“He is extremely calculative and he knows what’s going on with everybody on the set. And he doesn’t put up with shenanigans,” the actor said of Cruise.
C. Thomas Howell has forever etched his name in cinephiles’ memories by being part of such iconic films as “E.T.,” “The Outsiders,” and “The Hitcher” to name only a few.
And having hobnobbed with some of Tinseltown’s best and brightest throughout his illustrious career, the star has undoubtedly picked up a few behind-the-scenes tales to titillate even the most versed of Hollywood-lore junkies.
Speaking exclusively with TooFab, the actor, 53, revealed some of his amazing anecdotes, which involve Tom Cruise’s on-set behavior, being replaced for “Back to the Future,” a startling James Dean public moment, how Liz Taylor went missing in Italy because of Faberge eggs and learning to smoke cigarettes for Steven Spielberg.
Keep reading to get all the great stories from the man who began his legendary Hollywood career as a stunt boy.
Meeting Tom Cruise on "The Outsiders"
In a cast that included Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio and Patrick Swayze, one “Greaser” made sure to make his own mark.
“Tom was the guy that like, so after the rumble, he shows up the next day and he went to the dentist and had a tooth removed,” Howell began. “He had like a cap on the front of his tooth. He had it removed and he shows up and he shows Francis [Ford Coppola] and he’s like ‘Whaddya think?'” He didn’t have his tooth, man!”
“Tom took it to another level,” he continued with a laugh. “We were like, ‘Dude, your part is tiny. What are you doing here, man?’ He was like, ‘You don’t understand, I’m going to be Lord Cruz in five minutes.’ Right? So we didn’t know.”
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“And then toward the end of the production, Tom was like, ‘I’m going to go to Chicago and do this thing called ‘Risky Business,'” he continued. “We’re like, ‘Well, go have a good time with whatever the hell that is.’ And it was like six months later — we’re all sliding in our socks and our tighty-whities singing Bob Seger, you know? We couldn’t believe it.”
“It was the next summer. The guy was the biggest thing in the world. It was crazy.”
“And all that stuff’s true when he talks about the stunts that he does for Mission Impossible,” Howell explained. “So he’s courageous that way. And he is super business-minded. He is extremely calculative and he knows what’s going on with everybody on the set. And he doesn’t put up with shenanigans.”
The actor added with a laugh, “And if you’re not there to benefit the group, you’re politely going to be tapped on the shoulder and probably not be coming back tomorrow, but in a nice way.”
“That’s just who he is. That’s how he needs to operate. And I would love to work with him again.”
Hear Howell tell the tales himself, starting with Ralph Macchio’s commitment on set of “The Outsiders” to working with Liz Taylor and landing E.T.:
The original Marty McFly
1985’s “Back to the Future” would eventually go on to star Michael J. Fox, but not before Howell — and another hot actor at the time — were slated to drive the DeLorean.
“I was Marty McFly for two weeks,” Howell said. “They brought me in and I was rehearsing and working and basically had the role. And I remember being in makeup and I got sort of a memo to call my agent and a movie that weekend came out called ‘Mask’ and it was starring Eric Stoltz and Cher. And it was a big hit and it was for Universal — who did ‘Back to the Future.'”
“And from the very top, they said, ‘Listen, we think we’re going to go with Eric Stoltz and not Tommy Howe,'” he continued. “And they sent me packing and they shot with him for a month or so. And for whatever reason, it didn’t speak to the studio — the performance — and they replaced him with Michael J. Fox.”
“What a process to get what they got and Fox was fantastic in it.”
James Dean's impromptu bathroom break on set of "Giant"
Howell spent almost 6 months out of his 11 months filming “Young Toscanin” in Italy with Elizabeth Taylor, who regaled the then 22-year-old with tales about her “Giant” co-star James Dean.
“I was just fascinated with James Dean,” the rodeo vet began. “So she would tell me all these stories about James Dean. And it was a really cool thing. And I’ve been a James Dean fan my whole life. So to be able to sit there and hear stories about, you know, what happened on ‘Giant.'”
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“And she told me a story that was just shocking, but brilliant,” he continued. “She said that he was so self-conscious and he was so self-aware — painfully so — that he was incredibly shy and there was about 400 people roped off on the set of ‘Giant.’ And he had to go do an emotional scene. And all of these people were standing there watching him. And he said, ‘I don’t want those people.’ And they said, ‘Look, we got them roped off and it’s their right to be there. And it’s just kind of part of the deal and you got to do it.'”
“So he was kind of taking his time, taking his time,” Howell recalled Taylor saying. “And they were like, ‘You know, Mr. Dean, please, we gotta get this scene going. So he opened up the door to the trailer and he stepped out. He looked at everybody, he kind of turned around and he just took a leak right there in front of everybody. And people were mortified and they said, ‘What are you doing?!’ He said, ‘Well, I figured if I could do that, I could do the scene. Let’s go.'”
Liz Taylor's extended "take five" for Malcolm Forbes' Faberge eggs
Taylor didn’t haven’t to reveal the antics of other Hollywood stars, as her own made for an incredible story.
“Elizabeth Taylor was a real princess,” Howell explained, “She was the real deal. I’ll never forget. Malcolm Forbes showed up on our set — brought two Faberge eggs. I think one of them was worth like 7 million bucks. I mean — Faberge eggs from Russia! She lost it, man. Oh my God. Squealed. Two Faberge eggs!”
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“[Taylor] disappeared,” he continued, “The director was in tears. She was gone for 10 days. Didn’t tell anybody anything. Gone! Literally shooting around her for 10 days. Nobody could find her. She shows up like she was gone for five minutes. Just comes in, ‘Hello, darlings.’ The director fell apart. He was like, ‘Where the hell have you been?’ She says, ‘Sweetheart, when Malcolm Forbes shows up with two Faberge eggs and says, ‘Let’s go,’ you go.'”
“She got two gifts worth more than the budget of our film,” he added laughing. “It was brilliant. So I got a little taste of old Hollywood. It was fantastic.”
Marlboros for Steven Spielberg
Howell made his acting debut in the 1982 blockbuster “E.T.” around the age of 13. But to help land the part, his father had to make a pit stop before the audition.
“My dad was so shrewd, you know, and he was quite clever with the business,” Howell exclaimed with a smile. “So my audition for ‘E.T.’ came from his agency, mind you, cause I’d go visit — he had a commercial agent or something — and I’d go visit the people there. And we got a call from the agent that said, ‘Listen, you know, Spielberg’s casting this role and you gotta go.'”
“Well, they called my father and I knew nothing about it,” he continued. “And I was picked up from school from my dad and I never asked why I just would get in the car. So we started driving, we pulled into 7-Eleven and he goes in and he buys a pack of cigarettes and some matches and tells me we’re going on an audition and I got to know how to smoke because that was a requirement. Steven wanted my character to smoke cigarettes. So all the way down there, you know, he’s teaching me to strike the match and light the cigarette. And I got a soft pack of Marlboro or something like that. And we get there and we walk in and there’s like four kids that look identical. They all look like John Stamos with that dark feathered hair and blue eyes. And I’m like, ‘There ain’t no chance in hell I’m getting this part.'”
“So I was the last who went in. And there he is, the man, Steven — he’s right there. I’m kind of looking around, you know, I don’t even know who he is. That was the beauty back then. I didn’t know who Francis Ford Coppola was. I didn’t even know what an Oscar was when I was 13 years old. I didn’t care. And when [Spielberg] got to me, he started asking me questions — if I could ride the bike, if I had a problem, you know, with smoking cigarettes. And I just sort of reached out and pulled up a crumpled pack of the Marlboros and pulled out a cigarette. I stick it in my mouth. I’m striking. I’m shaking. Trying to get this thing lit and he goes, ‘Okay, okay kid. You got the part.'”
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