First released in theaters over 33 years ago, The Never-Ending Story still has a huge following. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, the film catapulted its child star Tami Stronach to stardom and became a global hit, earning over $100 million worldwide. Today, Tami’s Paper Canoe Company produces ‘family friendly’ work similar to Never-Ending Story. In this one-on-one interview, Tami fondly recalls her role as the Child-like Empress in her breakout role, and she reveals the many new creative outlets she continues to explore as a talented entertainer.
How did you get the role of the Child Empress in Never Ending Story?
Tami Stronach: I was doing a lot of acting and dancing in local community theaters. I attended an acting school in San Francisco. We were doing various plays in different schools and Anna Gross, the casting agent for Never Ending Story, was in town looking for an actress for the role. Coincidentally, Anna just happened to be friends with my acting teacher at the time. She came into our acting class and asked me if I wanted to audition for the role in this new film. I treated it as any local school audition and had no idea I’d be participating in a major project of this scope.
It sounds like you were already busy doing lots of performance art.
Tami: I loved acting and dancing from very early on. I was always happy in that context. I kind of drowned myself in those activities.
The film has delighted millions of children and parents over the years. Do you still get feedback from your fans?
Tami: I do. I’ll be honest with you, for the longest time, I wasn’t really focusing on the letters and emails. I came to New York as a young person to pursue a career as a dancer. At that time, I didn’t feel that Never Ending Story was something that would give me a leg up in the field I was trying to enter. So I kind of distanced myself from it and focused more on live performance art and dancing. I read the letters back then, but I was a starving artist working 12-hour days, so I didn’t really have time to sit down and write people back. But recently with the birth of my daughter, everything shifted and I founded Paper Canoe Company to create family-oriented content. It brought me back to my roots of family entertainment, which is really what the Never Ending Story was.
Why do you think audiences around the world have responded and continue to respond to Never Ending Story?
Tami: I think it’s the theme of the story. It’s a fun movie and visually beautiful. It has so much whimsy. But beyond that, it’s also kind of a deep film with an urgent message. It shows that through imagination and trusting your heart, there’s the possibility of building better worlds. I think that reality can beat us into submission. We need to trust our imagination, to believe that something new can be created, something that opens a door to new vistas.
So you’re also doing a lot of dancing. What made you segue into that realm of creative expression?
Tami: After Never Ending Story became far more successful than we imagined, being a celebrity at that age was really overwhelming. I never wanted to walk away from performing. It’s in my DNA. But at the time, I didn’t want to choose celebrity as a lifestyle. For me, dance was a way of staying creative without the pitfalls of being a child celebrity. But now as an adult, I see that celebrity can be a wonderfully powerful way to build connections with people. So viewed through that lens, I really have a very different perspective.
So what inspired you to create the Paper Canoe Company? And what can you tell us about the dark comedy, Light?
Tami: With Paper Canoe, I’m putting all the things I’m passionate about under a single umbrella. I had this diverse life that included acting, dancing and singing—even doing a POP album when I was a little older. Now I want to create family content that connects with kids, families and people who loved Never Ending Story, so that parents will have something magical to enrich their kids’ childhood. Last year, we created two theater shows and an album. Among these were the dark comedy called Light, and the folk rock opera, Beanstalk Jack. The joy is that little kids are still at the age where reality and fantasy are still kind of blurred for them.
Can you tell us more about the folk rock opera, Beanstalk Jack?
Tami: It’s the third project created by Paper Canoe and we’ll be developing it into a full theater show. It’s a concert because it tells the story all through music. We’ll be adding some costumes and theatrical elements, so it becomes kind of a concert play. We wanted to take a story that’s so iconic and make it relevant to kids and families today. So we put a bit of spin on the original story. I use my daughter and her friends as sort of a mini focus group to test out if something works or not. Ultimately, I came up with the idea of having Jack defeat the Giant a different way. Our message is that being happy and doing what you love is the ultimate triumph over anything dark.
Will Beanstalk Jack ever be produced as a video for kids and parents to watch at home?
Tami: We’re developing these projects in a variety of ways. Beanstalk Jack is on sale right now on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify and others, so you can by the CD. We also want to do some live streaming of upcoming concerts, which we’ll have on our website and available for download. I’m making some music videos for the shows, which will bring my dance background into it.
And what are your plans for Light?
Tami: We’re going to turn it into a graphic novel. I know it will come alive in that medium because the particular world we’ve created lends itself to pictures. We’re thinking about moving ourselves into TV and film, and I think Light would make a great film.
I understand you’re now a big Comic-con fan.
Tami: Attending Comic-con made me realize how really special Never Ending Story was, to have all these people who care so much about this film. So this year, I’m making a point of returning to Comic-con, hugging people, shaking their hands and enjoying this special connection with those who share my love for the film. I now make it a point to answer all my fan mail. I’m connecting with people on Twitter and other social media. It’s kind of a whole new chapter for me and I’m really enjoying it.
Will you be showcasing any of these projects at Comic-con?
Tami: I’ll do interviews. I’m a huge fan of Stranger Things. At the last Comic-con, I got to interview Millie Bobby Brown about being a young actress and we talked about my Paper Canoe projects. So at our booth, we’d like to have the graphic novel, Light and other Paper Canoe projects. I’ve started reading scripts again and I’m looking at coming back into TV. I’m also getting letters of support, urging me to do another movie. It’s not only surprising but humbling.