August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

>Michelle Trachtenberg

While filming Inspector Gadget, Michelle Trachtenberg couldn’t tell her costar Matthew Broderick from one of his animatronic doubles. In one scene when the young actress (Harriet the Spy) believed she was working with a dummy, she soon realized it was the real thing. “I was in mid-scene and he went, ‘Ahhh!’ ” she says. “It freaked me out.”

Scarier still was when Trachtenberg, 13, who plays Penny, Gadget’s niece, saw body parts on a table. “The creepiest was Matthew’s head,” she says. “It was so eerie.”

Not that she’s complaining; Trachtenberg is living out her dream. When she was 3, she told her mother, “I want to be on television.” Eventually she would appear in more than 100 commercials.

Her next role will be as a freshman at her new high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif., near her Burbank home, where she lives with her sister Irene, 20, and her mother, Lana, who acts as her manager. (Her father, Michael, a fiber-optics engineer, lives in Brooklyn.) She likes school but not math. “I don’t think I’ll ever need it,” she says. “What do you use it for? ‘I’ll have eggs and a Pythagorean theorem, please?’ ”

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