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Steven Spielberg is the director of 27 films. He’s been in the business for more than 40 years. He’s won two Oscars, two Golden Globes and three DGA Awards.
But he still gets nervous when directing a movie.
That was one of several revelations in the director’s interview with Lesley Stahl on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, during which he also talked about his forthcoming movie, the biopic Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis; being bullied as a child; why he isn’t interested in making action movies anymore; and the movie he thought no one would ever see. Among the reveals:
1. Spielberg is a “nervous wreck” when directing.
“It’s not really fear,” he said. “It’s just much more of an anticipation of the unknown. And you know, the unknown could be food poisoning. It’s just the kind of level of anxiety not being able to write my life as well as I can write my movies.” Asked how he handles his fears, Spielberg replied: “There’s no better way than to tell a story about them and infect everybody else.” Although, he added, once he’s finished with a movie, his fears always resurface.
2. As a child, he got his way with his parents.
Spielberg grew up outside of Phoenix with his parents and three sisters. His mom, Leah Adler, a homemaker, said she and Spielberg’s father — her ex-husband, Arnold Spielberg, a computer engineer — “never said no” to their son. “Anything he wanted, we did,” she said, adding: “Steve really did run us. He called the shots.” Added Spielberg: “My mom didn’t parent us as much as she sort of big-sistered us. She was Peter Pan. She refused to grow up.” As for his dad: “I missed my dad a lot growing up, even though we were together as a family. My dad was really a workaholic. And he was always working.”
3. He was bullied as a child — but once got revenge with some peanut butter.
Said Spielberg: “I was a nerd in those days. Outsider. Like the kid that played the clarinet in the band and orchestra, which I did.” His mom added that the Jewish Spielbergs lived in a non-Jewish neighborhood, and the residents would chant: “The Spielbergs are dirty Jews.” One night, in retaliation, Spielberg decided to sneak out of his bedroom and smear peanut butter on their windows. Joked Spielberg: “I guess right now we’re beyond the statute of limitations, so I can’t get sued for vandalism.”
4. Because of the bullying, he denied his Judaism.
“I denied it for a long time,” Spielberg said, adding that he was ashamed. “I often told people my last name was German, not Jewish. I’m sure my grandparents are rolling over in their graves right now, hearing me say that.” When he discovered moviemaking at 16, he “found a way to accept myself. … I found that I could do something well.” His “outsider” status as a child would go on to influence a lot of his movies.
5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was a direct result of his parents’ divorce when he was 19.
The 1982 box office hit centered on a boy and his two siblings, being raised by a single mom, who befriend an alien. The mother, played by Dee Wallace, is seen as upset that her husband has left her; the character was meant to be Spielberg’s mother, who actually left his father when she fell in love with another man. But as a young boy, Spielberg blamed his father, whom he thought was that one that instigated the divorce. Even after he learned the truth, he blamed his dad. “It’s still a mystery to me, but even though my mother was like an older sister to me, I kind of put her up on a pedestal,” he said. “And my dad was much more terrestrial, much more grounded, much more salt of the earth. And for some reason, it was easier for me to blame him than it was to someone who I was already — exalted.” Many of Spielberg’s movies would feature a workaholic, absentee father until the two made up years later.
6. Spielberg never thought anyone would see Schindler’s List.
In fact, that’s why the movie is in black and white. “I did everything I needed to do to tell the story the way I thought the story should be told, to give it as much integrity as I could, never expecting it to make a dollar.” But the movie would go on to make more than $321 million at the global box office and two Oscars — best picture and director — at the 1994 awards show.
7. He’s not interested in big action movies anymore.
Spielberg says Lincoln is a movie unlike any he’s done before, with no action and big special effects. “I knew I could do the action in my sleep at this point in my career. In my life, the action doesn’t hold any — it doesn’t attract me anymore,” he said.
8. Lincoln was partially inspired by his reconciliation with his father.
“[President Lincoln] was the father of the nation in need of repair,” he said. “And in a sense, the movies I’ve made recently have reflected the positive relationships that my dad and I have enjoyed for 20, 25 years.”
Lincoln, which centers on the final four months of the 16th president’s life and tells the story of how he abolished slavery, hits theaters Nov. 9.
Watch the 60 Minutes inteview and Lincoln trailer below.
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