When talking to Henry Thomas, we try not to barge out of the gate with questions about the biggest item on his résumé. Yes, he’s Elliott from “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.” Turns out he’s cool with that. He’s used to being hounded over headlining a Steven Spielberg classic, especially because now it’s considerably less intense than it once was. (He didn’t have a great time back at school in Texas once the movie came out, and has said he basically became a hermit).
Though his acting career has never hit the same high, he has worked steadily, making the occasional biggie (“Legends of the Fall,” “Gangs of New York”). Right now he’s in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the sequel (that’s actually a prequel) to the 2014 horror film. He plays a pastor who, in the 1960s, tries to save a family who find they’ve awoken some malicious spirit. The actor so liked working with the film's director, Mike Flanagan, that when we speak he's flying off to shoot his next film, the adaptation of Stephen King's "Gerald's Game."
Thomas, 45, talks to us about what he does between gigs, the fantasy novel he wrote and the Internet theories about his 1984 film “Cloak & Dagger.”
You haven’t done a lot of horror, but you did play young Norman Bates in “Psycho IV: The Beginning.” That was a big deal because it was the first really dark role you’d done, and you were still relatively young.
I was 18 when we did that. It was exciting, because I was on the fence as to whether or not I was going to continue acting. It had kind of died down, to some extent, by then. I had done a film with Milos Forman [1989’s “Valmont”] the year before, but it had been quiet. I thought, ‘Maybe I won’t do this anymore. I’m 18, maybe I’ll go to school.’ Then that job came along, and then “Legends of the Fall” arrived a couple years later.
What was it about playing Norman Bates that convinced you to stick with acting?
I don’t know. Even after 37, 38 years, there’s just no security in this job. [Laughs] Today is a prime example: I’ve spent the last 11 months or so sitting around. And all of a sudden I had all of these things to do, out of the blue.
That’s pretty typical for actors. What do you tend to do in between gigs?
I write a lot. I wrote a novel a couple years ago, a fantasy novel. I’m trying to get it published. I also play music. That’s mainly what I do when I’m not working. That doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. I should have listened to my mom and finished my degree and had a fallback career. I always thought this would work out. Knock on wood, so far it has. It never works out in the way you dreamed about, but it works out.
Tell me about your novel.
I’ve always been a fan of fantasy books growing up. I got a little bit disillusioned with the genre, because I felt it became so formulaic. I thought, ‘I can throw together a good fantasy story.’ I was working on this show called “Sons of Liberty,” that was out on the History Channel last year. [Ed. He played John Adams] I was in Romania, and I only had 16 working days, but I was there for three months. I thought, ‘Well, this is a perfect time to finish my novel. It’s either I become an alcoholic and get a divorce, or I write my novel.’ [Laughs] It was kind of a no-brainer. It’s about an environmental-spiritual cataclysm. The protagonists are trying to save the world.