In an oral history about “The Neverending Story” for Entertainment Weekly, Noah Hathaway talked about getting cast as Atreyu. He told EW, “My casting has a whole backstory because there was a different director attached before Wolfgang [Petersen]. They did one of those worldwide searches to cast the role and they saw something like 50,000 kids [laughs].” Because the movie ended up changing directors partway through casting, this meant that Hathaway had to audition many times before getting the part. In fact, even though he had been cast as Atreyu by the initial director, when Petersen came on board, he still had to re-audition.
“They let me go and started the whole casting process again and I had to audition for Wolfgang and two producers. Finally, after like three or four more [auditions], I got hired again,” explained Hathaway. To some, this might seem like fate that both directors saw him as the perfect fit for the part, but Hathaway resisted giving in to that idea. He said, “I don’t want to say it was ‘meant to be’ because I really worked my ass for it. I must’ve read the script three dozen times and knew every line.”
Hathaway certainly feels that he was the right kid for the role, though. “I was a really sensitive, ballsy, great kid growing up, pretty much like Atreyu was in a lot of ways. And so, it was a perfect fit,” he said. Even Petersen admits that Hathaway was perfect, saying, “Noah had this attitude from the very beginning, he was Atreyu. He walked his own walk and he had his own style, and that was good. […] He held his head up high and he was a hero.”