E.T.'s Script Originally Included A Cameo Meant For Harrison Ford

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I always need to remind myself that Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford have not worked together on a movie outside of the four "Indiana Jones" pictures. The two men seem to exist in similar circles and simultaneously rose to stratospheric heights in their respective fields, but their collaborations are rather limited. It's not like Spielberg is opposed to working with movie stars, as shown by his decades-long collaboration with Tom Hanks, but for whatever reason, Ford and Spielberg's working paths don't cross as often as you'd think.

There was actually supposed to be a fifth collaboration between Spielberg and Ford, and it wasn't another Indiana Jones movie. Harrison Ford was originally meant to appear in Spielberg's 1982 classic "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," which he made just a year after the first Indiana Jones film "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In fact, this was something that was actually shot but ended up on the cutting room floor. So, while that fifth movie did happen, we just don't get to see the finished product. As for why this scene didn't make the final cut, that comes down to a couple of things: knowing when a scene doesn't move the story forward, and an unseasoned scene partner. I'm not talking about child actor Henry Thomas.

Putting a real couple on screen

In the cut scene, Harrison Ford plays Elliott's condescending school principal after he drunkenly convinces his classmates to release the frogs — meant for science class dissection — into the wild. While the scene was primarily between Ford and Henry Thomas, with Ford consumed in shadows that obscure his face, there was also a brief moment with the school nurse, played by Melissa Mathison. Now, Mathison was not an actor. She was the screenwriter of "E.T.," and she was dating Harrison Ford at the time, who she would go on to be married to for 21 years. Spielberg thought it would be fun for this couple to cameo in the movie. Seems perfectly harmless, right?

Throwing someone who has never acted before into a major motion picture can make that person incredibly uncomfortable, and that's exactly what happened with Mathison. In the book "The Films of Harrison Ford" by Lee Pfeiffer and Michael Lewis, they claim that "the sequence was scrapped when Melissa's nervousness in front of the camera would not abate." When every other actor in "E.T." is completely dialed into that story and tone, someone so visibly anxious on camera will stick out in a major way. In the end, the couple's cameo was not meant to be. However, I believe that to be a rather simplistic look as to why that scene wound up getting scrapped, and it speaks to Steven Spielberg's deft touch as a director.

Understanding when to hold back

The cut scene does exist in very low quality pieces online, but when you hear Steven Spielberg describe what was to happen in it, the scene sounds pretty wacky for a movie that already is painting with a broad brush. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly for a reunion celebrating its 30th anniversary, Spielberg said of the scene:

"Henry's chair starts levitating ... So as E.T. is lifting all of the communicator paraphernalia up the stairs, Henry [Thomas] starts rising off the ground in the chair until his head hits the ceiling. Just as Harrison [Ford] turns, E.T. loses control of the weight of everything and it all falls down the stairs, and Henry comes crashing down to the ground, and lands perfectly. Four-point landing. The principal turns around, and as far as he's concerned, nothing ever happened."

Just remember, this scene was already following the wacky antics of E.T. drinking a bunch of beer at the house that made Elliott drunk at school. We had already reached the comedic highpoint of the movie, and following that up with a scene that takes the antics to cartoon levels would have kept the movie in this heightened comedic place for too long; I think it would have been very easy for Spielberg to lose the emotional thread of the movie if he strayed too far away from the film's core.

Plus, no other major star appears in "E.T." Part of its magic is that it feels like this extraordinary story with an alien is happening to regular, everyday people. If Han Solo randomly shows up on the screen, that would take the entire audience out of it. Though it would be nice to have another Spielberg/Ford movie, Spielberg made the right call here.