Steven Spielberg on How 'E.T.' Was Inspired by His Parents' Divorce: 'We All Take Care of Each Other'

Steven Spielberg says E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, was inspired in part by his parents' split

Steven Spielberg is recalling a time in his own life that inspired the story in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Speaking on Thursday at a special 40th anniversary celebration during the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival's opening night, the 75-year-old director touched on how his own parents' divorce made him think of the end scene from his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, "What if that little creature never went back to the ship?"

"What if the creature was part of a foreign-exchange program?" added Spielberg, of what would eventually become the general plotline of E.T. "What if I turn my story about divorce into a story about children, a family, trying to fill the great need and creating such responsibility?"

"A divorce creates great responsibility, especially if you have siblings; we all take care of each other," he continued. "What if Elliott, or the kid – I hadn't dreamed up his name yet – needed to, for the first time in his life, become responsible for a life form to fill the gap in his heart?"

"I had been working on an actual literal script about my parents' separation and divorce and I had been working on ideas about that and what it did to my sisters and myself," Spielberg added, of his time while filming Close Encounters.

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Steven Spielberg
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982); Steven Spielberg. Bruce Mc Broom/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock; Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

During the event, PEOPLE also caught up with actress Dee Wallace, who played Mary Taylor, the single mother of Elliott (Henry Thomas), Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton).

Of her recent reunion with Barrymore, 47, on the latter's daytime talk show, Wallace, 73, says, "I think the most special thing was celebrating where she is and what she's been through, which is very public record, and really seeing how she found herself."

"That's what all our stories are: We've all been used, abused, abandoned in some ways, but what are we doing with our story now? That's what's important," Wallace adds. "And I think she's done an amazing job there."

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Wallace also praises Spielberg for being "so amazing with" Barrymore, Thomas, 50, and MacNaughton, 55, who were child actors just beginning their careers at the time.

"And it's an art," she adds. "From someone who has worked with kids and dogs their entire career, it's a real art to know how to get brilliant performances out of children, and Steven was a master at it."

"And fortunately, I had a technique where I loved living in the moment also, and not knowing what to expect and having stuff thrown at me, right? And so I was in heaven working that way," Wallace says.

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