Stephen Colbert goes long with Steven Spielberg in unprecedented interview

Steven Spielberg made a rare appearance on late-night television Thursday night, sitting for an interview with Stephen Colbert. (Indeed, word is that this is the first time he’s ever done late night, and while it may sound like an impossibility for someone who has been in the spotlight for so long, good luck finding an old clip of him chatting with Johnny Carson or David Letterman or even Merv Griffin. The closest you are going to get is a pre-taped “Happy Birthday” to Drew Barrymore, but “The Drew Barrymore Show” airs in daytime, anyway.)

But the director and co-writer of “The Fabelmans,” currently up for seven Oscars (including Best Picture), did not make a typical appearance. The 76-year-old filmmaker’s four-segment interview was not taped in front of the assembled studio audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater in midtown Manhattan but was pre-shot “last week” at his own Hollywood offices at Amblin Entertainment (which is adorned by a few Tiffany-style lamps, some Arts and Crafts chairs, and a coin-op “Star Wars” arcade game.)

Spielberg opened with some fun stories about how he basically trespassed (multiple times!) on the Universal Studios lot as a youth, and how unusual it was to be directing a legend like Joan Crawford when he was still using Clearasil at age 22. 

He claims that he rarely goes back and watches his older movies (“I’m not Gloria Swanson”) but has, over the years, introduced some of his films to his kids, to be there during the scary parts. And he can’t deny it—“‘E.T.’ is a pretty perfect movie.”

In another segment, he explained why he took so long to tell the story of his childhood in “The Fabelmans,” and that he did, indeed, have many second thoughts about telling such a personal story. Spielberg also explained how, as is seen in the movie, the lens of the camera allowed him to see things more clearly than they were in real life. (The implication here is that the revelatory scene Gabriel LaBelle has while editing home footage is 100 percent true.)

He added that the moment when he saw Paul Dano and Michelle Williams in costume for the first time as his parents was far more emotional than he’d anticipated. “Done this a million times,” he thought on the first day of the shoot, plus, he said, he’d “gotten all his tears out writing the script with Tony Kushner,” but it wasn’t to be. He immediately burst into tears, and the two actors quickly moved to embrace him. 

In other segments from the pre-recorded set of interviews, Colbert sat with Spielberg and composer John Williams for a collaborative victory lap, plus the director of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” answered some questions about UFOs.

Spielberg himself is up for three Oscars on March 12: Best Picture as a producer, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay (a nomination shared with Kushner). Williams, too, is a nominee. But both men are expected to go home empty-handed, at least according to the Gold Derby odds. Still, a major press appearance like this during final Oscar voting can’t hurt.

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