How is Adam Hann-Byrd different from the lonely child prodigy he plays in Little Man Tate? ''I'm a lot cooler than him,'' insists 9-year-old Hann-Byrd, who had never acted before he was spotted by a casting director at his New York City public school. ''I am,'' he says, turning to his mother, Jackie, who has dared to laugh. ''I have a ponytail, I wear Air Jordans, and I have friends.''
Despite his protests, Hann-Byrd does share some traits with Fred Tate. He is also a subdued, sensitive child, and his remarkable acting ability makes him seem wise beyond his years. Yet Hann-Byrd has none of the slick self-satisfaction that child actors often do: He still shares a small, toy-cluttered room with his younger sister and sleeps in a bunk bed that is crammed with stuffed bears, rabbits, and elephants. ''I don't notice it's me when I watch the movie,'' says Hann-Byrd, who had never heard of Jodie Foster when he first met her. ''It looks like Fred, not like me. I don't remember how I acted like him. I didn't really think about it, I just did it.'' But if Hann-Byrd seems surprisingly nonplussed by his fairy-tale success (his parents are already considering projects for the future), it may be because he's growing precociously savvy about the movie business. ''I'll be watching the top 10 lists,'' he says.