[Note: This interview contains spoilers about the film The NeverEnding Story]
Today’s Eight Eighties Questions are being answered by Tami Stronach, who was unforgettable in her role as the Childlike Empress in the legendary 1984 film The NeverEnding Story. Arguably one of the greatest epic children’s movies of the decade, every 1980s kid remembers the land of Fantasia being mysteriously destroyed by the Nothing. Fantasia was filled with unforgettable characters such as The Childlike Empress, Atreyu, Falkor, and the Rockbiter, and their world mysteriously came into contact with ours when a little boy named Bastian began to read about them in a book that pulled the two worlds together.
Many thanks to Tami Stronach for taking the time to be part of the Eight Eighties Questions series.
1. You were eleven years old when production began, and your role was quite a demanding one for a child. As the ruler of Fantasia, you seemed to possess the wisdom of the ages. But in one scene you had to go from having great hope because of Atreyu’s successful journey, and tearful desperation as you plead with Bastian in another world to save Fantasia. How did you prepare for the role?
I was very serious about preparing for the role and had a journal I carried around with me that included things I thought I needed to improve on in terms of my capturing my character. Here is a brief quote from that journal "The Empress is very dignified and serious, and mystery is always with her. Secrets are always hidden in her and yet with her there is a sense of safety and warmth." I also created a list of adjectives some of which make sense like "magical, very sick, very old (300 years), very other worldly" and some of which make me chuckle like "very Empress, very Godess- like...
2. The Ivory Tower was an amazing set. What did you think the first time you saw it?
The truth is in the filming process you only see pieces of the final product so I saw the bed I sat on and the walls of my room built around it. These were obviously impressive but when I saw the view of the Ivory Tower from a distance in the film that was really the first time I was exposed to the effect of the sum of these parts. It was thrilling.
3. What can you tell us about your experience filming the movie?
I loved filming the movie. Acting was something I was very passionate about. Wolfgang talked to me in a professional way that I enjoyed. He didn't talk to me like I was child - he directed me the way he directed the adults. Also as a child it was easy to slip into imaginary worlds for me. I often felt more at home in imaginary worlds than in reality.
4. What was it like working with Noah Hathaway [Atreyu] and Barret Oliver [Bastian]?
Well, it’s a funny age for girls and boys to mix. Barret was really into action figures which I could not really relate to although I thought he was a very nice boy. Noah was also really nice but I think he was disappointed that I was essentially a nerd. I mostly wanted to practice my lines.
5. Did you get to keep any souvenirs after the filming ended?
I got some action figures, a stuffed Luck dragon, some pencils...I was supposed to get to keep my dress from the film but it never shipped which is a little disappointing as I would have loved to pass it on to my daughter. She has inherited a similar penchant for imaginary worlds.
6. The symbolism in the story is incredible, the idea that the Nothing is about growing up and losing your imagination and your dreams. As you have grown up, do you find that the meaning of the story has changed for you at all over the years?
I think I understand the value of imagination even more now. I am a choreographer and also an assistant professor of dance at Marymount Manhattan College. I tell my students that making a dance is really powerful because it reinforces for us that ideas in our head can be given form and come into the world. This action is applicable to anything, not just making art. I think this connects to my being more comfortable in imaginary worlds versus reality as a child. Reality can sometimes be so depressing with the environmental crisis we are facing and the violence humanity seems so addicted to revisiting each decade. But if we have a vision that is clear it can find its way into being (with diligence and work) and that's the key to making a better world. I think that is what The NeverEnding Story is about for me. It asks people to dream . . . to do what they dream so what they imagine comes into being and replaces our destructive tendencies. It's also just a really fun visual fantasy world to get lost in.
|Tami Stronach today|
7. What are you working on currently?
I have been dancing, choreographing and acting in NYC for the last 20 years. I have two projects I am currently working on "Light A Dark Comedy", a theater piece for family audiences and "Around the Bend", a dance theater piece.
Tami Stronach Dance's "Around the Bend" is being presented by Triskelion Arts in NY this February. It's an exciting premier for my company and the piece has been invited to Russia and Canada so it looks like there will be some touring in the works.
I am really excited about the second project because it is a bit of a departure for me but in many ways also a coming home of sorts. "Light a Dark Comedy" is a theater work for family audiences that we hope to premier in NY next spring. We were awarded a Labworks residency at the New Victory theater to launch the project and will be taking the next year to finish it. This work is geared for the same type of audience members that appreciated The NeverEnding Story but for the stage. I hope that I can entertain the children of people who loved The NeverEnding Story as well as my daughter. Coming back to theater and a fantasy and family entertainment feels nice!
8. What is one piece of life advice that you would like to share?
Living a creative, authentic life can be hard...the rewards are often more spiritual then material. But it's worth it. Do what you love...This is cheesy but I'm going to write it...do what what you dream.