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."

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."