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Miko Rising

April 12, 1998|IRENE LACHER

This is a big year for Miko Hughes. He has his first co-starring role with a member of the box-office Big 10--Bruce Willis--in Universal's "Mercury Rising." And now that he's hitting his 10-year mark with SAG, he'll soon be vested with pension and health benefits.

It's nice being able to count on a comfortable retirement. Now all the 12-year-old Hughes has to worry about is whether he has enough Silly String to torture Willis with.

"Almost every day at lunch, we'd have a Silly String fight," Hughes says of life on the Chicago set. "I love Silly String. I have five cans."

You might call Hughes a veteran child, professionally speaking. He's spiffed up in Beverly Hills black for the "Mercury Rising" premiere at the Motion Picture Academy. Downstairs, Willis and Madonna are doing the star thing, but upstairs, it's

Hughes who's bringing out the amateur paparazzi--which is ticking off the academy's security people, who don't like flashers.

"You're going to get an Oscar for that," coos an outlaw blond grown-up aiming a smuggled camera at the giggling Hughes. "You were the best."

Grown-ups seem to like Hughes. In fact, the ones known as critics seem to like him better than they like the film. In it, he plays Simon, a 9-year-old autistic child with an uncanny ability to unravel the National Security Agency's new billion-dollar Mercury code. Nasty Big Brother Alec Baldwin goes after him, but first he has to get past renegade FBI man and surrogate dad Willis, who leads everyone on a chase across Chicago.

Critics in Boston and Sacramento called Hughes' performance "appealing" and "astonishing." Bennett Leventhal--"a really big doctor on autism," in Hughes-speak--gives the star-ette the ultimate compliment before scooping him up in his admittedly big arms at the premiere: "Even I believed you," he purrs. Leventhal, head of the child psychiatry department at the University of Chicago, spent six weeks before the shoot tutoring Hughes at a school for autistic children.

"To do this role," Leventhal says, "you have to learn to give up all the things we usually use in social interaction. Like we use vocal inflection when we speak. He had to flatten it out. And it's hard not to look at people. It's hard not to be responsive to all the nuances of their voice and communication.

"I'm usually trying to make these behaviors go away, so to take it apart and help him create a role was a real challenge."

But, hey, look at the raw material he had to work with, which wasn't so raw. We ask Hughes about his other films. We get a one-word answer.

"PetSematary KindergartenCopJackTheBear Cops&Robbersons WesCraven'sNewNightmare Apollo13ZeusAndRoxanne SpawnAndMercuryRising."

A star was born. And almost immediately went to work. Miko's Native American mom, Mary, who had Miko, her youngest son, at 45, realized her bundle of joy could make good use of head shots when he was 14 months old.

"We were driving and the car pulled up to a light," Mary says. "There was a service station on the corner. He pointed to it and said, 'M-o-b-i-l.' [Miko's parents] both looked at each other. We pulled into a Target store. We bought an alphabet book, and he knew 90% of it.

"My theory on the terrible twos is that kids can't communicate and they can't understand. But you could ask him to do something and he would do it. I said, 'This would be perfect for a director.' "

Nine months later, Miko ("chief" in Chickasaw), landed three commercials and an agent. When he was a little over 2 years old, he got his first movie gig, Stephen King's "Pet Sematary." He played "a possessed demon child who goes around hacking everyone up," Miko says sweetly. "That was pretty fun."

Miko's dad, John, gave up 30 years in special effects and began managing the tot's career with his wife. Now the family from Tishomongo, Okla., spends most of the year in Apple Valley, where Miko keeps 30,000 pets in the backyard, a hive full of bees.

So how much do they pay you?

"I don't know. Mom and Dad take care of that."

Do you get an allowance?

"Fifteen bucks a week."

Just about enough to keep any movie star in Silly String.


Diva of Decorum: Where is Margaret, the Duchess of Argyll, when we really need her?

"When she walked into a room, she would simply walk from one end to another and everyone would stare and just admire her," recalls Letitia Baldridge, of the late Scottish society figure.

These are desperate times. Style has no style anymore, sighs the duchess of etiquette, protocol and all things bearing white gloves.

"Now what do we have? We have movie stars. We have models with everything hanging out. And it's not even the real McCoy. That's not style."

So what is style?

"It's an art, and it is from within. It's knowing how to edit."

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