Growing up, I wasn't really one of the kids that was obsessed with The NeverEnding story. I mean, I had seen it, multiple times, but it wasn't the first thing I'd grab off the shelf when digging through our hefty VHS collection.
So, to prepare for this interview I figured it was time to give TNS another shot, thirty-three years later seems fair enough, right? Despite my hesitation, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the classic fantasy film. That was until I re-entered the "Swamp of Sadness" and quickly remembered why I would usually grab Ace Venture instead of this hellish nightmare. I eventually powered through thanks to a charming narrator, voiced by Alan Oppeheimer, and with my bullies behind me, I knew the only thing I could do next is to interview The Childlike Empress, Tami Stronach.
Tami Stronach: Hi Jessie, this is Tami.
Jessie Hobson: Hey Tami, how are you doing today?
TS: I’m good, how are you?
JH: I am doing just fine. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it.
TS: Oh, thank you for having me.
JH: Not a problem. So, right off the bat, I’ve talked with some child stars in the past, and I’m really curious about your on-set experience. Cause you were eleven at the time, I believe, and I’m just kind of curious how that was for you.
TS: Well, the experience of making the film was amazing. It was, I’d been doing a lot of a theatre, and dance, and participating in a lot of plays. So obviously going to the set was like doing that but on steroids. Like, it was so magical, and heightened. And, extraordinary scale. But I have to say that being a celebrity didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t very well equipped for it, and I come from an academic family who didn’t have any idea about how to navigate the Hollywood machine in the 80s for kids. So, we found, just as a family, the whole thing a little bit overwhelming. We had people camped out in front of our house. We had phone calls all day and all night, like ringing off the hook, and we were just kind of looking at each other going like what is this? (laughs)
So, I choose to walk away from celebrity, but I never stopped making things. I was always dancing, acting, making stories, and so, I kept on creating art works, but just choose to stay out of film and TV. Although, I think that I am finally feeling differently about the whole thing, and as an adult now, I have some irons in the fire, and I would like to get back to some TV and film now. And, I feel now, like at this moment in my life it would really be a lovely way to connect to people and not at all the way it felt like when I was eleven. (laughs)
JH: Gotcha. Well, I had read that you had thought you were auditioning for a small play…
TS: I did! Yeah, I had no idea what I was auditioning for.
JH: So, keeping that in mind, what was your reaction when you saw the final product? Like, once you saw the movie, full scale, what was that like?
TS: Well, you know, I mean, even how it unfolded, I saw the premiere in Germany and my part was dubbed into German. The whole film was in German. So, even at the premiere in Germany, I still was like, oh, it’s in German. I guess they did it in English, but it’s… I didn’t, I had no idea it would have the impact that it did, or it would necessarily make, have the sticking power that it did in the end. So, it really continues to surprise me and amaze me, and even to this day I feel really grateful now, as an adult, that I understand what an incredible luck it is to part of something that means so much to so many people, and that so many people still have an affection for, it’s kind of surprising.
JH: Although you had left the celebrity, did you, any part of you, feel a little disappointed that you weren’t brought back for one of the sequels?
TS: Well, I was asked to sign on for the sequels, but we were, my parents felt really strongly that they did not want me to do the sequels. And, that was all happening before I was eighteen and off to college, so it just was not something that, l mean, I had in the beginning, I was not going to be doing the sequels cause we choose not to do the sequels.
JH: Understand, thank you so much. Let’s see, so you were eleven years old, did you have any stories about jumping on Falkor, riding him, or taking anything from set?
TS: (laughs) No, I mean it was just like, I mean, the girl in the movie doesn’t get to do the riding on Falkor. I was super jealous. (laughs) I don’t know exactly, I mean, The Empress on Falkor is a funny idea, so I get it.
JH: Yeah, I would definitely like… I don’t know. I probably would have taken something, like anything. Just knowing, being a child on a set like that, there would have been a piece of me that assumed something was an action figure or something like that.
JH: So, I’ve been researching you on this part for a couple days now, and I also had read that Wolfgang, immediately, he wasn’t really, you, he wasn’t really sold on you as The Childlike Empress.
TS: No. No. He took some convincing. I think it was the casting agent that was really my alley. The one who saw me initially in the acting class, and so there was three different auditions that I had to go through. The first one was in San Francisco, and seeing as how I wasn’t really very polished, in terms of how you audition for things, I showed up wearing this greasy pink make-up because I had been in a play that morning where I played Piglet from Winnie the Poo.
So, I was like, I had all this greasy smudged pig make-up on. (laughs) So, I tried to like squish it off, ya know? So, then they asked me to come back and look more princess like for the L.A. audition, and the casting director did my make-up for that. She was like, you know what? I’m gonna help you out on this one. (laughs) So, that was really nice of her. And then, by the time we got to Germany my understanding is that, in his mind, he had envisioned an Asian empress, like somebody with an Eastern look. So, I didn’t quite fit the bill, but I got lucky. I got lucky, and I managed to tip it to try something else.
JH: Excellent. I had just recently watched the movie, just to kinda prepare for this a little bit. And, I was curious as far was what like you thought, what would be the ideal age, like, that a child should view this movie?
TS: That’s a great question. Obviously different kids are different; I have a six-year-old and I’m waiting until she is eight. And, I’m really nervous that I’m going to traumatize her. Oh, here, look at Mommy’s movie. She’s like… (screams) So, I’m waiting till eight because, and it’s funny, I don’t know what scares kids is different. Some kids get scared from gory stuff, and other kids get scared when there’s like fighting. Different kids are different, but that’s my guess, what do you say?
JH: To be totally honest with you, I would honestly agree with you because I was talking with some friends recently and a lot of them are still traumatized. And, we’re talking about like thirty, thirty-five-year-old… It’s hard to say, it’s really hard to grasp it. So, that’s kinda where that question came from.
TS: Yeah. I might even wait longer. Because, it is a good film, but I think part of what is effective about the film is it had real sadness. It has real, dark, scary things in it. It isn’t like a real sugar coded experience. It has real range. Like, it has really beautiful highs, but it also has some pretty dark, sad, scary moments. And, I think that’s what makes it a journey worth taking.
JH: Totally, and I can’t agree with you more because it ends on a positive note, but to get to that point, for a six or seven-year-old, I’d say that that journey would be pretty difficult.
TS: It’s a little intense. (laughs) Yes.
JH: So, Alan Oppenheimer is a good friend of the website. Do you have any stories from him being on set, he did a lot of the voices for the film.
TS: Sure. I know, he’s so amazing. I didn’t really interact with him actually. Because the parts that The Empress were in, they were sorta solitary. So, it was a lot with Noah and a lot with Barret, and when I was watching the behind the scenes stuff, it just wasn’t on sections he was in.
JH: Gotcha. So, we’re gonna jump a bit forward here. Can you talk about the content that you guys produce at The Paper Canoe Company?
TS: Sure. So, we decided that we wanted to make family entertainment where the stories would be good enough that everybody would enjoy them. We found, when we were watching stuff with our daughter, there was some really, really good content, but we ended up kind of plowing through that relatively quickly. And then we found that we were like, oh, I don’t really know if I want her to watch that. (laughs) Ya know? And so, we looked at each other and we said, well, ya know, we’re gonna take a stab at it. And, we started with live shows because that is the medium that I am the most familiar with, working in New York for the last twenty years in live performance. And we created two different shows.
One is called, Light, The Dark Comedy, which is more of a sci-fi world about a world where the sun is stolen through a good intention scientist. And, everyone forgets that there once was light, and a young girl who’s very, very inquisitive goes through this big, epic journey to bring back light to save the day. And, that’s something that after two stage productions in New York, I’m really curious about turning it into a graphic novel. I think it would really come alive in that format. We created a really cute sock puppet show called A Sock’s Fables based on Aesop’s Fables. That was born in our house in a snow storm. (laughs) We did it for some kids who were just losing their minds from being shut in for three days, everyone in our New York building. (laughs) And then more kids came, and then the local theatre invited us to do it, and then another theatre invited us to do it. And it sort of turned into a community staple. We do it in the winter when kids are stir crazy, and it’s been really, really fun doing that for kids.
And then our latest project is The Beanstalk Jack which is a folk opera, and it explores vintage rock, a lot of 80s sounds. Our giant is really Tom Waits-y, and we gave it a little bit of a spin. The giant has a daughter named Harmony who’s very lonely and lives in a gilded cage up in the sky, all this fancy stuff… but she’s all alone. And so when Jack comes up the beanstalk instead of stealing the giant’s stuff and killing him, he steals her heart. He steals the giant’s most prized possession, and they run off together and start a band. So, that’s our version and we’re touring that around. We started doing some shows, I’m booking more in the coming months. And, we want to develop that into a concert play, and we’re gonna make some music videos for the CD, and that’s been our first foray into digital content since that’s kind of the slightly new chapter for me. And we’re starting to really be really excited about making more digital content in the future.
JH: And for the videos, I’m assuming you’re doing the choreography?
TS: Exactly! (laughs)
JH: Excellent. So, you kinda have your hands in everything. Dance. Act. Sing. Were you a little bummed out when Childlike Empress didn't get a band named after them like Atreyu?
TS: (laughs) No, I mean, honestly, I have so many people send me like tattoos, or pictures. Or, people painted their vans with stuff from The NeverEnding Story. I have nothing to complain about. I feel like the images through the iconic nature of that have been something really for me to enjoy. And, I love it when people send me stuff. I’ve had people also, so nice, this one person from a ComicCon, she made the little jewel that The Empress wears on her forehead. She recreated that with beads, and gave me one… and one for my daughter. (laughs) So, my daughter, she loves it. She wears it all the time. So, I’m okay with the “no band” – there’s, yeah, it’s fine. (laughs)
JH: As long as they don’t call at midnight, then you’re good.
JH: So, I have one more question for ya then I’ll let you go.
JH: How many wishes do I get?
TS: The more wishes you make, the more magnificent everything will become. (laughs) We made a really funny mug, we were going to a ComicCon, and I wanted to have a little fun with it. Not take it to seriously, and ya know, meet people and have a good time, and just be myself, ya know? And so, we made this mug where, there’s, have these plastic figurines of me that I was given in the film. And, also Bastian and Rockbiter, a couple characters from the film. So, it has The Empress on the front, we put the little figurine of Bastian reading a book on the back, and the mug says the more coffee you drink the more magnificent Fantasia will become. So… (laughs) kind of similar.
JH: That’s awesome. Thank you… well, I’m gonna let you go because I know you have a lot to do today. I definitely appreciate your time, Tami, and hopefully everything keeps going the way it’s going for you.
TS: That’s so nice of you to say. Thank you so much for having me, take care.
JH: You too. Bye, bye.
What a treat, right? Be sure to check in on Tami and The Paper Canoe Company HERE, as they are getting ready to share the above-mentioned music videos and tour dates. Maybe they'll be coming to a town near you. And maybe this time. she'll being riding Falkor... finally.