Steven Spielberg is a Hollywood veteran who has been making movies since the early 1970s, so you would think that by now, nothing could phase him when he arrives on the set of one of his movies. His latest drama movie, however, was different. The Fabelmans is very closely based on Spielberg’s own life, so it’s his most personal film yet.
Spielberg recalls that when he saw his “parents” – played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano – for the first time on set in their costumes, he was extremely overwhelmed. “I thought it was going to be routine,” Spielberg told Stephen Colbert (via The Wrap). “I’ve done it a million times. I know what the first day of shooting is like. You get the cast assembled and to figure out the blocking of the first thing you’re about to shoot.”
“On the first day of shooting, [costume designer] Mark Bridges came over to me and said, ‘I got Paul and Michelle here, in their hair, makeup, and costumes.’ And I was talking to, I think Kristie [probably producer Kristie Macosko Krieger], and so I turned around and there was my father and mother, and I just burst into tears,” Spielberg said.
Spielberg said Willams and Dano ran to him and embraced him with a hug and held him, overwhelmed with emotion. Spielberg was obviously wary making such a personal movie based on a true story; “I thought by telling a story about how I discovered my mom was having an affair of the heart with her and my father’s best friend – and my father’s business partner – was something that never had to be publicly expressed.” Divorce and kids being separated from their parents is a common theme in Spielberg’s work.
Spielberg added; “I had a lot of second thoughts about that. But to his credit, writer Tony Kushner continued to say that is the MacGuffin of this movie. That is the centre-ring in this circus of your life, that is the centre-ring.” A MacGuffin is an object or event that drives the plot and motivates the characters – but is often ridiculous and meaningless. The term was popularised by Alfred Hitchcock, and a famous example would be the briefcase in Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction.