How a Dungeons & Dragons Game Helped Cast Elliott in 'E.T.'

Henry Thomas’ audition for E.T.: The Extra- Terrestrial is the stuff of legend: The nine-year-old’s tearful improvised screen test was so good that director Steven Spielberg hired him on the spot. But there’s more to the story of how Thomas became a bicycle-riding, alien-befriending boy named Elliott. In this new video above produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, casting director Marci Liroff reveals that Thomas wasn’t their first choice for the lead role in E.T. That honor belonged to another, unidentified ten-year-old boy — who was crossed off the list after a fateful game of Dungeons & Dragons.

“We found most of the kids we wanted to play his friends, and we’d kind of honed in on the kid we wanted to play Elliott,” Liroff recalls. “In this case, since they were all kids, we wanted to see how they would interact together by playing a game.” The child actors were invited to play Dungeons & Dragons at screenwriter Melissa Mathison’s house, where the production team quickly observed that their intended Elliott was not a team player. “In about three minutes it became very clear that nobody liked this little boy… He became very bossy,” says Liroff. “It just showed he was not our kid. So I had to start over.”

Fortunately, Spielberg’s friend Jack Fisk had a kid to recommend: Henry Thomas, who had just filmed a role in Fisk’s directorial debut Raggedy Man. Thomas was flown in from his small Texas home town to audition. “In about three seconds flat, he had us all crying behind the camera,” says Liroff. The rest is history — and lucky for movie fans, it was all captured on video, down to Spielberg saying, “Okay kid, you got the job.”