Casting a 7-year-old actor to play a 7-year-old character is unusual in the movies. Most directors would rather work with an older child who looks younger.

But T.J. Lowther is, by all accounts, an exceptional child.Clint Eastwood, who directed "A Perfect World," recently told Entertainment Weekly that T.J. is "a very bright and a good child. Sometimes, ironically, he'd be great on one take."

And casting director Cate Praggastis, who met T.J. when he auditioned a couple of years ago for a local short film, says, "I probably saw 60 kids in auditions, and the thing that was unique about T.J. was that he wasn't afraid to listen to me. You have to find out whether they're directable, if they can mimic. Kids at that age don't have the propensity for a lot of acting experience under their belts."

Later, when she was casting for "A Home of Our Own," she saw T.J. again. "I probably saw thousands of kids for `A Home of Our Own,' and I knew T.J. and he was always one of my first picks."

Praggastis also did the audition tape that led to his being cast for "A Perfect World" but says T.J. is more impressive to filmmakers when he actually meets with them. "He's a bright boy, and he knows himself. A lot of kids are confused about who they are, but T.J. is his own person and he knows who that person is."

But he's also a child, of course, and his parents, Brent and Libby Lowther, are determined to see that he doesn't lose out on his childhood.

A visit to the Lowther home in Sandy finds T.J. romping in the front yard with Stanley, the family dog. Then, he's anxious to show off his playroom and his favorite toys, as well as the photographs of jet planes that line the walls.

He wants to be an actor and a pilot. How do you do that? "Well, if they needed me for acting, I'd go over, and if they needed me to be a pilot, I'd go over there."

Also on the wall is a poster for "A Perfect World," which highlights Kevin Costner and T.J. as they are walking together. Which prompts an obvious comment: "T.J., you're a movie star."

His response is genuinely incredulous: "I am?"

"A plus for T.J.," says Praggastis, "is his parents. He's got good parents who want the best for him and they don't have stardust in their eyes. They keep a close watch on him without being overbearing. And they trust him to make some decisions on his own."

"Our perspective," says Brent Lowther, "is that as long as T.J.'s

having fun with it, we're all for it."

Adds Libby, "It doesn't seem to affect his personality, as far as I can tell. He just seems like himself and I'm pretty comfortable as long as it stays that way."

"Once it's not fun or he doesn't like it or we run into some of the people in Hollywood we've heard about, that would be the end of it," says Brent. "We're more concerned with education and him having a chance to grow up like a normal child.

"And living in Utah is wonderful because he's very anonymous here. We've been to the movie (`A Perfect World') with him and people don't recognize him even after seeing the movie. It has not been much of a change of lifestyle."

T.J.'s first film was a Los Angeles production that was shot in Utah, an R-rated, straight-to-video sci-fi thriller, "Neon City."

The 4-year-old T.J. got a credit but the movie is so bad his parents were unable to watch it. Brent says, "I just put the VCR on fast-forward to see if T.J. was in it, and I never did see him. So, we never watched it." Libby is even more indignant: "It was a horrible movie."

Brent and Libby credit Cate Praggastis with helping T.J. get the job in "A Home of Our Own." "She spoke well of him," says Libby, "and I think that helped a lot. They were thinking of using twins, because kids that young often can't quite do it."

But T.J.'s part, as Kathy Bates' youngest son in that movie, was a supporting role. In "A Perfect World," T.J. is, in terms of screen time, equal to top-billed superstar Kevin Costner.

"When we took him down to Texas," says Brent, "he was 6 years old. It was rough, really hot and he and Kevin spent 90 percent of the time in that hot car. It was long hours, six days a week - and not once did T.J. complain about it. On his days off, in fact, he'd be ready to get right back to work."

"They were auditioning older children," says Libby. "The casting people were looking for 10- and 11-year-olds who looked 8.

"They had narrowed it down to three children, and one of the sweetest things was T.J.'s reaction. He said, `This is really neat that I got the part, but what about those other two kids?' He always worries about that."

"They took a huge chance on using a 6-year-old child," says Brent. "It was a huge budget and to trust this kid with being able to show up and know his stuff and not get sick. We saw on that other movie (`A Home of Our Own') that kids are tough to work with, they're really hot and cold - they don't want to work, they don't work.

"And Clint, of course, knows this. And to take the chance on T.J. was just incredible. And he didn't miss a day. Not one day of filming. He was on time and knew his lines. There were days I didn't want to go, but he propelled this whole thing."

Asked whether they were concerned about some of the film's subject matter, both said they were encouraged by friends in the business who said, "You're in good hands with Clint."

"And you know," says Libby, "I would almost rather have the movie be a statement on some issue and have some violence that is pertinent and meaningful to the picture than just have it be for entertainment."

T.J.'s parents are getting plenty of scripts to review these days, including those for Steven Spielberg's updated "Little Rascals" and John Hughes' remake of "Miracle on 34th Street." So, the auditioning process continues.

"He's young," says Libby, "and it's nice to be able to read the scripts first and make sure it's a role we want him to do and that the people are people we'd want him to work with.

"We don't know anything. We don't know how to help him get parts."

"We don't know how to coach him on how to act," adds Brent. "What I tell him is, `Just have fun. Enjoy yourself. That's really the only advice I have."'