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Gabriel LaBelle Talks Working With Steven Spielberg on The Fabelmans (The FH Interview)

5 min read

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After doing the awards circuit and playing at multiple film festivals, 's semi-autobiographical new film is finally arriving in the UK this week so FILMHOUNDS sat down with actor to talk about playing a young version of Steven Spielberg named Sammy Fabelman in the directors latest film The Fabelmans.

Do you remember the first film that you ever saw in the cinema?

 No. For Steven growing up in that generation, a theatre was the only place you could see a movie. But for me, I grew up with VHS and DVD, and Netflix was a streaming service before I hit puberty, and you go out to the movies all the time. There wasn't anything I specifically remember as being the first one.

 

Was there any film, that wasn't necessarily the first film you saw but was a really formative memory for you?

I can't remember what film it was that made me passionate for movie making, but I'd watch Step Brothers over and over and over again when I was probably seven or eight. I had the DVD and I'd just re-play it over and over again. Same with the SpongeBob movie and the South Park movie. I'm just now thinking about the combination of those three movies being my favourite ones, but I was big into those when I was growing up.

 

How did you feel, and how did you react, when you first got told you'd been cast in a Steven Spielberg film? 

I think I was walking around in a circle for ten minutes with my hands on my head.

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What was the process like for you to understand the character of Sammy and also understanding Steven Spielberg's own childhood? 

That happened really simultaneously. When I read the script for the first time I asked him how much of this really happened and he said all of it. And I thought okay, so what was it like for you, really talk to me about what it was like growing up and the people around you, and the relationships, what did you think of the world, what did you think of yourself, what did you think about the people around you. And I just got to hear all these stories of him growing up which is really- one, entertaining because he's a good storyteller, and, two, insightful because I'm going to be able to utilise that in my performance.

I could see footage of him as a young kid and try to resemble him physically and his walk and his posture and his smile and then try to put as much of his experience into the script and into the character but then behaviourally I had the freedom of doing Sammy Fabelman. There's no point trying to impersonate him, no one knows how he would have behaved 60 years ago, he's a successful established man, he's a confident man, but back then he wasn't Steven Spielberg. And that was just trying to use what he'd told me and what I'd seen of him and the script and trying to make what makes sense for me.

 

It's not a Steven Spielberg biopic, and whilst so much of it is true and based around his childhood, was there any difficulty trying to blend Spielberg's own childhood, whilst also making sure it's Sammy Fabelman and not Steven Spielberg?

No, because everything that happens to Sammy Fabelman happened to Steven Spielberg. And you just want to be true to his story. So, I wouldn't call it a biopic because it doesn't follow the same structure as all those musician's biopic films have. It's a very unique story and there's freedom of having your own performance. No, it made a lot of sense.

 

You heard a lot from Spielberg about his own childhood, what did you bring to the role yourself?

I think it was a certain amount of empathy I had for his experiences that maybe not other people had so instinctually. From the audition I really understood Sammy and there were definitely moments reading the script where I had to think ‘what's going on here' but I think I just really empathised with Sammy because we'd gone through similar things.

 

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I heard some stories and read about Spielberg breaking down on set, being in tears at times, seeing your performance and seeing you recreate elements from his childhood, what was that like to be at such an early stage in your career and have a director like Spielberg in tears?

He's been working with the same crew for about 30 years at least and they all said this is a different vibe for him. On the first day of shooting after getting to know him for a month and kind of understanding who he is, I say, ‘how are you actually feeling now that you're actually here?' and he goes ‘what do you mean?' so I say, ‘are you nervous for Michelle and Paul to come?' and he's like, ‘you know what, I got all my cries our writing the script, I think I'm good'. And then when Paul and Michelle came in costume, makeup and hair for the first time together, he told me later that he only saw his parents and he forgot where he was.

Because his dad had passed two years before shooting at 102 and his mum five years prior to that at 99 so he was mourning his parents and he's being connected to his family in a way he hadn't been in a really long time and that's incredible cathartic for anybody. It's impossible for him to articulate, but his sisters visited the set too and had the same experience, his children would be on set. Theo [Spielberg's son] told me ‘I'm looking at my grandparents and how I remember them and all the footage I've seen of them it's very strange'. Steven Spielberg…he's Steven Spielberg blah blah blah but for anybody to go through that it's very unique and it's really cool to be a part of something so meaningful to anybody let alone Steven Spielberg.

 

You won the Critics' Choice Award [for Best Young Performer] recently, what was that like for you to win such a prestigious award?

It feels good to work really really hard on something and for that to be recognised. I feel really good.

 

Now that you've worked with living legend Steven Spielberg, what's next for you and your career? Have you got anything lined up?

I filmed a movie in the summer called The Snack Shack, I was in Nebraska City, Nebraska in America. That was a very small independent film, but the writer-director was so passionate about it. I play a very different character that I'm excited about named Moose.

All I'm looking for is that same passion that Steven and then Adam Rehmeier, who made The Snack Shack, have for movie making, it makes me feel really important to be a part of their story. That's just how you know it's a very thoughtful script and they'll work their asses off making it and that's really cool to be a part of something so important to people. It's really special and that's all I look for in whatever I do next.

 

The Fabelmans is in UK cinemas from 27 January. Read our review HERE