with Liesel on A Little Princess
Matthews: (Taken from the official A Little Princess Press Kit and
Months before cameras were set to roll, the filmmakers embarked upon
a search for Sara Crewe. Says director Cuaron, "We understood from the very beginning
that this script has a soul, and this soul is Sara Crewe. So we knew that no matter what
we did, the movie was not going to work if we didn't have a great Sara."
The filmmakers conducted a talent search that encompassed cities in
the United States, Canada, and Europe. They saw tapes and photos of nearly 10,000 young
girls. Their search ended in Chicago
with 10-year old Liesel Matthews.
"When we looked at the
tests, we all picked Liesel independently -- not because she was so much better that
everyone else, because many were terrific," remembers producer Johnson, "but she
had qualities that worked perfectly for Sara Crewe. Looking at her on film, we could see
that she had an inner life and a strong sense of imagination and contentment."
Director Cuaron concurs, "Liesel is very complex; she can be
very funny or very emotional; she has her own mind. Sometimes she can be like a character
taken out of a book of adventures, and that reflects in the movie. "The script for 'A
Little Princess' made me cry," says Liesel Matthews.
After the screening of "A Little Princess" at Chicago's
Webster Street Theatre, Liesel stood in the lobby surrounded by squealing young fans.
Returning a signed notebook to a girl about her age, Matthews, 11, giggled and said
"Are you sure you really want this?" Matthews considers acting a hobby. It's
"embarrassing," she says " when all the attention is on me."
Matthews is not new to the actor's life. Her mother is a former
member of the drama department at Chicago's Roosevely University, and her stepfather is an
attorney who has produced local shows. In 1989 her mother cast her and her brother Matt,
then 7, in a university production of "Macbeth."
By 1993, Matthews was often working in the Chicago stage at night.
Last year a talent scout saw her in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and invited her to
L.A., where she won the Princess role. "I wanted someone who wasn't worried about
technique," says director Alfonso Cuaron. "Liesel was more interested in having
fun than establishing a career. That's rare."
After a three-month shoot in L.A., Matthews is still not committed to
an acting career. "We don't want her to feel limited," says her mother. Matthews
will take a year off, then think about her next project. "If I leave school to make a
movie," she says, "it's bound to affect my education. My entire life will
change. I'm not ready for that. I'm just a little girl."