Steven Spielberg Reveals That E.T. Started as a Story About His Parents' Divorce
AMC Visionaries: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction premieres April 30 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC
James Cameron is taking viewers behind some of the world’s most famous science fiction stories.
The Avatar director’s upcoming six-part television series, AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, will explore the genre’s roots through interviews with A-list actors and storytellers who have defined the field. In a clip shared exclusively with PEOPLE, Cameron sits down with director Steven Spielberg to talk the origins of his hit film, 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
“Close Encounters [of the Third Kind] led to E.T., which I think of as Close Encounters 2,” Cameron, 63, says in the clip before Spielberg, 71, interjects, “I think of it the same way.”
“It seems like you took many of those themes and just made it very family centric,” Cameron continues.
Spielberg goes on to say that E.T. was “never meant to be a movie about an extra-terrestrial,” but rather about something very personal.
“It was supposed to be a movie about my mom and dad getting a divorce,” he explains. “So I started a story, not a script per say, but I started writing a story about what it was like when your parents divide the family up and they move to different states.”
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“When I was shooting Close Encounters and when I did the scene of the little alien coming out of the mothership doing the hand signals to François Truffaut, it all came together,” he continues. “I thought, ‘Wait a second — what if that alien doesn’t go back up into the ship, what if he stayed behind? Or maybe, what if he even got lost and he was marooned here? What would happen if a child of a divorce or a family of a divorce with a huge hole to fill, filled the hole with his new best extra-terrestrial friend?'”
While promoting the series at his Manhattan Beach studios on April 21, Cameron told reporters about his other upcoming projects — including Avatar 2 and 3. He said that he is 100 days into production on the upcoming sequels and that his approach to their storylines has changed from the first film, which was released in 2009.
“It’s a family drama, so it’s The Godfather,” he said. Obviously a very different genre [and] a very different story but I got intrigued by that idea, so that’s really what it is. It’s a generational family saga very different than the first film. Now, it’s the same type of settings and the same sort of respect for that shock of the new that we want to show you things that not only that you haven’t seen, but you haven’t imagined.”
“It’s a continuation of the same characters but what happens when warriors, willing to go on suicide charges and leap off cliffs on to the backs of big orange Toruks, grow up and have their own kids? Now the kids are the change makers,” he continued. “It’s interesting. Everyone is either a parent or they had parents at the very least. If you look at the big successful franchises now they are pretty much uninterested in it. So this could be the seeds of utter damnation and doom for the project or could be the thing that makes it stand apart and continue to be unique. Nobody knows until you make the movie and put it out.”
AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction premieres April 30 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.