Jerry O'Connell feared his breakout movie Stand by Me would be a huge flop when he watched it in an empty cinema with his grandparents.

The actor had the time of his life on the set of director Rob Reiner's 1986 film when he was 11, but his dad felt sure the project would never see the light of day and urged young Jerry not to tell school pals about it when he returned to New York from the summer shoot in Oregon.

And his father appeared to be right when Stand by Me eventually hit theatres the following summer.

"I was going into seventh grade in the New York City public school system and my dad said, 'Don't go around telling people you're in a movie because when it doesn't come out...,'" O'Connell recalled during a recent 92nd Street Y event in the Big Apple. "I literally forgot about it.

"They released it the following summer to seven theatres in the country... and I went with my grandparents to the noon matinee and it was empty, which wasn't a very good sign."

But things started looking up for the young star as he was leaving.

"The lady who sold us our tickets said, 'Hey, hold on a second. Were you in that movie? Movie stars don't have to pay,' and she gave us our money back," the 45-year-old remembered. "She stopped me before I left and said, 'Hey, I see a lot of movies and that's gonna be a big movie.'"

O'Connell still has great memories of the summer he spent with Reiner and castmates River Phoenix and Corey Feldman too, adding, "I had been called hyperactive and heard Ritalin thrown around at parent/teacher conferences: 'He's disruptive and speaks without raising his hand.' I couldn't control it and all of that behaviour was encouraged by Rob Reiner. It was the most freeing place at the age of 11. I felt like me."