Gabriel LaBelle interview: ‘The Fabelmans’

“I was surprised at just how personable and charming and kind he is,” admits Gabriel LaBelle about Steven Spielberg, whose semi-autobiographical Amblin Entertainment film “The Fabelmans” features the young actor playing the equivalent of a young Spielberg. He plays the role of aspiring teen filmmaker Sammy Fabelman opposite Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen. It’s a performance that has catapulted him into the Oscar conversation and permitted him to “sign with incredible agents and publicists. It’s such a blessing. It’s just opened so many doors.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

The Vancouver, British Columbia-born LaBelle was plucked from relative obscurity for the plum role. He starred in the 2017 indie horror feature “Dead Shack” and landed as a regular on the 2022 Showtime series “American Gigolo” with Jon Bernthal and Gretchen Mol. But co-starring in a Spielberg film has obviously served to rocket his budding career to a whole other level. He reportedly beat out more than 2,000 actors for the part. And yes, LaBelle felt plenty of pressure to drastically raise his performing game given that he was literally portraying the younger version of a living legend who happened to be directing him.

SEE Oscars spotlight: Gabriel LaBelle (‘The Fabelmans’) deserves to be in the Best Actor race

“Being in a Steven Spielberg film about his life where you’re playing him…(in my mind) I made the stakes a lot higher than they actually were, and I put a lot of pressure on myself, because you don’t want to be the person who ruins a Steven Spielberg movie. So it was very nerve-wracking the whole time.” Besides that, the fact the film was so personal for the director was driven home repeatedly on the set when Spielberg would spontaneously break down in tears during the shoot. “I mean, he’s mourning his parents,” LaBelle observed. “He’s remembering his childhood and the family he grew up around, people who loved him. It was intense.”

Then there was the daily performing lesson LaBelle received from working alongside a world-class acting talent like Williams, a four-time Oscar nominee who played his mother Mitzi Fabelman. During our webchat, he marveled, “It’s wild having this super acting talent right in front of your face delivering this incredibly nuanced performance, and you’re trying your best to stay in it but at the same time you’re like, ‘This is incredible’.” Everywhere LaBelle looked on the set, he found himself “surrounded by masters in every department of filmmaking… And then there’s me, you know, fresh out of high school, fresh out of COVID lockdown, and it’s really surreal. It’s such an incredible project to be a part of because you’re just learning so much from these masters.”

What wasn’t intimidating was Spielberg himself, LaBelle maintains. “There’s this conception that these huge films with huge budgets are made by men at a round table in suits going. ‘How do we make money?’ But that’s not the case with Steven. All he does is play with a camera. He and (co-writer and producer) Tony (Kushner) and (producer) Kristie (Macosko Krieger) and (cinematographer) Janusz (Kaminski), it’s like their creative baby and it’s just four friends playing with a camera out in the desert. It’s no different than how he made movies as a kid.”

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UPLOADED Dec 9, 2022 8:30 am