Any filmmaker will tell you that every film they make is a personal story.
Steven Spielberg is not a filmmaker. Director of Jaw, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s list, Save Private Ryan And Western stories is in a class all its own when it comes to the profound, pop culture-changing impact his films have made over the decades. But even the 75-year-old prophet admits that each work is an intimate experience for him.
“There is nothing more personal than committing to direct something,” Spielberg told us ahead of the release of his latest, The Fabelmans.
But it’s indisputable that the filmmaker’s 35th feature is his the most Personal work to date. The more-than-half-dead autobiography follows a young Spielberg — er, Sammy Fabelman (played as a teenager by Gabriel LaBelle) — as he falls in love with making movies as a kid, beginning to direct a surprisingly well-designed house. The film in the pre-teen and finally, through his camera, discovers that there is something complicated between his mother (Michelle Williams) and the best friend (Seth Rogen) of his father (Paul Dano).
“I’ve never been myself, for a long period of time, in a real story,” Spielberg told us. “And that in itself is Kafkaesque. … I’ve never gotten used to it. It’s not comfortable for me. But when [the actors’] The mojos are on point where the actors are working so well together, I want to get lost in their performances.
“But I always knew that it was about my sisters, and my mother and my father who are not here, and myself. And so there was never a moment when I didn’t know that this was an opportunity that I took that I’m so grateful for at my age that I finally got the patience, or the courage, to decide to tell this story now. I wouldn’t have had the distance or perspective if I had decided to tell this story 30 years ago. It won’t be the same movie.”
LaBelle, a 19-year-old Vancouver resident, grew up with Spielberg DVDs and Jurassic Park And Indiana Jones Lego sets in his house. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s incredibly exciting,” said the young actor about the chance to play the legendary director’s iconic role. “And it’s a huge privilege, honestly. It’s an honor.”
Spending two months with the filmmaker as he delved into his past gave the entire cast a chance to learn about Spielberg in a more intimate way than previous ensembles.
“I think I was surprised to find what an open ship he was willing to be with us and our crew and everyone in this movie,” Dano said. “I think that’s what really led the way. If Steven can be the type to be vulnerable and exposed and naked, so can we. So being with those who are artists who create culture to be intimate Friends with him, it’s very good.”
“That’s who it really is,” added Williams. “He comes in open and direct and looks for people who can. He gives that generously, so it immediately disarms you. And you know he’s looking like we all are.”
“I was seriously surprised that he felt like he had to make such a leap to do something that was so outwardly personal,” Rogen said. “And it’s a beautiful thing that he’s willing to do that because it seems like he’s taking a real personal risk in some way, which is something you’re him, you don’t have to do. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema to never do something like this that makes him feel so clearly that he’s putting himself out there in a way that he’s never been before. And it’s really inspiring to see people like him step into that and decide to move in a new direction even though they’ve already done a lot.”
And then there’s what Spielberg learned about himself through that journey of self-reflection.
“I think, more than anything else, the fact that I have a very complicated family. And I have a very unique family,” said the director, who credits long-time co-writer Tony Kushner with encouraging him to finally tell his own story. Our departure at the end of the week. I am the videographer of my family, even as children 12-, 13-, 14 -, 15 years. But the unique thing about this story is that I found something that made me look at my mother, not my father. Mother is just a person.
“And it shouldn’t happen when you’re 16. It should be much later, when you have children of your own. Suddenly you realize that your parents are your friends, not your parents anymore. But very quickly I discovered that my mother was human, and could not hide behind being the primary caregiver. And that changed the way I thought about every choice I made after that.”
The Fabelmans It opens in theaters on Friday before opening nationwide on November 23.
Watch the trailer: