BY LENA MITCHELL
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
CORINTH – Michael “Conner” Humphreys' journey has taken him from his small-town north Mississippi roots to Hollywood celebrity and back again.
The next phase of the 19-year-old's life adventure will take him to the U.S. Army boot camp in Fort Benning, Ga., on Jan. 6.
An 8-year-old fledgling actor living in the Senatobia area, whose only stage work had been in school plays, Humphreys was the surprising choice of film director Robert Zemeckis to play the role of Forrest Gump as a child.
“They had open call auditions nationwide and my mom saw it on the news,” Humphreys said. The family lived in north Mississippi south of Memphis, Tenn., and Humphreys' mother Carol Humphreys took him to Memphis for the auditions.
Three thousand children auditioned nationwide in the spring of 1993.
“The first time they just looked at everybody and had an idea of the kind of look they wanted,” Humphreys said. “The second time, I read a line. Then I went to Los Angeles for three days for a screen test, and there were 10 of us.”
A week later the call came saying he had the part. Soon after, Humphreys and his mom were off to L.A.
For an 8-year-old – for anyone – it was the experience of a lifetime, and Humphreys soaked up every detail, especially learning to become the alter ego of Tom Hanks.
“At the time, I had the Deep South accent, so he kind of listened to me talk to pick up my accent,” Humphreys said. “I had to learn to run like him and they changed my hair and eyes to look like him.”
Most of the filming for the movie took place in Beaufort, S.C., and Humphreys was there several months. He was able to watch all the action when he wasn't actually filming.
“I was 8 years old, and it was fun and exhilarating being on the set, having the butterflies in the stomach,” Humphreys said. “The atmosphere on the set entirely depends on the director, and Mr. Zemeckis was great.”
As the period of high adventure surrounding the movie-making experience began to recede, Randy Humphreys' job moved the family to Corinth, where son Conner entered sixth grade.
For two years after the movie shooting was completed, Humphreys traveled to Europe and across the country on promotional tours.
“I was on a lot of talk shows, but for me the biggest thing was the overseas travel,” he said.
Humphreys went on auditions for other parts, but as he entered his teen years he decided to concentrate on finishing school before turning to the entertainment industry.
“For several years I didn't try for anything else, but about a year and a half ago I got a small part in a John Grisham movie,” Humphreys said.
After graduating from Corinth High School in 2003, Humphreys decided to pursue art school in Los Angeles, but soon knew it was not the right choice for him.
“I'm more of a do-something-actively instead of sitting-at-a-desk-all-day kind of guy,” Humphreys said. “I've always wanted to be a soldier, and I had looked into joining the Army before I went to L.A.”
In the Army now
Humphreys described his decision to join the Army as a conscious and affirmative one.
“I'm looking forward to completing this three-year commitment, then see where that will go,” he said. “I may decide to re-enlist and go into intelligence if it works out. I may use this as a tool to pursue a military career. If not, I'll use the money from this to move back to L.A. and go into the arts and entertainment field, maybe music and acting.”
Recruiters at the Corinth recruitment office were unaware of Humphreys' celebrity until after he'd already signed,” said station commander Sgt. Louis Sidney.
“Another (recruit) told us when he came in and saw his picture,” Sidney said.
Humphreys' recruitment process followed the usual pattern, Sidney said, beginning with testing, a physical examination for Army standards that includes height, weight, drug and alcohol screening and counseling at the military entrance processing station in Memphis.
“Recruits sit down with a counselor, pick a job and they determine when he'll leave for basic training,” Sidney said. The location of Humphreys' basic training at Fort Benning is based on the fact that he will receive infantry training.
“I think it's important for people to understand that he's not going to get any special favors because of his celebrity,” said Capt. Marcus Jackson, recruiting company commander based in Booneville. “He'll be treated like any other soldier recruited into the Army.”
Jackson also noted the Army didn't aggressively recruit Humphreys. He was impressed by the fact that Humphreys joined because he wanted to serve his country.
“I've always had the opinion that everybody should serve at some time in their life, and this is probably the best time for me,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys said he's been preparing for boot camp in the only way he can – doing push-ups, sit-ups and running.
As he's training for this next stage of his life, perhaps Humphreys remembers those long-ago cheers from the movie set ringing in his ears: “Run, Forrest, run.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at 287-9822 or email@example.com