Image ID 2M7X0D1 Steven Spielberg holds two Golden Globe awards at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards. One for Best Director and the other for Best Picture Drama - The Fabelmans 10 January 2023 EXP 17.01.24 CREDIT Billy Bennight/ZUMA Press Wire
Steven Spielberg holds two Golden Globe awards at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards, one for Best Director and the other for Best Picture Drama for The Fabelmans (Picture: Billy Bennight / ZUMA Press Wire).
Film

How Steven Spielberg used therapy to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War

Image ID 2M7X0D1 Steven Spielberg holds two Golden Globe awards at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards. One for Best Director and the other for Best Picture Drama - The Fabelmans 10 January 2023 EXP 17.01.24 CREDIT Billy Bennight/ZUMA Press Wire
Steven Spielberg holds two Golden Globe awards at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards, one for Best Director and the other for Best Picture Drama for The Fabelmans (Picture: Billy Bennight / ZUMA Press Wire).

Steven Spielberg has revealed how the only time he ever sought therapy was so he couldn't be drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War. 

The director of big Hollywood blockbusters including Saving Private Ryan, War Horse and Schindler's List, spoke of how his latest film, The Fabelmans, became a form of therapy for him. 

Speaking on the Smartless podcast, hosted by actors Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes, he said: "This [The Fabelmans] was $40m of therapy. Having never been in therapy except one time to try to get out of the Army when I was 18 years old." 

Golden Globe-winning film The Fabelmans, starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen, was directed by Spielberg, who co-wrote it with Tony Kushner, with whom he has collaborated before.

Listen: Wondery and Amazon's Smartless hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett chat with Steven Spielberg (Warning: Contains strong language).

This time though, the movie wasn't telling someone else's story. The Fabelmans is semi-autobiographical and features key moments of Spielberg's formative years and what it was like growing up inside what he called "a very unusual family". 

The film is described as a coming-of-age story about a young man's discovery of a shattering family secret and an exploration of the power of movies to help us see the truth about each other and ourselves. 

His own father, Arnold, served during the Second World War, enlisting in the Signal Corps a month after the attack on Pearl Harbour and it was his military career that inspired many of Spielberg's most famous war films such as Saving Private Ryan and War Horse. 

It was directing the epic and visually brutal WW2 war film Saving Private Ryan that led to Spielberg being awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1999 from the then Secretary of Defense William S Cohen. 

The citation for the medal reads: "Mr Spielberg helped to reconnect the American public with its military men and women while rekindling a deep sense of gratitude for the daily sacrifices they make on the frontlines of our nation's defense." 

However, several decades earlier, Spielberg had a different relationship with the US military. 

Steven Spielberg after receiving the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service from Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen in August 1999 CREDIT Department of Defense
Steven Spielberg after receiving the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service from Secretary of Defense William S Cohen in August 1999 (Picture: Department of Defense).

Speaking with Peter Travers for Rolling Stone magazine in May 2007, Spielberg said he had two obsessions while studying at California State University Long Beach – making movies and getting good grades so he didn't have to join the US Army and head to the Vietnam War. 

He said: "My immediate political activity was based on self-preservation. 

"I had a draft counselor. I legally did what I could to not go. 

"But if I had to go, I would have gone. That's the truth." 

Recognising his son's desire to not join the US Army and instead pursue his true passion of filmmaking, Arnold suggested Steven visit his own psychiatrist in the hope that he would recommend Steven not be fit for service. 

The director said: "I saw him about five times and then he was actually pro the Vietnam War and wouldn't write me the letter. 

"That was the last time I actually was in therapy."

 

Spielberg referring to the process of co-writing and directing The Fabelmans as "$40m of therapy" stems from his realisation during the Covid-19 pandemic that the movie he desperately wanted to make was one based on his childhood. 

Speaking to Smartless host Bateman about what prompted him to make a semi-autobiographical film, Spielberg said: "I... was terrified that [the Covid-19 pandemic] was... an extinction-level event that was happening to the world. 

"By the time Tony and I sat down to seriously start engaging in discussions about writing this, we'd already lost 250,000 Americans to Covid. 

"I actually was saying to Katie and my family, if there was one thing I wanted to leave behind, if I got a chance to make one more movie, what would that movie be, and without even blinking it was going to be the story."

The director said making the movie was incredibly cathartic as he was able to explore what it was like for a Jewish child who was bullied and witnessed the gradual breakdown of his parent's marriage. 

Since the movie's release last year, he has received letters and emails from those who had seen The Fabelmans and wanted to share their own similar experiences. 

He said: "I actually felt like I wasn't alone anymore. 

"I felt like I was in great company, that my story wasn't so unique after all."