The director dives into his childhood and adolescence memories in ‘Los Fabelmans’, the most personal film of his career
In his legendary career, Steven Spielberg (Cincinnati, 1946) has been accused, more than once, of being a technical filmmaker disguised as an artist. The director of ‘ET’ always travels between the personal and the popular, or the technician and the artist are fundamentally at odds. But there is no doubt that he is a magician capable of making us live experiences: ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ or ‘Jaws’ were magicians to the extreme of turning the public into expert adventurers or fearful bathers. His latest film, ‘The Fabelmans’, is a penetrating journey into his memories, to Spielberg’s early years. It is, without a doubt, his most personal film, understood as a semi-autobiography. This portrait of his family allows us to discover the motives that drive the decisions of this Hollywood genius.
-Did shooting this film become a personal matter?
I think everything a filmmaker puts on the screen, even if it’s someone else’s script and you choose to direct it, is personal. Your life is going to appear spit whether you like it or not. It is something that happens to all of us. But in reference to ‘Los Fabelmans’, it is not a metaphor, but my memories.
-What does writing the script with Tony Kusher mean to you?
-I could not have co-written this script without someone I trust, love, admire, adore and know very well. Someone whom I also respect; that’s Tony Kusher. The fact that he has won a Pulitzer and a Tony Award and that he has been nominated several times for an Oscar was not part of my criteria, what really mattered to me was to open up with someone and empty myself without fear. I needed to unpack all my bags and not feel embarrassed. With him I have walked this personal path hand in hand and I could not have written the script with anyone other than Tony.
-This film shows that parents are human beings.
-That was one of the reasons why I wrote this story. I realized at a young age that parents are human and I reflected that in the film. I stopped perceiving my mother as a mother and began to see her as a person. I think all children at a certain point in their lives, if they grew up in a communication relationship with their parents and then they too have children, discover one day that parents are capable of behaving like human beings. Perhaps the son is 40 and the father is 65 when that epiphany occurs. I had her when she was 16 years old, and I have never been able to see any of the characters in my story as enemies.
Paul Dano and Michelle Williams play the parents of the little protagonist (Mateo Zoryan).
-Can you talk about Gabriel LaBelle, the actor who plays you?
I was looking for several things. Someone who was more attractive than me, that girls would fall in love with him more than they did with me (jokes). Actually, I have hired someone to represent my curiosity, something that I have always possessed. And, as a person, he has sensational curiosity. When I started meeting with him via zoom that was what first caught my attention: the number of questions he asked me. Gabriel questions everything and is open to receive and accept any answer because he is curious. That was what I knew about myself that has been consistent throughout my life. I’m curious about many things, that’s why I can shoot so many kinds of movies and I don’t repeat the same movie over and over again. My curiosity leads me to genres that I would have never imagined I would shoot. ‘Los Fabelmans’ belongs to a genre that had never been done before.
-What would be the premise of ‘The Fabelmans’?
-This is a story about the act of forgiving and how important the act of forgiving is.
-How did you feel when you saw Michelle Williams and Paul Dano dressed as their parents?
-When Michelle Williams walked on set for the first time dressed in an exact replica of my mom’s favorite outfit and Paul walked in looking like my dad, and I saw them together, it was like an out of body experience. There was a time when everything started to happen much slower, like when you have a car accident. And I cried. It was something that I had promised not to do on the first day of shooting, but ended up doing. And may God bless his hearts, they both came to me and hugged me. It was a three-way hug. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Has it been difficult to relive moments of your life?
-I wanted to have that doctor/patient relationship with my actors, but it was difficult to do so because the story constantly led me to memories that had happened to me. Watching them unfold in front of my eyes made it a very strange experience. I have to admit that it was something I had never experienced before and, in the end, it was a very good experience. Something big that I have had the opportunity to feel and I am happy that I did. I did not want this to be a story told from the mirror of vanity. I wanted to tell the story from a common mirror where people can see their own families reflected. This is a story about family, about parents, about siblings, about bullying, the good and bad things that happen when you’re growing up in a family that sticks together until you can’t be together anymore.
-Is it also a film about Jewish identity?
-Aspects of my Jewish existence are part of my DNA and it is present without any comment. That’s the way I grew up. Bullying does not define me or my life, but it is certainly something that happened to me as soon as I arrived in Arizona and even more so in Northern California. At school they had no way of caring for me, nor did they take responsibility, but I wanted to tell that story because it happened and it was part of my discovery. The anti-Semitism that I have shown in other films stems from the anti-Semitism that I have suffered in my life.
The leading family of ‘The Fabelmans’.
-Can ‘Los Fabelmans’ be classified as a comedy?
-Tony and I didn’t decide that we wanted to shoot a comedy, but life is full of ridiculous moments that are hysterically funny, abstract and existential and, at the same time, very sad and traumatizing. That’s something we all have to live with in our formative years. I wanted to tell a story of adolescence, which talks about things that have happened to me and that I would have wanted not to happen to me. Things that happen to us and when we look back you laugh at them, even if they are not funny at the time they happen.