Just when R2D2 had seemingly iced the 1977 award for “Best Actor with No Intelligible Dialogue in a Science Fiction Epic,” up pops Cary Guffey. Cary, 5, plays the wide-eyed little boy swept away by an alien spaceship into a “close encounter of the third kind.” Though some movie critics may not have blessed Close Encounters with quite the out-of-this-world exaltation of Star Wars, they were awed by Guffey’s portrayal. His casting, certainly, was a close encounter of the Hollywood kind.
On the recommendation of Cary’s kindergarten teacher at the First Baptist Church of Douglasville, Ga., Sue Guffey took her son to Atlanta’s Civic Center where hundreds of boys were elbowing and emoting for the part. “I thought it was for a local play or something,” recalls Sue, when Cary was asked to laugh, feign sleep and wake up. Finally the competition was cut to Guffey and a kid from Dallas. Director Steven (Jaws) Spielberg made his choice on the first day of shooting: his instant rapport with little Cary was the clincher. Screen-wise Cary now jokes, “I heard the other boy bit the director on the nose.”
As soon as the kid took over on the Close Encounters set in Mobile, Ala., he proved an instant pro in spite of never having seen a big-screen movie (or, for that matter, a UFO) before. The crew dubbed him “One-Take Cary” because he got everything right the first time. (The boy memorized the Pledge of Allegiance when he was only 2.) Spielberg presented his young find with a homemade Oscar inscribed “Cary Guffey, Best Actor, 1976.”
Since shooting, Cary has seen Star Wars twice but exudes appropriate studio loyalty when he says of Close Encounters, “It was more exciting, gooder, better. It was the best movie I ever saw.” Similarly, he stuck with Spielberg’s almost paranoid secrecy about the film however pumped by schoolmates. “Steven told me it was a secret,” he explains with childlike logic, “so I told them it was a secret.”
Guffey’s hush money is all stashed away in a trust fund that will cover his college education. And though Spielberg has contemplated Cary for a part in his next picture, the boy’s dad, Larry, a Goodyear warehouse foreman, is ambivalent. “We want to maintain our family life and not let everything center around Cary,” seconds Mom.
If he does return to the screen, there’s one trick Guffey won’t have to learn. When asked how he liked acting, the 5-year-old vet replied, “I love it but Steve cut some of my best scenes.”