NEW YORK - Twelve-year-old Flora Cross had never made a movie before she was cast in Bee Season opposite Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche.
But the family drama's co-directors, Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End), saw something in her quirky, weird videotaped audition that enchanted them.
"We cast her to some degree because there was a beautiful naturalism about her that just comes from her being her," Siegel told reporters. "And with Flora, you didn't have to shed away the training that an actor has. But you did have to get her to relax into the experience."
The Paris-born, Buenos-Aires-based Cross says acting was in her blood and she couldn't wait to get started. Her role model is actress Kristen Dunst, who also began as a child actor.
"I've wanted to do it since I was five, because both of my brothers (Harley Cross, Eli Marienthal) are actors, but I started at nine," says the beautiful, dimple-chinned Cross. "What I like about it is that you can become different characters, different people. My father always had it in mind."
Her real-life father is a journalist -- and aspiring screenwriter -- for one of the newspapers in Buenos Aires.
In Bee Season, Cross plays an expert speller who is put through her paces by her obsessive, religious studies professor father (Gere), who also introduces her to the teachings of Kabbalah, the Jewish mysticism embraced by such celebrities as Madonna and Demi Moore.
The movie puts a lot of demands on her tiny shoulders, but Gere says Cross was always up to the task.
"She never lost it. She never retreated. She understood what was required of her. And she had the innate qualities that were right for this part. Obviously that movie doesn't work without that character being right. It's all about her. The whole movie revolves about her, and her experience and how she sees things. When I saw the first (screen) test, she wasn't talking, it was just her face, and the long shot, she was beautiful. I said, 'She's obviously kind of an extraordinary looking girl, but she's way too old. She's 18, 19 years old.' And there was another take of her just playing around with Max (Minghella who plays her brother) and she looks like a four-year-old. So she has that kind of extraordinary woman-child thing going on. It's the only way this movie works."
Under child labour laws, Cross could only work six hours a day, but her directors said they had a hard time getting her to leave the set.
"The A.D. would jokingly say, 'You're turning into a pumpkin at a particular hour,' meaning she would have to go because we only had a fixed amount of hours," said Siegel. "And Flora would always be saying, 'I don't want to be a Pumpkin! I don't want to be a Pumpkin!' 'cause she just really enjoyed being there."
And while Cross may be the film's star, she was geninuely surprised when she saw the poster for Bee Season, and her face was that much bigger than that of her famous co-stars.
"When my friend sent me the poster by e-mail I'm like, 'Where did you find that poster? What is my head doing there?' I didn't know what to say. In the beginning, when I saw the movie and then I saw the poster, it was a little bit of a shock. I'm getting used to it."