About the improvisation, Spielberg said: "[It] was so heartfelt and honest that I gave him the part right there... I was blown away by this nine-year-old. Then I came to realize he’s an adult actor, not a nine-year-old. He’s a very controlled, methodical performer who measures what he does and feels what he does and yet broadcasts it in a totally subtle way. His performance is so controlled, unlike most kid performers, who seem to be giving you 150 percent on every shot. Henry’s performance is just a bread crumb at a time, but he takes you in a wonderful direction to a very, very rousing catharsis. He’s just a 'once in a lifetime' kid."
Thomas later recalled that his tears during the finale were real: "I couldn’t stop crying because I worked with E.T. every day and he was real to me." The scene obviously resonated with audiences since it is still talked about today and often regarded as one of the most powerful movie finales of all time.
Watch as Henry Thomas nails it and, Spielberg says, "OK, kid, you got the job," .