Crawlspace Star Henry Thomas on Doing His Best Die Hard for the New Thriller

Actor Henry Thomas impressed audiences at a young age when he shared the screen with an adorable alien in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, with his acting abilities as an adult only getting more impressive. As if that seminal 1982 film wasn't enough of a reason to earn him a passionate following among the genre community, his collaborations with filmmaker Mike Flanagan on projects like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass have only grown his following further, while also introducing him to a new generation of fans. In Crawlspace, Thomas is tasked with showcasing an entirely different side of himself in the intensely physical and claustrophobic experience. Crawlspace is out now on Digital HD.

The new film is described, "He's trapped... terrified... and yet more dangerous than they could possibly imagine. After witnessing a brutal murder in a remote cabin, plumber Robert (Henry Thomas) hides in a cramped crawlspace while the killers scour the property for a hidden fortune. As the killers draw nearer, Robert must decide if the crawlspace will be his tomb... or the battleground in his fight for survival." caught up with Thomas to talk his career trajectory, the physical challenges of the project, and the likelihood of an E.T. sequel.

(Photo: Paramount Pictures) A big component of your entire character and your entire character's survival is the fact that he is a plumber. He's quick-thinking, he improvises with the tools at his disposal. You've been acting for 40-plus years. If you were not in the creative field, what kind of career do you think you would want to pursue if it wasn't acting or music or anything?

Henry Thomas: Well, I come from a long line of farmers and mechanics, so I would probably have fallen in somewhere there. I mean, I don't think it was the career that I was meant for, but if I had just been a kid growing up where I grew up and gone to school and just stayed there, I would've ended up working with my dad or my uncles and that's what they did.

Now I can't help but wonder, you have played so many different characters throughout your career and in this one, you are very physical, very hands-on, fitting the pipes and using wrenches and improvising these devices. Did you then look to your family to get some advice on how to look like you know how to use a monkey wrench?

A lot of it is just sense memory and remembering those types of people that I knew growing up and that I've known throughout my life. That's the fun of playing a role like this that's outside your natural wheelhouse of what you are used to, because you can borrow from your friends and put little pieces of them in the character. It's great.

When this project first came your way, back to the origins of your involvement, what was it that most appealed to you, that most drew you to it? Whether it was the story or the physical challenges or the filmmaking team, what was it that really made you want to get involved in this?

A lot of it was Gustavo Cooper, the director, whom I had met previously. He was really excited about it and he sent me the script and I read the script and I thought, "This is really cool. It's like Home Alone or Die Hard in a basement." I thought this could be really good if we got the right people and I think we got a great cast and it was a lot of fun. It was fun for me to play an action role because I haven't done that in pretty much my whole career. There's a couple of things that might be iffy, gray areas, but for the most part, it was pretty much dramatic roles and horror, so this was fun.

Speaking about Gustavo, he has shorts and he has a limited number of features to his name. He is relatively young compared to some of the other filmmakers that you've worked with, so what was so exciting about working with him on this project? What was that experience like?

Gus is cool because he's thinking at about 90 miles an hour. It's more like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down, Gus. We don't have time for that, let's do this." He was very enthusiastic about the film and he always had new ideas and he always wanted to explore things. It's infectious, that kind of energy. You want to try to get the best film that you can out of the limited budget and limited time that you have and so it's a real collaborative effort.

It does feel a bit like Die Hard or Home Alone, except you are spending a majority of the film entirely alone in a crawlspace in a 10'-by-20' area where you're not really chewing the scenery with people physically in front of you. What was that experience like for you? Did you find it to be freeing that you got so much independent time to utilize that space or was it more challenging?

It's challenging in the sense that there's always a lot of business to do because you have to keep things interesting and you can't just be a guy laying there thinking in the basement. There's a lot of physicality to it. There's a lot on you as a performer in the sense that you're playing a lot of your injuries and you're playing a lot of the psychological aspect of it, but you're also doing an action movie. It's a fine line. 

It's not The Revenant. We're not going to see ... I'm not going to get an Oscar for staying in the crawlspace carcass in the cold or the heat. The thing is, I had the other actors there off-camera when I was there, even though we were on sets and it was separate days. We went in for each other because it was important. Essentially, the only dialogue is between three characters for most of the movie and we needed that.

We just barely made this conversation happen in the same month as the 40th anniversary of the release of E.T. I know you did the commercial a few years ago that was a little bit of a reunion. In all of the years since, it's such an incredibly special, unique movie, have you ever heard an idea for a sequel or a reboot that would do something different, where you thought, "You know what? That is deserving of exploring,"? Or do you think it's just a timeless and no one should ever go near it ever again?

I feel like I'm in the latter camp, but there had been ideas kicked around over the years. There were some serious talks early on because the studio was really pushing for it. To follow up the success of the 1982 season. I just can't ... I mean, that's why the commercial, I think [Steven] Spielberg okayed the commercial because that's as close to a sequel as he's willing to go, as he's willing to allow. The response for that Xfinity spot was so overwhelming and people thought it was a teaser for a sequel which created a huge, huge stir on the internet. I don't know if it made it past the internet.

Crawlspace is out now on Digital HD.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.