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HomeentertainmentMovie NewsHow 'The Fabelmans' Star Gabriel LaBelle Perfected Spielberg's Smile

How 'The Fabelmans' Star Gabriel LaBelle Perfected Spielberg's Smile

Gabriel LaBelle is not your typical award season breakout. Many young actors have been at the heart of the Oscar vehicle, including those directed by Steven Spielberg – but who’s to say they actually played Spielberg?

20 The year old Vancouver native beat some 2,000 eager to play teenager Sammy Fabelman in

The Fabelmans , Spielberg’s film memoir. “You never would have imagined being a part of something like this in a million years,” LaBelle said. Growing up, Sammy — like an adolescent Spielberg — became a budding filmmaker who cared more about making movies than doing his homework. During his filming, Sammy inadvertently discovers that his mother (Michelle Williams) is having an affair with his father’s (Paul Dano) best friend (Seth Rogen), changing his view of his parents forever health perceptions.


is not LaBelle’s first rodeo. In addition to spending his childhood on the local musical stage, he also appeared in The Predator, Brand New Cherry Flavor and Showtime’s American Gigolo . But none of this compares to portraying the most famous director alive. He also shares a scene with another super-famous director, David Lynch, who plays John Ford in a memorable cameo at the end of the film.

LaBelle talks to THR

about working with Spielberg and Lynch, reflecting The former’s physical fitness and the fact that he is preparing for new fame.

Let’s start at the end of the movie, where the scene replicates a young Steven Spielberg and John Ford in Studio interaction. When did you find out you would be starring opposite David Lynch?

I found out, I think, the day before the shoot. We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and then, like two weeks after we finished filming, there was an article saying he was in the movie. I’m in Toronto and people ask me about it. People figured it out right away, which was weird. The whole process is very secretive.

What was your first interaction with Lynch like?

I was pacing around a corner and he came to the set and started talking to Steven. I said, “Hey, yes, nice to meet you,” and that was it. We don’t really interact as people until we’re done with the day. Then he got up from his desk and gave me a hug, and he and Steven discussed lunch. I honestly think that’s the best way to let it go down because he’s supposed to be a better and more important godly character than my character. I’m supposed to be afraid of him, so it works perfectly.


You don’t want a certain level of comfort in the energy between these two. Lynch made very specific choices in his speech. He talked loudly, had a passion for him, and took a long time lighting that cigar. When you spent the day filming that scene, did he change what he was doing?

He [remains the same] the entire time. Steven left him a note, and I remember him looking at Steven and being like, “What?” Steven said, “Try it, try it!” Doing stuff, but just enough to make such a huge impact and work flawlessly. But he’s as steady as a choreographed dance on Broadway. He jots it down, and it gets better every time he does.

What is a note from Spielberg? LaBelle with Michelle Williams, as Sammy and Mitzi Fabelman, respectively, in Universal’s The Fabelmans.

It was the line, “Good luck.” Steven wished he had a little more thoughtfulness and compassion for that man. He said, “Do it like you care.” And he did, and very slightly, like the tip of a hat. Honestly, that was one of the highlights of the shoot. It was so special to be a part of it.

In the last photo, the camera is tilted up

So the horizon is no longer in the center as Ford suggested. Did you see Spielberg come up with that one?

No, that’s in the script. In fact, what was written at the end was that you’d hear an offscreen voice say, “Hey, how long are you going to let him go?” and then you’d hear Steven say, “Cut!” That was written, but they Decided not to do that, they just made camera [adjustments]. I agree with him, it’s better for the movie. But reading it for the first time was like, “Oh my god, what am I getting into?”

This is one of the best closing shots of his career. That extra beat might have broken the fourth wall.

yes. It’s so well done. This is so cool.

Labelle and Michelle Williams as Sammy and Mitzi Fabelman.
Meri Weiss Miller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

You learned to shoot with an 8mm camera Sammy filmed the scene making a home movie and filming his classmates. In learning and using that camera yourself, to what extent did you relate to the director’s fascination — and perhaps power — as you experienced it through Sammy?

Here I have it. I will get it. (LaBelle walks across the room to retrieve the camera.


Oh, souvenirs!

Yes, I stole it. The camera was in my hotel room because I learned how to use it, and they never asked to return it.

You see the kid version of Sammy using this – it was one of the first cameras he was given – when I 12 Make a movie, Gun Smog. You have these films inside, and the films are very delicate. It’s brutal. Learn how to put it in the camera and take it out and organize it, and you’ll know that you can really destroy it, so you have to be very careful. Your fingers must be nimble. You have to be very focused. But you understand that everything is finite. When you’re editing a film on 8mm, it’s a very long physical labor process. You’re not digging a grave or anything, but it takes a long time. You are making something together. Film is expensive and takes a long time to develop. You understand that Steven must have had a sense of pride in being good at doing things that no one else knew how to do.

There’s a comedian drinking coffee in a car episode Seinfeld says, “You Know what no one said anymore? You never hear, ‘Oh, I wish I had a camera,'” because everyone has one. My friends and I used iPads and iPhones to make movies on iMovie, but it was harder back then. It gives you this perspective.

You said Spielberg left you alone during production trying to figure out what Sammy was supposed to sound like How and how, but does he have specific notes on how he’s going to interact with the camera?

No. I think visually, he’s like, “Twist a little more like that,” or if he’s blocking shots, he’s like, “Okay, Sammy, run over and get a good picture of the whole family.” But Steven and I spent enough time talking about the characters and the film before filming that he was doing his job and you were doing yours.

Did you spend time with the rest of the Fabelman family before filming?

Only Paul. Michelle was on another set and I couldn’t reach anyone else. But Paul and I both felt it was important that we get to know each other because there were a lot of real developmental scenes between the two of us. Once I was selected, I asked for his phone number. We talked for about an hour and a half, and then when I was in Los Angeles, we went out to lunch. We would text each other and really get into these classic English class discussions about literature. Before we shot our first scene together, we FaceTimed and rehearsed a bit. Michelle was so busy that I didn’t see her or talk to her until our first day.

This is incredible because there is such a strong attraction between the two of you. What it’s like to work with the monkey that Sammy

‘s mom brought home, what it’s like to watch Michelle work with the monkey ?

It’s like, “Okay, the monkey comes in, it’ll have a handler. We’ll have these security The rules, everyone on the set must have 000 Minutes meet the monkey so the monkey is comfortable with you or not surprised.” Don’t tell it what to do – that’s my business because she won’t listen to you. “


Is he the Admin talking?

Admin – very sweet guy. Let Funny monkeys climbing on you. Michelle, same thing.

Your hair was cut straight for the movie , I’ve always wondered what it’s like for an actor to see himself for the first time after changing his appearance for a role. How did your performance change, if any?

With this movie, I changed the way I stand – my posture, my shoulders, the way I walk. I imitate Steven’s smile. When I Hair and make up, I was looking at myself in the mirror while wearing contact lenses, wearing those from ’78s, it’s like pretend play as a kid, you’re using a stick, and then suddenly someone gives you a toy sword. It helps make everything feel real, which Really cool.


How do you retrain the muscles in your face to smile differently so that the smile stays consistent when you’re in a scene?

All day, you’re doing it. You spend hours in front of the mirror trying to get it off. You don’t want to realize it, so you prepare as much as you can , so this is the last thing on your mind.

I think you now have an exciting opportunity – or At least once this movie completes its award winning

season tour. I noticed you didn’t show up on social media, So I’m curious if you’re actively preparing for your newfound fame. Is there anything you’re looking for or hoping to avoid when you move into a new echelon of the industry?

This business and what I do, you realize it’s very selfish. Like, you’re thinking about yourself all day while everyone else’s work around you Just thinking of you. Stuff like this, and the focus on actors, especially at this time of year or in this pocket of the industry, is a lot. I care a lot about it and I’m trying to keep an arm’s length with it I do therapy and I talk to my mom a lot. You hear so many horror stories and you just want to get as far away from it as possible. I try not to believe it or let it seep into me. It’s hard to explain , but you just try to dissociate a point.

In a way, you have to. But it’s interesting that you don’t seem to be doing ego-driven promotions. Like I said, I don’t see Instagram for you.

I got off social media in two months at 450 into COVID. I’m like, “Man, if I’m going to be isolated, I can’t be on the phone all the time because I’m going to lose my mind.” Plus, I think it helps me be a better actor because you want to be focused and creative And confidence, but if you have this kind of thing that breaks your focus and takes time away from the original idea, further indulging your need for validation, that’s all I do. I can’t put it in my front pocket. I try to get rid of this desire. I’ve never seen any of them being good, even before the auditions.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe .



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