How do you approach playing Steven Spielberg in a film being directed by... Steven Spielberg? For the breakout star of The Fabelmans, Gabriel LaBelle, the answer was simple: far from feeling awkward or intimidated, he seized the opportunity of having the great man immediately on hand as a resource.
“I had him! I could talk to him,” LaBelle tells Empire. “I could look at a scene and ask him, ‘How much of this really happened? What did you think? What did you feel? How would you compose yourself?’ And sometimes he would tell me, and sometimes he’d just let me figure it out on my own.” Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical story follows LaBelle as the young Sammy Fabelman, an aspiring filmmaker growing up (as did Spielberg) in post-WWII Arizona and processing a family secret through the solace he finds within movies. In fact, LaBelle’s first days on set involved a film-within-a-film: a two-day sequence recreating Escape To Nowhere, the 40-minute war film Spielberg made with school friends at the age of 13.
“It was a cool way to see how Steven walked and moved around back then,” LaBelle says of watching the original. “I asked so many questions about Saving Private Ryan, because we were doing a war film. For the first two days, it was me, Steven, Tony [Kushner, co-writer], and Janusz [Kamiński, cinematographer], just hanging out. Mitch [Dubin], the A-camera operator, stormed the beaches of Normandy with a handheld camera for Saving Private Ryan — and now he’s making this movie!” A movie within a movie, made by the people who made the original movie? It doesn’t get more meta, and Spielbergian, than that.