How does an unknown teen land a starring role in a blockbuster with Hollywood veterans Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig? Dakota Blue Richards, a 13-year-old English girl whose acting experience totalled a few school plays, did it by not brushing her hair. 'Mum told me not to brush my hair [for the audition] because Lyra [her character] is always so wild and looks like she has been scavenging, or something,' says Richards, who visited Hong Kong with director Chris Weitz to promote fantasy film The Golden Compass. 'And so she didn't let me brush it. And Mum says that's what made me stand out from the crowd. And maybe that's why they chose me.' Richards was 11 when she auditioned with 10,000 other hopefuls. The film is an adaptation of Northern Lights, the first book in Philip Pullman's acclaimed series. It features witches, talking bears and a parallel world where human souls are manifested as animals known as 'daemons'. The heroine Lyra is a feisty young girl who sets out to save a friend who has been kidnapped by a mysterious group known as the Gobblers. 'It was because I wanted to be Lyra, not because I wanted to act, that I went along to the auditions,' says Richards, adding that being an actress was never her sole ambition. 'I also want to be a teacher at a primary school because I like little children. They are more fun. I like the way little children like to ask questions. If there's a question to be asked, you can bet that the small children will ask it because they're curious. And I like that.' No wonder Richards says she misses school: 'It can get very lonely being away from home ... and I haven't been home for ages. It seems like I'll never have children around me again, and it makes me feel like a bit of a loser,' says Richards, who had a private tutor during the eight months of production on The Golden Compass. The young star hasn't got used to being in the spotlight yet. Now as popular as the Harry Potter stars like Emma Watson, Richards says she still finds it strange that people she has never met know things about her and want to take pictures of her. 'I try not to think about it [being famous]. It's a strange idea, and it scares me. The less I think about it, the easier it is.' Her unpretentious demeanour and innocent charm make her more endearing to the press than most Hollywood child stars, who are media savvy and self-conscious. For example, when asked what kind of animal her daemon would be, she gave an unstudied answer that drew sympathy from reporters: 'My daemon would have to be a cat. 'I had two cats at home. One of them died and we had to give the other one away because we were going to be away from home. So I don't have a cat anymore.' Since completing The Golden Compass, Richards has started work on her second film, playing Maria in The Moon Princess. But she says she is in no hurry to map out her future. Richards was given a Golden Compass - a device in the movie that tells the truth and predicts the future - as a souvenir from the set. But she says even if such a device existed, she wouldn't use it as she thinks life is more fun if you don't know what the future holds. 'If you know what's going to come, and there are no surprises, then there's never anything to be excited about.' The Golden Compass is now showing.