You’d think Steven Spielberg has done and seen it all by now. But during his Thursday night appearance – his first-ever appearance on late-night – he told Stephen Colbert about a moment making “The Fablemans” that caused him to instantly “burst into tears.”
Spielberg is in the middle of a media blitz for the semi-autobiographical film, which is sitting on seven Oscar nominations. “Fablemans” tells the story of how the legendary director became interested in filmmaking – a thing he’s been doing so well for so long, you’d think nothing would catch him off-guard.
But then Spielberg described what it was like to step on set and see, for the first time, Michelle Williams and Paul Dano as his parents.
“I thought it was going to be routine,” Spielberg said. “I’ve done it a million times. I know what the first day of shooting is like to get the cast assembled and to figure out the blocking of the first thing you’re about to shoot.”
But he hadn’t yet seen Williams and Dano together in costume. When he did, something very unexpected happened:
“On the first day of shooting, Mark Bridges came over to me and said, ‘I got Paul and Michelle here, in their hair, makeup, and costumes.’ And I was talking to I think Christy, and so I turned around and there was my father and mother, and I just bursted into tears,” Spielberg said.
Spielberg said Willams and Dano ran to him and embraced him with a hug and held him, overwhelmed with emotion.
Spielberg told Colbert he was thinking about telling the story of “The Fabelmans” for years, and realized he had been putting segments of the story into other films. Spielberg said after he completed projects that were on his wish-list, he knew it was time to tell this story about his life.
Colbert asked Spielberg if he ever felt like it was a mistake to tell that story with so much candor. Spielberg said there were times he second guessed himself but did it anyway.
“Yes, I thought by telling a story about how I discovered my mom was having an affair of the heart with her and my father’s best friend – and my father’s business partner – was something that never had to be publicly expressed,” Spielberg said.
Spielberg added, “I had a lot of second thoughts about that. But to his credit, Tony Kushner, continued to say that is the McGuffin of this movie. That is the center-ring in this circus of your life, that is the center-ring.”
Spielberg talked with Colbert about the dozens of films he’s created over the last 50 years. He said he very rarely watches them – but there’s one classic from the 1980s he enjoyed watching with his children.
“I don’t look back that often, but every once in awhile I’ll see a movie with my kids because I want to accompany my kids when they see ‘ET’ for the first time,” said Spielberg. “I don’t want them to see ‘ET’ without dad sitting there, especially the scary parts at the beginning.”
Spielberg said there when rewatching some of his films, there are times he would notice things that he intended to do that he didn’t accomplish, adding that he often thinks of better ideas many years later. But when it comes to “ET,” he gave himself a pat on the back.
“For the most part, ‘ET’ is a pretty perfect movie,” Spielberg said. “It’s one of the few movies I’ve made that I can actually look back and look at it again and again. It’s only a handful of movies that I’ve watched more than once, but not a lot.”
To watch Colbert’s full interview with Spielberg, watch the video above.