TORONTO (AP) — “Untitled Amblin Film,” read Gabriel LaBelle’s audition sheet. Director “TBD.”
LaBelle, a 19-year-old actor from Vancouver with a handful of credits in TV and film, taped his audition and sent it off, not thinking too much about it. A couple days later, he began to hear whispers. That movie? It’s a Steven Spielberg film. And the part? Playing Steven Spielberg.
LaBelle didn’t get a call back until three months later — and even then he didn’t really know what he was in for. It wasn’t until LaBelle was cast and received the full script that it dawned on him. He was the lead of Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” playing a fictionalized younger version of the legendary director.
“When I was auditioning, the character’s name was Teenage Sammy — I thought as opposed to Adult Sammy,” LaBelle said in an interview the day after “The Fabelmans” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I get the script and you’re reading it for 30 pages and he’s 6 and 8 years old. Page 35 or so Teenage Sammy comes along. OK, good! Now this is my part. It’s going to be a three-act movie, it’s going to be a ‘Moonlight’ or something. I kept waiting for my exit but it never came.”
Instead, LaBelle makes a very big entrance in “The Fabelmans” playing the legendary American film director in his most autobiographical film.
As Spielberg’s fictionalized stand-in, Sammy Fabelman, he plays the 75-year-old filmmaker through some of his most formative teenage years as an aspiring filmmaker. Much of the film belongs to Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, who play Sammy’s parents and turn in extraordinarily nuanced, performances.
But LaBelle’s Sammy is the through-line in “The Fabelmans,” a deeply felt portrait of an American movie icon as a young man.