LOS ANGELES — Thirty years ago, Henry Thomas was a quirky little loner with a bug-eyed alien for a best friend in Steven Spielberg’s timeless blockbuster “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” Today, Thomas is a 40-year-old actor who has since worked with actors the likes of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Anthony Hopkins and directors such as Martin Scorsese and Lasse Hallstrom.
This week, the San Antonio native adds another legendary name in entertainment to his growing roster: He plays country music star Hank Williams in “The Last Ride.”
The low-budget drama directed by Harry Thomason, the force behind TV’s “Designing Women,” revolves around the last few days of Williams’ troubled life as he is driven by a young man to New Year’s shows in West Virginia and Ohio. Williams, whose life had become dominated by alcohol and drugs, never made it to those gigs, dying at 29 on New Year’s Day in 1953 of heart failure in the back of his powder blue Cadillac.
Thomas recently discussed his career since helping his pal phone home so many years ago.
Q: How has acting changed for you over the last three decades?
A: I think 30 years ago when I got the part in “E.T.,” it was still kind of a whirlwind adventure for me. I had gone out for three auditions and I had gotten all three of them. I was fascinated with film sets, how everything was done and breakaway glass and special effects. I never thought about it as work until I was an adult.
Q: Do you think it is because you had a relatively normal life in Texas that you weathered a lot of the trials and tribulations of most child stars?
A: I think so. I was still living in my parents’ place until I was in my mid-20s, so I didn’t spend my roaring 20s out in Hollywood gallivanting around. Also, I know a lot of people in the industry, and I do have a few friends that work in the film industry who are actors or crew people, but socially I have never been drawn to that. As an actor, one of the things that gives you inspiration is to talk to a lot of different people from different walks of life. When you stop doing that and you inundate yourself with that kind of insular social agenda, that to me is when it kind of goes south.
Q: Were you nervous playing someone so iconic as Williams?
A: I was really intimidated by the role. I started obsessing about trying to look like him … and all of the things that go through your mind when you start focusing on playing a person who’s that iconic. You don’t want to drop the ball.
© 2012 Los Angeles Times
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