Fabelmans': Steven Spielberg celebrates family, Judaism & cinema (duh!) in semi-autobiographical film

That process of delving into the Spielbergian psyche continued well into production. "I had him!" LaBelle exclaimed. "I could talk to him. I could look at a scene and ask him, 'How much of this really happened? What did you think? What did you feel? How would you compose yourself?' And sometimes, he would tell me, and sometimes, he'd just let me figure it out on my own."

The Fabelmans (2022)

A coming-of-age odyssey punctuated by divorce, anti-Semitism, and naysayers, The Fabelmans is part autobiography and part fairy tale. It's a love letter to cinema and following your dreams in the face of insurmountable odds. Stories, especially ones projected onto the silver screen in a darkened theater, bring us together more than anything else. "The movie is honoring Steven's parents and his family," LaBelle concluded. "And it's honoring his whole passion for the craft."

Michelle Williams (artistic mother, Mitzi), Paul Dano (successful and scientific father, Burt), Seth Rogen (Burt's best friend, Bennie, and an honorary uncle to the Fabelman kids), Judd Hirsch (Mitzi's uncle, Boris), Jeannie Berlin (Sammy’s paternal grandmother, Hadassah Fabelman), Julia Butters (Sammy’s sister, Reggie), Robin Bartlett (Sammy’s maternal grandmother, Tina Schildkraut), and Keeley Karsten (Sammy’s sister, Natalie) round out the cast.

Written by Spielberg and his regular script collaborator Tony Kushner (Munich, Lincoln, West Side Story), The Fabelmans arrives in select theaters Friday, Nov. 11 from Universal Pictures before a wide release on Thanksgiving. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September to critical acclaim and currently holds a near-perfect score of 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Spielberg and Kushner produced the film alongside Kristie Macosko Krieger (West Side Story). Carla Raij (Maestro) and Josh McLaglen (Free Guy) are executive producers.

Looking to brush up on classic Spielberg? E.T. and Jurassic Park are now streaming on Peacock.