For equally obvious reasons, Smith's starring role in Birch has made him a target for autograph hunters. "I'm easy to recognize," he notes. Smith suffers from Morquio's syndrome, a hereditary disorder that causes dwarfism; he has already reached his full height of 3' 1½". He has had spinal surgery and two operations on his legs to correct misalignment and rides a scooter from class to class at his public school. But, says the 37-lb. sixth grader, "I've just been a normal kid."
Not to mention precocious. "He's an extraordinarily bright and perceptive child," says Judd. "He's into chemistry and is constantly reading a book." Smith—who lives in a Chicago suburb with brother Brian, 5, and parents Steve, a marketing consultant, and Gayle, a former teacher—dreams of becoming a lawyer. But he will always be proud of Birch. In past films, he says, dwarfs "have been portrayed as freaks. I hope [viewers] understand that we're just normal people."
Who?" Ian Michael Smith asked when Simon Birch director Mark Steven Johnson told him that Jim Carrey had been cast in a small role. Smith, who prefers sci-fi books to movies, has since seen Carrey in The Mask. But the R-rated films of Ashley Judd, who plays his best friend's mother in Birch, remain off limits, says the actor, "for obvious reasons."