HOLLYWOOD -- The trick to bringing 'The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking' to the screen was finding the right kid to play the part.
Veteran director Ken Annakin interviewed 8,000 tykes from age 8 to 12 in the United States and abroad before finally settling on Tami Erin.
Although Annakin, a native of England who now makes his home in Malibu, has made other movies with kids -- 'A Swiss Family Robinson,' 'Paper Tiger' -- he never directed a picture with so much emphasis on a single child.
'I was faced with shooting the film for eight and a half weeks with a 12-year-old girl in the leading role,' he said. 'She was required to work every day, and I'd never been faced with a problem like that.
'I was allowed by law only to work her a certain amount of hours a day and she had to spend three hours at schooling. Three weeks before we began, Tami worked every day on aerobics because she had to be athletic, learn to ride a horse, handle a monkey and rehearse lines.
'There are two other children in the picture and I tried to get the three kids to learn their lines so well that I could wake them in the middle of the night and they could go straight into their lines.
'They never fluffed a line even though the scenes were not shot in continuity. They were able to concentrate on their moves and attitudes because the lines were so familiar and natural to them. They didn't have to concentrate on what they were saying.
'Children take direction much more easily than adults. Some kids, of course, would never be any good at all, but 50 percent of youngsters are natural actors in a way. You tell them what to do and put them in a situation that is familiar to them and it's amazing how they respond.
'I like to work with children because they are less inhibited and more intuitive. Adults are often watching the other actors and trying to upstage them or even trying to throw the other actor.
'There is a lot of finagling with adult performers, but kids are still fairly raw and honest and it's much easier. Of course you have to choose the right child.'
Annakin doesn't find it easy to define star quality in a child. He relies on a sixth sense. Tami had never acted before, which was all in her favor as far as he was concerned.
'As a director one has a certain conception of the part before he begins looking for a performer,' he said.
'One thing I avoid in looking for a child actor is the kid who has been pushed by his or her parents into being an actor and doing commercials. If during an interview the youngster said, my name is so-and-so, my age is such-and-such, my agent is so-and-so and my manager is somebody else, then they didn't have a chance on this picture.
'Obviously, they were little child actors who had no place in 'Pippi Longstocking.' I looked for the image of what I had in mind, how the three kids looked together and perhaps more importantly, I studied the parents.
'Don't forget, directors have no power on the set unless the child and the parents are willing to come to work at a certain time and be ready to do their parts. You can't force them to work. So the parents are very important. For that reason you judge the parents like you do the child.
'I love working with kids, but if my daughter or, currently my granddaughter, wanted to become actresses, I'd have done my best to dissuade them.
'In fact, when we began this picture my granddaughter was 11 years old, red-headed with freckles, just like Pippi. We looked at her and I said, 'This is absolutely Pippi.' But I didn't want to work with her because I did not feel I would have had the communication with her I eventually had with Tami.
'In principle, I would say it isn't good for children to become actors. But there are exceptional kids like Tami who take to acting like ducks to water. Tami truly blossomed when she was working. I hope she will carry on even though she's 14 now.'
If there is a sequel to 'The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking,' Tami will have outgrown the part.
'I would have to cast another little girl,' Annakin said. 'I already have my eye on a possible actress, one of the kids we saw in the original search.'