The real star of 1982’s ET The Extra-Terrestrial reunited with actors and director Steven Spielberg on Thursday,
Matthew de Merritt, one of the three actors who spent time inside an actual ET suit, attended The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Festival in Los Angeles for a very special 40th anniversary screening.
Born without legs, Matthew was only 11 years old when he was invited to play ET, where he played the alien in some of the film’s most enduring scenes.
On the red carpet: Real-life 1982 ET star Matthew de Merritt reunited with fellow co-stars and director Steven Spielberg on Thursday at the 40th Anniversary Show
While attending Thursday’s show, Matthew was photographed on a skateboard he uses to get around, mingling with Spielberg and cast members including Dee Wallace (Mary Taylor), KC Martell (Greg) and Robert McNaughton (Michael Taylor).
Matthew played ET from inside his 4-foot-high rubber suit, dubbed “Old Sausage Skin,” which in various scenes was also populated by two dwarfed people – “Little Bat” Bailon and Tamara De Trio.
He has remained largely unknown in the 40 years since the film’s release, but in a 2002 interview with Britain’s The Mirror to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary, he explained how he landed the part.
Matthew revealed how he was undergoing physical therapy at the University of California Medical Center at the time, when Universal Studios reached out to his doctors, keen to find people to match the rubber suit that was used in a group with models of different sizes.
Teamwork: Matthew de Merritt, one of three actors who spent time inside an actual ET suit, along with Little Pat Billon and Tamara De Treaux (pictured in 1982)
Screen role: Revealing how he was undergoing physical therapy at UCSD Medical Center at the time, when Universal Studios reached out to his doctors, eager to find people who would fit inside the rubber suit
“There was an installation and they took all my measurements and photographed me walking on my hands,” he explained.
Not sure what they were thinking when they got me there. I’ve never proven to anyone that I can walk on my hands, nor can they see how they can think that I can fit comfortably inside a costume and walk around and make a disguised alien – but it kind of works that way. “
Matthew was cast alongside Little Pat Billon and Tamara De Treaux, but he got one of the most iconic scenes in the movie thanks to his ability to walk on his hands.
Icon: Matthew has remained largely anonymous in the 40 years since the film’s release, continuing to teach English in college after his only major role on the big screen.
Star in the making: He later said, “I don’t see how they could think I could fit comfortably inside a costume and walk around and make a disguised alien – but it worked like that”
Sexy and Embarrassing: Matthew played ET from inside his 4-foot rubber suit, dubbed “Old Sausage Skin,” pictured with Henry Thomas who played Elliot
Spielberg asked me to do all the scenes where ET fell or walked awkwardly. ‘It was a strange walk compared to Pat and Tamara because I had it in my hand,’ Matthew said.
“Any scene where they wanted ET to fall, they would use me,” he added, including the infamous sequence in which the alien drinks beer over a beer.
“Spielberg wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get hurt,” he said of filming the beer scene.
“Is there any way you can walk straight into that closet over there and kind of fall on your ass and stand up again, turn around and the grand finale fall on your face?” he said. “
Inside Costume: Fits De Merritt inside a four-foot costume as shown. Four mechanical composites of fiberglass, polyurethane and film foam rubber were created
Expert: Matthew got one of the most iconic scenes in the movie thanks to his ability to walk on his hands, explaining that ‘any scene they wanted ET to fall in, they’d use me’, including the infamous sequence where the alien drinks a beer
Stars: Robert McNaughton, Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote were filmed on the film’s 20th anniversary in 2002
Team Effort: Along with Matthew, others lend their skills to bring life to life on screen. The lovable alien creature was voiced by Pat Welch, who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, giving her a characteristic raspy voice.
The film credited Matthew with the nickname “ET Special Action,” and it was his only major role on the big screen.
He appeared in some straightforward science fiction films in later years, and also went on to teach English in college and play basketball in a wheelchair.
For a while after the shooting, Matthew kept in touch with Henry Thomas, who played Elliot, and Robert McNaughton, who played Elliot’s older brother Michael, but the group has diverged over the years.
Besides Matthew, others have offered their skills to bring extraterrestrial life back to screen.
Four mechanical compounds of fiberglass, polyurethane and film foam rubber were created and designed for different functions.
“Little Bat” Billon, born dwarf, ran one of the 20kg costumes that was required for scenes where the alien “tottered” on Earth.
Later, Spielberg was credited as “ET’s greatest assistant”.
Voice: Beloved alien voice was voiced by Pat Welch, who took over from actress Debra Winger, who spoke for Spielberg’s raw film lines.
Bailon also appeared on the big screen in the 1981 comedy Under the Rainbow alongside Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher. The actor died just one year after his release from ET at the age of 35 from complications of a blood infection following a bout of pneumonia.
Tamara De Trio also appeared in the movie after Spielberg spotted her at one of her singing group performances. Verified as the shortest actress ever, she also starred in John Newland’s television horror film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973).
In 1990, she died at the age of 31 due to respiratory and heart problems.
The lovable alien was voiced by Pat Welch, who took over from actress Debra Winger, who spoke for Spielberg’s raw film lines.
Wells smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, which gave her a characteristic raspy sound.
Reunion: ET Spielberg reunited with stars like Dee Wallace (Mary Taylor), who starred as mother Mary Taylor on Thursday’s show
Older: Robert McNaughton (right), who played older brother to Michael, Elliot and Gerty, was also present but Henry Thomas, who played Elliot was missing
16 other people and different animals were also recorded to create ET’s “Voice” including Spielberg himself, sound effects creator Ben Burtt’s sleepy wife with a cold, raccoons, otters, and horses.
Matthew also worked closely with Caprice Roth, who made and performed hands-on to capture close-ups for ET.
ET was an instant blockbuster from the start, staying at the top of the box office in its first six weeks and setting a record for 16 weeks at number one.
It eventually made $359 million in North America and $619 million worldwide, a record that would last for 11 years until Steven Spielberg took it off another megastar, 1993’s Jurassic Park.
Brother: Robert retired from acting in 2002, but returned to film work in 2013