Hollywood loves a comeback story, especially when it’s about one of its own.
Actor Noah Hathaway achieved the pinnacle of his business when he starred in the epic fantasy film “The Neverending Story” at age 12.
The 1984 film was an adaptation of Michael Ende’s novel about a boy who must save the alternative world of Fantasia from destruction by “The Nothing.” It grossed $100 million worldwide.
After a two-decade absence from Hollywood, Hathaway, now 43, has turned his attention back to Hollywood. He’ll be making appearances in Tacoma and Seattle this week.
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Despite his age at the time, Hathaway was hardly a newbie when he was cast in “The Neverending Story.” He had been working in commercials and TV since he was a tyke.
But the long and arduous filming of “The Neverending Story” set him on the road to an early retirement.
“I worked the first 20-something years of my life as an actor. I just wanted to drop off the radar and be a regular human being,” Hathaway said in an interview last week.
Leaving entertainment, he embarked on a series of careers: mortgage broker, tattoo artist, dancer, martial arts trainer, motorcycle builder and racer.
“I have trouble sitting still. I have lots of extra testosterone. But I’m actually a big softie,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway was just 6 when he was cast in the sci-fi TV series “Battlestar Galactica” in 1978.
“I don’t think I had front teeth when we shot the pilot,” Hathaway said. He played Boxey, the son of Capt. Apollo, played by Richard Hatch. A chimp was used to portray Boxey’s dog-like robot.
“When I was 6 years old I had my own chimp. It was all this great sci-fi stuff. It was awesome,” Hathaway said.
Though the series lasted just one season, it still has a loyal fan following and eventually spawned a 21st century reboot. Hathaway was slated to appear at last weekend’s Galacticon 4 in Seattle but bowed out several weeks prior.
“These people (the show’s producers) overextended themselves... and as soon as my Spidey-sense started tingling, I pulled out,” Hathaway said. “I don’t work that way.”
Last week, just a few days before the convention was slated to start, its management canceled the appearances of 11 celebrity guests including Edward James Olmos and Hatch.
At fan conventions like comicons and Galacticon, celebrities like Hathaway are either paid for their appearances or guaranteed a certain amount of revenue from autograph and photo opportunity sales. But that’s not the main reason he does them, Hathaway said.
“You make a couple of bucks, but it’s about spending time with people who have waited 20 or 30 years to meet their favorite celebrity,” he said. “Without these people I wouldn’t have a job.”
‘THE NEVERENDING STORY’
Often billed as a children’s movie, “The Neverending Story” takes dark turns as Hathaway, playing the lead part of Atreyu, goes on a quest to help the residents of Fantasia.
“I feel like at conventions I should have a fishbowl with dollars in it so I can chip in to your therapy,” Hathaway sometimes tells fans.
But it’s Hathaway who still might need therapy years after filming wrapped.
German director Wolfgang Petersen was a perfectionist who spoke little English. He required up to 40 takes to film a scene, Hathaway said.
“A three-month movie turned into a year. It was a lot of work.”
Two scenes alone, in the swamps of sadness where Artax the horse dies and Atreyu meets the gigantic tortoise, took two months of shooting. During that time Hathaway was up to his waist in mud.
“Falling out the tree was great, but everything else was horrible,” Hathaway said of the scenes where the tortoise sneezes him out of a tree.
Before filming began Hathaway began training with horses. During one of those sessions a horse got spooked and tried to jump a fence while Hathaway was on its back.
“It didn’t jump the fence and fell on top of me,” Hathaway said. The accident cracked a couple of Hathaway’s vertebrae. He spent two months in a hospital and still has back issues today plus several titanium screws.
The film has left physical and mental scars on Hathaway.
“It’s the weirdest experience of my life. On one end it’s some of the most wonderful parts of my life, and in another respect it’s part of the worst parts of my life.”
But Hathaway is able to separate the legacy of the film from his own experiences making it. He’s reminded of the film’s impact every time he meets fans.
“People are scared sometimes to come up. They’ll stand 20 feet away and look at you, and you almost have to coax them up. It’s so surreal for people. When a mother with her children is sobbing because that movie you did changed their life for the better, if you’re in touch with any kind of humanity, that’s the stuff that makes you feel good.”
The ultimate fan tribute: Hundreds of “Neverending Story” tattoos. He made a few himself while working as a tattoo artist in Europe.
“I wouldn’t do another Auryn (talisman) tattoo because I did 15 in three weeks,” he said. “It is very flattering though.”
Next up for Hathaway was the 1986 fantasy-themed “Troll.” Hathaway plays a teen named Harry Potter Jr., who moves into an apartment building inhabited by an evil troll and the troll’s witch nemesis.
The cult classic had a memorable cast. June Lockhart played the witch. Supporting actors included Anne Lockhart, Sonny Bono, Gary Sandy, Brad Hall and his soon-to-be wife Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her first movie.
Like “The Neverending Story,” “Troll” uses animatronic characters, a special effect all but wiped out by computer generated imagery.
“Now, you’re talking to a green tennis ball,” Hathaway lamented. “It just doesn’t seem as real.”
And about that name his character shares with the famous English boy wizard?
Hathaway thinks it’s just coincidental that J.K. Rowling chose the same name for her stories 10 years later.
“I made a better Harry Potter than Daniel Radcliffe,” Hathaway said with a laugh. “I was cuter.”
Hathaway was living in Amsterdam when he got a literal midnight call to appear in “Sushi Girl,” a 2013 noir thriller by Kern Saxton.
The Tarantino-esque film features cameos by Shin’ichi Chiba, Danny Trejo and Michael Biehn, but makes major use of Mark Hamill, virtually unrecognizable from his “Star Wars” days, as he chews through the scenery and Hathaway’s body.
“Hamill and Sonny Chiba are in? Sign me up. I was on the plane six hours later,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway plays Fish, freshly released from prison and perhaps the only person in a criminal gang who knows what happened to a bag of purloined diamonds. Hamill’s character sets out to torture the information from Fish.
“You’ll definitely be watching it through fingers,” Hathaway warned of scenes involving pliers and chopsticks. “It still gives me goose bumps. I have them right now. But we had a lot of fun making it.”
It turns out “Sushi Girl” was the psychological boost Hathaway needed to return to Hollywood. And stay there.
“It just kind of reignited everything,” Hathaway said.
Since then he’s written five screenplays, two of which have been financed with a pilot slated to start filming in the next month. He hopes to sell it to Netflix or Amazon.
This time around he’ll be in control of his career.
“If you shoot a pilot yourself, you can keep what you own instead of giving it over to somebody.”
NOAH HATHAWAY APPEARANCES
What: “The Neverending Story” screening with live commentary from Hathaway.
Where: Columbia City Theater, 4916 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday.
Tickets: $10 for screening, $25 for meet and greet (includes autograph and photo).
Information: columbiacitytheater.com, 206-722-3009.
What: Tacoma meet and greet
Where: Dorky’s, 754 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $25 (includes autograph and photo).
Information: dorkysarcade.com, 253-627-4156.
What: Lacey meet and greet
Where: Olympic Cards and Comics, 4230 Pacific Ave. S.E., Lacey.
When: Noon-3 p.m. Saturday.
Information: olympiccardsandcomics.com, 360-459-7721.