Every filmmaker will tell you that every movie they make is personal.
Steven Spielberg is not a filmmaker. The director of Jaws, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and West Side Story is in a league of its own when it comes to the profound, pop culture-changing impact its films have made for decades. But even the 75-year-old maestro subscribes to the idea that every work is an intimate experience for him.
“There’s nothing more personal than committing to actually directing something,” Spielberg told us ahead of the release of his latest, The Fables.
But there is no doubt that the filmmakers’ 35th feature film is his most personal work to date. The more-than-semi-autobiographical coming-of-ager follows a young Spielberg – er, Sammy Fabelman (played as an adolescent by Gabriel LaBelle) – as he falls in love with filmmaking as a child, begins directing a stunningly well-designed house movies as a pre-teen and eventually discovers through his camera work that something could be seeping between his mother (Michelle Williams) and his father’s best friend (Seth Rogen) (Paul Dano).
“I’ve never had myself in the actual story for so long,” Spielberg tells me. “And that in itself was Kafkaesque. … I never got used to it. It was not comfortable for me. But when [the actors’] mojos were at that critical point where the cast worked so well together, I kind of got lost in their performances.
“But I always knew it was about my sisters, and my mother and my father who are no longer here, and myself. And so there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t realize that this was an opportunity I had jumped at and was so thankful for that at my age I finally had the courage, or courage, to decide to tell this story now. I wouldn’t have had the distance or the perspective if I had decided to tell this story 30 years ago. It wouldn’t have been the same movie.”
LaBelle, a 19-year-old Vancouver native, grew up with Spielberg DVDs and Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones Lego sets in his house. “It’s amazing. It’s incredibly exciting,” says the young actor of the chance to play a slightly fictionalized version of the iconic director. “And it’s a huge privilege, honestly. It is an honor.”
Spending two months with the filmmaker as he delved into his past gave the entire cast a chance to get to know Spielberg on a more intimate level than previous ensembles.
“I think I was surprised to find out what an open ship he was willing to be with us and our crew and everyone in this movie,” says Dano. “I think that’s the thing that really pointed the way. If Steven can be so vulnerable, open and naked, so should we. So to be with someone who is an artist who has shaped culture and yet have this intimacy with them was pretty cool.
“It’s really who he is,” adds Williams. “He comes as open and as candid and as searching as a person can be. He gives that so generously, so it instantly disarms you. And you realize he’s searching like all of us.
“I was honestly surprised how much of a leap he seemed to take to make something so outwardly personal,” says Rogen. And it was nice that he was willing to do that because it seemed like he was somehow taking a real personal risk, something you don’t have to do when you’re him. He would go down as one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema because he had never done anything like this that clearly made him feel like he was putting himself out there in a way that he had never done before. And it was really inspiring to see someone like him take that on and decide to push themselves in new directions, even after they’ve done so many things.
And then there’s what Spielberg learned about himself through such a journey of self-reflection.
“I think it was mostly because I had a very complicated family. And I had a very unique family,” says the director, crediting longtime co-writer Tony Kushner for encouraging him to finally tell his own story. “I mean, the dynamics of my mom’s relationship with my dad’s best friend, and how I discovered things I wouldn’t have discovered if I wasn’t obsessed with home movies and making 8MM movies of all our camping trips and all our adventures. our weekend trips. I was my family’s videographer, even as a 12, 13, 14, 15 year old kid. But what’s unique about this is that I discovered something that suddenly made me see my mother not as a parent but as a person.
“And that shouldn’t happen when you’re 16 years old. That should be much later, when you have children of your own. You suddenly realize that your parents are your peers, not your parents anymore. But too soon I discovered that my mother was human and couldn’t hide behind the face of a primary caretaker. And that changed the dynamic of, I think, every choice I made after that.”
The Fables opens Friday in select theaters and opens nationwide on November 23.
Watch the trailer: