While there’s bound to be an immense amount of pressure on any actor cast in the lead role of a Steven Spielberg film, it’s safe to say that the enormity of such a responsibility was increased tenfold for Gabriel LaBelle, the star of “The Fabelmans.” LaBelle plays Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker in the midst of a chaotic family who, given the semi-autobiographical nature of the movie, serves as the film’s equivalent of Spielberg himself.
According to LaBelle, while auditioning for the role, he had no idea what he was in for.
The relative Hollywood newcomer stopped by TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at the Toronto International Film Festival to speak with TheWrap’s Executive Editor, Awards, Steve Pond and discuss the circumstances of how he came to appear in one of the most anticipated movies of the year. (The actor can also be seen in Showtime’s new “American Gigolo series.”)
It was March 2021 and LaBelle submitted an audition tape for an untitled Amblin film, with no information as to who the director, producer, or writer was. Only days later did he realize the film would not only directed by Spielberg, but is also about the legendary director’s life.
“I keep getting these articles every few weeks that Paul Dano is attached, Michelle Williams is attached, Seth Rogen is attached,” LaBelle said. “So a few months go by, I assume I don’t get it. Three months later, in late May, I get a text from my agent.”
What came next wasn’t an offer, but a request for a full-body shot. And then a Zoom audition. And then another Zoom audition with Spielberg present. The next day, LaBelle was officially offered the role of Sammy.
But the journey was only beginning.
“I think I felt more nervous after getting it than I did in the audition. Because that was more final. I was like, ‘Okay, now I have to do it,” LaBelle said.
Given the intensely personal nature of the film, it makes sense that Spielberg would lean on some of his closest collaborators to bring the story together, including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Kushner, Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kamiński and Oscar-winning composer John Williams, to name a few. That, plus the gifted cast already put together meant that LaBelle was entering into the most elite of filmmaking environments.
“You’re surrounded by masters. They’ve seen everything and they’ve been a part of everything. All these great films that have been around for years, and you’re meeting them. Oscar winners, nominees in every department. And then there’s me. So yeah, it was intimidating,” LaBelle said.
Yet the young actor persevered. Before showing up to set, he spent hours on Zoom calls with Spielberg, learning about the director’s childhood and pertinent details to build out a character that wasn’t Spielberg, per se, but existed in that space in the film’s universe.
“I didn’t want to do an impression, because he told me not to. I just wanted to get the posture, some of the smile — and what the movie is and what the story is and how to best play it,” LaBelle said. “I tried to get the essence of him and what he was feeling and thinking and going through and what would be going through his mind.”
For more from LaBelle about his time on set and just how familiar he was with the filmography of Spielberg before being cast in the film, check out the full interview above.
Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.