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See Elliott From "E.T." Now at 50

Henry Thomas transitioned into an adult acting career and is an unexpected horror star.

Henry Thomas' audition for the role of Elliott, the young boy who befriends a stranded alien in the massively successful 1982 classic E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Mere minutes into the brief, improvised scene, a then-nine-year-old Thomas' voice cracks and he breaks down in tears as he imagines his new companion being taken away by government agents. As the three-minute clip ends, director Steven Spielberg can be heard telling the young actor, "OK, kid, you got the job."

E.T. proved to be but the first role of many for Thomas, who has managed to keep his acting career going strong for the past four decades. Keep reading to discover what he did after his big break, and see him now, at age 50.

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He gracefully made the transition to acting as an adult.

Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Robert MacNaughton in 1983

Though he could never hope to top his star-making turn as Elliott at age nine, Thomas has defied the cliché of the troubled child actor while also avoiding becoming a Hollywood has-been, having maintained a career that continues to this day.

In the years immediately after E.T., he appeared in the spy comedy Cloak & Dagger opposite Dabney Coleman as well as the Australian children's film Frog Dreaming, but subsequently disappeared from the screen for around four years, during which he had trouble shaking off the perception he was just "the kid from E.T."

"That happens to you in Hollywood: They won't see you any way else," he told Yahoo! Entertainment earlier this year. "They only see you as 'that guy' or 'the kid actor.' The only thing that really saved me was biology, because I kept getting older and changing. Then I became kind of interesting, because they realized, 'I guess he's not just a flash in the pan. He's an actor.'

In 1989, Thomas made the transition to adult roles, appearing in acclaimed director Miloš Forman's historical epic Valmont, jumpstarting a career that career hasn't slowed since. He's appeared in dozens of films, including Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt, All the Pretty Horses with Matt Damon, Gangs of New York with Leonardo DiCaprio, and the recent Netflix teen film To All the Boys: Always and Forever.

On television, in addition to appearing in a number of made-for-TV films and miniseries, he has guest-starred in shows like CSI, Better Things, FBI: Most Wanted, and Stargirl, and was a series regular on the short-lived ABC crime drama Betrayal.

He's become a Netflix horror regular.

Henry Thomas in 1993
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

In recent years, Thomas has become a familiar face to Netflix subscribers, appearing in hit horror films and series from filmmaker Mike Flanagan, who the actor first worked with on 2016's Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Thomas has since appeared in Flanagan's adaptations of the Stephen King novels Gerald's Game (which premiered on Netflix) and Doctor Sleep. He was also a regular in Flanagan's Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House (for which he was nominated for a Saturn Award), The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass.

The actor will next appear in the director's adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, currently in production for Netflix.

Thomas seems unfazed by his hard turn into the horror genre. "It isn't by choice so much as it is by happenstance, because of my collaboration with Mike Flanagan," he told in July 2022. "Over the last few years, that's been the bulk of my work, because he's hired me in everything he's done since 2014, pretty much. So it's been great collaborating with him."

He's explored a music career, too.

Henry Thomas in 2021
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images for ABA

Thomas has explored a creative outlet outside of acting, too, dabbling in music over the years. In the 1990s, he played with the San Antonio-based band The Blue Heelers, contributing to their self-released album Twister. The band's 1998 song "Truckstop Coffee" appeared on the soundtrack for the film Niagara, Niagara, in which Thomas starred.

The former child actor also worked with the late singer/songwriter Nikki Sudden on music for the 2004 film Honey Baby, in which the actor starred and sang as a fictional musician.

He moved away from Hollywood to embrace life on a farm.

After decades spent living in Los Angeles, in recent years, the actor has escaped Oregon to live closer to nature on a farm—just as he did as a child, growing up in a town near San Antonio. "I liked L.A., but I wasn't working there," he told Yahoo! Entertainment. "So you're spending a lot of money keeping a household going, but you're not a part of it. I just said, 'I'm not gonna do this anymore.' I grew up on a farm and I wanted to have that for my kids."

Thomas has three children: a daughter, Hazel, with his ex-wife Marie Zielcke, who he was married to from 2004 to 2007; and a son, Henry III, and daughter, Evelyn, with his current wife, Annalee Fery, who he married in 2009.

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He helps keep the E.T. legacy alive.

It has been four decades since E.T. was released, and Thomas still can't quite shake his most iconic role. In 2019, he appeared in the unofficial sequel, E.T.: A Holiday Reunion—which is actually more of a five-minute commercial for Xfinity internet service in which E.T. visits an adult Elliot and his family and experiences all the magic of the modern internet. The actor also appears in a short documentary about the making of the ad, which actually had Spielberg's blessing.

Thomas has been very active this past year in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the beloved film. He planned to reunite with Spielberg and onscreen sibling Drew Barrymore for a special screening to open the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival, but ended up not attending. However, in July, he chatted with his movie mom, Dee Wallace, and big brother, Robert MacNaughton, during a reunion Q&A panel at the Scares That Care Charity Weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Joel Cunningham
Joel Cunningham is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. Read more
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