08/03/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
At an audition for the film of the classic children's book Madeline, 10-year-old Hatty Jones was asked about her London home life. Well, she said, her brothers, Charles, 7, and Peter, 4, are "very naughty. They come into my room when I'm not there and mess around with my stuffed toys, which is a bit annoying." The film's director, Daisy von Scherler Mayer, not only liked the story, she ended up casting Jones in the title role, though her only acting experience had been in a drama club. "I jumped up and down by the telephone," recalls Jones. "And I had my mum next to me, and I was just so pleased."
Her mum, on the other hand, was worried that Hatty would be overwhelmed. On the first day of the 12-week Paris shoot, "Hatty said that she had a tummyache and she came and sat on my lap," says mother Sue, a homemaker. (Either she or her husband, Chris, a lawyer, were with Hatty most of the time, along with a tutor.) "She looked so little, and I could only think, 'Oh, my little baby.' " Luckily, Jones made fast friends with her costars—even those a few times her age. "Hatty's a witty kid," says Frances McDormand, who plays schoolmarm Miss Clavel. "She is very funny and composed—she's really a delight." Jones, whose favorite actress is Julia Roberts
, spent break time dancing to Spice Girls and Hanson CDs with the other young castmates. In fact, says Sue, as the fall shoot wore on, each time Mom and Dad offered to take her home for a weekend, Hatty would say, " 'That's all right, Mum—I'll wait 'til Christmas.' "