There was something particularly nerve-racking about playing a young Steven Spielberg in The Fabelmans, the director’s semi-autobiographical movie base on his own family and upbringing. For starters, star Gabriel LaBelle said during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles awards-season event that he never actually sat down with the director to get the 411 on what Spielberg was like as a young kid.
“He didn’t really tell me anything. That made me nervous. He didn’t sit down and say ‘when I was 5….’” recalled LaBelle, who was joined onstage at the DGA Theater by Judd Hirsch, who plays Uncle Boris in the Universal Pictures/Amblin film. “I had to track him down.”
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Hirsch said it was actually a testament to the trust Spielberg had in his cast, which includes Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen. “He doesn’t rehearse. It’s not going to be, ‘How do I play it?’ before filming,” explained Hirsch. “Steven is confident in the people he cast. We didn’t have real direction in how well to play the part. He (LaBelle) was Steven and I was that crazy man.”
The Fabelmans centers on a young man’s discovery of a shattering family secret and an exploration of the power of movies to help us see the truth about each other and ourselves. Besides LaBelle, Hirsch, Williams, Dano and Rogen, the movie stars Jeannie Berlin, Julia Butters, Robin Bartlett and Keeley Karsten. It was written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner and hits theaters widely next week.
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During the panel conversation, both LaBelle and Hirsch also recalled the ways in which they first met Spielberg. LaBelle auditioned via Zoom during the height of the pandemic and didn’t really know until much later he was being asked to play the director. Hirsch simply got a message that someone named “SS” wanted to talk with him.
“I said [to his agent] find out who SS is,” Hirsch recalled. “Is it some sort of secret? It felt like a crime show.”
It wasn’t the first time Hirsch had met Spielberg. He recalled meeting the director years back when he was just starting out. “I was told he’s gonna be very big. He was a little guy. I met him when he was 24 years old with Jaws on his desk.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.