Crawlspace, a Paramount Home Entertainment release now available from Redbox to rent or buy On Demand, puts its star, Henry Thomas, through hell. This is not new territory for the former child star. In recent years, he has thrilled audiences in the miniseries, The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass (coming soon: The Fall of the House of Usher).
But Crawlspace really puts Thomas’ character through some changes. Thomas stars as Robert, a financially-strapped plumber and new father, who, in classic Die Hard tradition, finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. While working in the crawlspace beneath a remote cabin in the Oregon woods, he witnesses a brutal murder. Now, Robert will give “handyman” a whole new meaning as he eludes some really bad guys looking for a cache of money.
Thomas is best known as Elliot in Steven Spielberg’s classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which marks its 40th anniversary this year. It remains among the top 100 biggest box office hits of all time. It was Thomas’ second film, and it rocketed him, at the age of 10, to stardom. Unlike many child stars, he avoided the pitfalls of phenomenal early success to become one of Hollywood’s most enduring character actors, steadily appearing in a variety of films and television miniseries.
Thomas spoke with Redbox about the fun of channeling his inner John McClain, the joys (and rigors) of independent filmmaking, and what Thomas’ own children thought of E.T.
Redbox: Crawlspace is a lot of fun, but they should have called it “The Plumber.” This could be a franchise!
Henry Thomas: Yeah, it’s a fun romp. I really hope that audiences will enjoy the Home Alone and Die Hard aspects.
RB: Is there any way you are like your character Robert?
HT: Only in the sense of my sticktoitiveness. I don’t give up easily. But other than that, don’t ask me to fix your plumbing; you’ll have more problems.
RB: In this film, you get to channel your inner John McClain, you get to dispatch the bad guys in cool violent ways like Kevin McAllister in Home Alone, as you said, and you get to say awesome catchphrases, like, “I’m a plumber, I’m used to dealing with pieces of shit.” Which of these was the most fun for you?
HT: All the things that you mentioned. Those were appealing. It was fun for me to play a blue-collar, working-class action hero. When I read the script, I thought this could be a very fun movie if the bad guys are good (meaning “really bad”), the hero is compelling and the audience is behind the guy. Give him a wife and a new baby and then just throw him in the basement.
RB: I imagine the budget for one lunch on the E.T. set would have paid for 20 Crawlspaces. You’ve done a lot of independent films over the years. What do you like about the experience?
HT: The sense of community. It’s where all the hope resides in this industry. We can work with young filmmakers who are very good and ambitious and have a vision. In a lot of ways, you become a collaborative member in the process. You help guide these people and more often than not, they bring you along to the next job that they get. It’s really fun doing a film like this; you’re all working together and paying homage to movies you can’t afford to replicate. It’s an enjoyable process, but you get beaten up in the process, let me tell you.
RB: You’ve had a more than 40-year career, which not a lot of former child stars can say. Do you think living outside of Hollywood (currently in Oregon) has helped you to stay grounded?
HT: I grew up in Texas, and I never moved to Hollywood. That kept me out of it as a kid. In my late 20s, I ended up living in L.A. for a number of years. I don’t think it’s where I live so much as where I reside here [points to his head]. I’ve never really been accused of being a local, even in the place where I’m from. I’ve always kind of lived apart. I like that. I think it gives me a good perspective as an actor.
RB: I’ve probably watched your E.T. audition tape more than you. It’s so emotional and uplifting. Do you ever reflect how those six words—“Ok kid, you got the job”—changed your life?
HT: Oh yeah. I keep waiting for that to happen in the next audition. [laughs]
RB: How old were your children when you watched E.T., and what was their reaction?
HT: My youngest was five, my oldest was 10. And it was lackluster.
HT: I thought it would be a big surprise for them, but they had seen the preview for the film on one of their DVDs ahead of time. It went over like a wet sandwich. My son was scared of the creature, and my daughter kept saying, “Why are you hanging out with that alien?”
RB: What advice would you give to parents of aspiring actors seeking advice about how to handle child stardom?
HT: You have to approach acting as a job. It’s always about the work. If you approach it that way, then the other stuff can fall into place. As long as stardom is not the priority, I think you’re good.
RB: Thank you for talking to me. I look forward to “The Plumber: Part Two.”
HT: [Laughs] If enough people press play, we’ll do it.