In box-office terms, Spielberg is the most successful movie director in the world. Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones … his movies are cinema classics. But alongside these popcorn-sagas he has also turned his hand to sterner stuff. Moviegoers all over the world found his black-and-white Holocaust drama Schindler’s List deeply moving. 2016 saw the release of The BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant), a movie version of the children’s book by Roald Dahl in which a benevolent giant ‘kidnaps’ a little orphan girl. 

Reader’s Digest: The little heroine of your latest movie is scared of giants. What were you afraid of when you were a child?
Spielberg: I was my own monster. My imagination was incredible, so I was afraid of everything. A chair could very quickly change into a spider. I remember staring up at the sky when I was five. One of the clouds up there looked like a beautiful swan, then suddenly it was a dinosaur. I ran home screaming

Reader’s Digest: What did your parents feel about that?
Spielberg: For my parents my imagination was a real problem, so much so that they seriously considered having me examined by a doctor. After all I was constantly seeing things that didn’t exist except in my head. My mother and father thought I had some major mental problems. I probably did – but they were the gateway to a great career!

Reader’s Digest: How important is it for you to preserve the child within?
Spielberg: The fascinating thing about children is that they’re just there. When they’re small, they don’t know right from wrong­ – it’s not important to them. Those are years of complete freedom, which come to an end when at some point the brain takes over and tells you how to behave. I remember that time very clearly.

Reader’s Digest: You turned 70 this past December 2016. What do you consider your greatest career achievement so far?
Spielberg: The right to decide my own projects. That was ­always my only goal, telling my stories without anyone else interfering. It was also why I established my own studios. Artistic freedom means everything to me.

Reader’s Digest: Which movie did you enjoy making most?
Spielberg: That was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, because it was the first time I realised I wanted to be a father. Three years later I finally made the grade with the birth of my first son.

Reader’s Digest: Do you make home movies?
Spielberg: Yes, I always have a video camera with me. At Christmas it’s traditional for there to be a joint movie about the family that lasts one hour. I edit the footage I’ve collected in the course of the year and combine it with our children’s videos. And of course there’s a soundtrack and special effects. We all watch the film together and everyone gets a DVD of it.

Written by Dieter Osswald. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.