Old Interview Footage Shows Spielberg Regretted Skipping Rain Man to Do Last Crusade

Spielberg watchers, something has landed on the Internet. The Playlist has surfaced a 36-minute TV interview Spielberg gave to British TV in 1990 — before Schindler’s List, before the Oscars for Best Director, before he got fully respectable. If the ’70s and early ’80s were Spielberg’s cinematic childhood, if Schindler marked the passage into adulthood, if Lincoln is a product of stately maturity, then this interview is a time capsule from Spielberg’s gawky teen years. It’s not a period of time we talk about much, and that’s what makes it so fascinating.

Spielberg sits in the offices of Amblin Entertainment, which was built at the heights of the gringo “New West” movement. He wears something that looks like a Navajo blanket. Teen Spielberg isn’t my metaphor — it’s his. “Am I emotional-life ready for this yet?” he tells the BBC’s Barry Norman. “Is my personal life at a point where I can actually talk to the actors about something that means something to all of us at the same time? I was a kid in the sandbox with a lot of toys for many, many years as a filmmaker.”

“As I got older,” Spielberg continues, “I began to have these urges, to not get serious, because I don’t want to make dark films. But essentially to not be so embarrassed about putting my feelings on the screen.”

The interview catches Spielberg in the midst of a traumatic and fairly unsuccessful career shift. After mastering movies about sharks and aliens and Hovitos, he made The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, and Always — his “adult” stuff. He squeezed in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — a mistake, he says, because he had to leave behind Rain Man to direct it. Rain Man wound up winning Barry Levinson — a Spielberg protégé — the Oscar for Best Director.

Norman asks if that made Spielberg feel a pang.

“Sure it did,” he says. “Sure it did. When the film began winning Best Picture and Best Writer, I kept thinking, God, maybe I should have forgotten my entire friendship with George Lucas and said, ‘George, go hire somebody else to do Indy 3.’ … Of course I thought about that!”

This is like the sequel to the great Jaws video in which Spielberg allowed the cameras to film him not getting nominated for an Oscar.

Spielberg is hyper-conscious of his place in Hollywood. “Practically speaking,” he says, “if my name had been on Rain Man, shot for shot what Barry had done … I probably in my hearts of hearts don’t think I would even have been nominated as director on that film, and I’m not sure the film would have won that many awards.”

It had been a pretty rough couple of years. The Color Purple got 11 Oscar nominations, but Spielberg didn’t get one for directing. “It sort of brought that adolescence, that acned adolescence,” he says. “I said, ‘God, I feel like I’m in high school again’” — another reference to teendom. Empire of the Sun didn’t make a fortune — again, Spielberg thought, because of his name. “I have been typecast — by audiences, even, not just critics.”

By 1990, Spielberg had become a mega-producer and his producing chores were weighing on him. (It probably stung that he was producing movies, like Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, that were superior to what he was directing.) “It just wasn’t fun waking up in the morning and going to work,” he says. “It was like going to school … I never said, at 12, ‘I’m going to be a movie producer!’”

A couple of thoughts: I’ve always found the young, emotionally ragged Spielberg way more interesting than the older, more polished version. Spielberg never lets on much in interviews anymore, and even his angst (see his many retellings of the Jaws story) feels well worn. Second, this was the only period of Spielberg’s career when he experienced anything like sustained failure. Of course, he “failed” only in Spielbergian terms; The Color Purple made $100 million. But it was a moment when Spielberg wasn’t as liked as he wanted to be, when his movies weren’t making as much money he thought they should, and when he didn’t have an obvious way to fix either problem. The BBC interview was given as press for Always; his next movie was Hook; and then, finally, he released Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the same year.

Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend Spielberg: The Teen Years as a study in terror. “I don’t think you get inspiration from courage,” Spielberg says. “You get inspiration from fear. You draw from fear. I do, anyway!”

Filed Under: Steven Spielberg

Bryan Curtis is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ curtisbeast