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The Emporium's Employee
While Mr. Magorium is the madcap brains behind the business and Mahoney oversees the day-to-day management of the store's constantly creative goings-on, the Wonder Emporium also has one small but vital employee: 9 year-old Eric Applebaum, a brilliant but shy young loner who's trying to come out of his shell. 

Eric proved to be the hardest part of all to cast, sparking a nation-wide search for a little boy with these unique mix of qualities. "We probably saw close to 2,000 kids in an exhaustive coast-to-coast effort,” says James Garavente. "We needed a someone who could come off as the smartest person in the room – yet, at the same time, wasn't bratty, impudent or even precocious; just really intelligent in the best way.” 

Finally, they saw Zach Mills, who was born in Lakewood, Ohio and recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career – and the hunt came to an abrupt end. "Zach came across as an incredibly wise little boy,” continues Garavente. "He's very smart, polite and interacts very well with adults which really worked for the character of Eric because Eric lives in a world of adults. He has a hard time engaging with other kids and that is a part of Eric's journey that Zach captured so brilliantly.”

"He seemed wise and innocent at the same time,” remembers Richard Gladstein. "It seems in the case of this film, the older you are the more youthful you are and the younger you are, the wiser you are. So Dustin was the perfect one to play youthful and Zach was perfect playing the ‘grown up!'”

Writer-director Zach Helm was equally impressed. "As soon as we saw his audition tape I knew we had found our Eric,” recalls Helm. "There was no doubt in anyone's mind. He is so expressive and focused. Many child actors are trained with very unreal affectations, but Zach has none of those. He is such a natural that you immediately understand everything that is going on with Eric and as soon as you see him on screen, you're rooting for him. Plus, he's got a great head for wearing hats!” 

As for Mills, he couldn't believe his great fortune. "What could be more fun for a kid than to be in a movie about a magical toy store?” he wonders. "I mean, everyday I would walk on set I'd see some new toy I hadn't seen the day before. There were so many toys and books just everywhere…it was great. Everyone was so nice to me especially, Natalie and Jason, because they were both actors when they were my age so I think they were looking out for me.”

Portman was especially thrilled with her young co-star. "I thought he was amazing,” she says. "Eric is such a special character, such a pure kid with this unstoppable belief in everything and Zach really knew how to become that. He's also a very sweet, smart kid who's polite and kind and a great actor. He spoiled me because then other kids would come in and I'd see how hard it can be for them!”

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