"There's a lot of benefits.
But there's also a lot
of fallbacks, too."
~ Michael Conner Humphreys ~
He was just eight years old when Michael Conner Humphreys was cast as one of the most iconic characters of all time in one of the most iconic films of all time...“Forrest Gump.” (1994) The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year while stacked up against equally powerful films...“Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” And after the filming was over and the dust had settled, Michael decided he'd had his fill of longline auditions and just wanted to be a regular kid again. And so he walked away. He finished school. He chose to join the military, serving in the Army, and among other things, worked a dangerous tour in Iraq. Presently, Michael Conner Humphreys' life has come full circle...finding him diving back into the acting pool...honing his skills doing theater and stage, and studying the craft. There's still quite a bit of truth in the oft-quoted saying..."Life is like a box of chocolates..." Michael Conner Humphreys. Go get you some.
Michael Conner Humphreys Interview -- February 2021
Michael Conner Humphreys
Casey Chambers: You barely had time to give your first-grade teacher an apple before you were cast in one of Hollywood's all-time great pictures. So acting was already your thing?
Michael Conner Humphreys: Well, prior to actually getting the role in the movie "Forrest Gump," I was just a fan of films like most kids were. I was really into Steven Spielberg's stuff. "Indiana Jones" in particular. I liked "Star Wars." I was really into anything that was science-fiction or fantasy. Military stuff too like "Top Gun" and all that. It was all '80s and early '90s movies because that's the age I was at the time. And I told my mom a couple of times that one day I would like to make movies. It was just an arbitrary thing for a six or seven-year-old kid to say, really. But whenever the audition rolled around in Memphis, which is where we lived at the time, she was like, 'Hey, there's an audition for a movie. Would you want to go try out for it just for fun?' So we went and I actually ended up getting the part. It was really just luck when it came down to it.
Casey Chambers: And what a great movie and part to score. What was that audition like for you?
Michael Conner Humphreys: Well, for "Forrest Gump"...they obviously had no idea what child they wanted to use for the role, so they did open calls in the South because they were looking for a kid who was from the South. Atlanta. Memphis. St. Louis. Places like that. They had put out an ad saying they were looking for a kid of this age and this height and all that stuff who looks like Tom Hanks. And my mom just took me in, like I said, for the fun of it.
The first time I went in, I didn't even read from the script. They just asked us a few questions. Me and the other kids. They asked us questions and had us talk to the camera for about 10 minutes and then we left. Then about a week later, I got a call back saying, 'Hey, you've been narrowed down to a smaller lineup.' So I went back in and actually read from the script that time. A week after that, I got a call to go to L.A. where I actually auditioned for Bob Zemeckis, the director of the film. So within two weeks, it went from just chatting with some people to actually going in and doing a screen test. It started out with about 5,000 kids and two weeks later, it was down to three of us. I would compare it to like doing, "American Idol" or something like that. You're just kind of in a lottery-type situation.
"Forrest Gump" Official 25th Anniversary Trailer
Casey Chambers: How much did you know about the movie and story going in?
Michael Conner Humphreys: Man, I knew nothing about the film itself. My mom and everybody else told me that it was a Tom Hanks film. They kept saying...Tom Hanks...and I'm like, 'I don't know who you're talking about.' Being an eight-year-old kid, I had seen Tom Hanks movies. but I did not know who he was by name. It wasn't until I met him in person. And then I was like, 'Oh! It's that guy!' I had seen "Big" and "Splash" and all that good stuff. I also figured out that the director Bob Zemeckis had also done, "Back To The Future" and other films that I was a big fan of. But as for the movie, I really knew nothing about it other than who was going to be in the film and who was directing it. It was all kind of a mystery to me, to be honest. Because even when they explained the story to me...as an eight-year-old kid...I could not take it in, y'know? I was just too young to really understand what was going on. So it all came down to just...it was a day by day thing for me. 'Today, you're going to do this. Today, you're going to say this.' It just is what it is.
Casey Chambers: Where were most of your scenes shot?
Michael Conner Humphreys: South Carolina. All of them. The majority of the film that's set around the Gump house and area is gonna be in South Carolina just outside of Charleston. I had a little bit of stuff I did in L.A. Pre-production and post-production stuff and whatnot. But yeah, it was all done in South Carolina, and it all just kind of happened. I was watching an interview with James Cameron, and he was talking about kids and films, pointing out how kids have a remarkable way of just dealing with whatever's thrown at them. They don't know how the world's supposed to be yet and so they just take it as it is. And so when I was doing all this stuff...I just dealt with it casually. It was no big deal. It was no big change in my life. Had I been older, I'm sure I would have been like, 'Oh my God, I'm in a movie. And I'm with all these people.' But as an eight-year-old, it was just, 'Hey what am I doing today?'
Casey Chambers: Oh, for sure. It's really easy for us to forget that sometimes. Looking back, are there any scenes that were especially memorable for you?
Forrest Gump...with Elvis
Michael Conner Humphreys: Well, as far as my scenes go, I liked the scenes on the bus. That was pretty cool because as a kid, I was so impressed with the production aspects. The bus was obviously not a real school bus. It was on a trailer and it was being towed. And I was so enamored with just how they actually shot it...the practical effects involved in everything. Getting to do stuff like that and seeing how they actually set it up was really impressive. But to be honest, the scenes that really stick out for me are not my own. I enjoyed witnessing some of the other scenes being shot including the Vietnam scenes with Tom Hanks in particular. The Vietnam scenes were shot on the tropical islands off the coast of South Carolina. On the islands off the coast of Buford. So I actually got to be present when those were being shot. I was actually punching the buttons that set off all the explosions and everything. They were just trying to keep me entertained. (laughs) But those are the things that really stick out for me. Not so much my own scenes.
Casey Chambers: "Blowed up real good!" as John Candy would say. (laughs) After the movie was completed, when did you have the opportunity to watch "Forrest Gump" for the first time?
Michael Conner Humphreys: I'm sure there was a premiere and everything in L.A. prior, but I actually went to see the movie in Memphis with my family when it was released nationwide. I guess it was June or July of '94. And yeah, I just went and saw it for the first time like everybody else. However, I had like 20 of my family members with me. (laughs) I went in not thinking about it. And as I was coming out of the theater, all of the other moviegoers recognized me...realizing who I was...and it turned into a big scene at that point. So that was my first tactile experience with fame and all that. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Excellent. A little paradise by the dashboard popcorn machine. (laughs) How strange was it seeing yourself on the big screen?
Forrest Gump...on the school bus
Michael Conner Humphreys: Oh, it was weird. It was really weird. I didn't really know what the story was about and if you had tried to tell me then, I wouldn't have understood. So watching it for the first time, I was like, 'Oh, I see how this all fits together now.' And I was genuinely surprised to see how the Forrest character turned out in the long run. And then coming out of the theater, I was not expecting any kind of reaction from other people. It was so great. And it was at that point I realized, there was something really special about this movie.
Casey Chambers: Oh man, it's an Oscar winner that people really enjoy watching again and again. You were also nominated for an award.
Michael Conner Humphreys: There was some "young artist only" award that I was nominated for. I honestly don't remember the actual name of it, but it was not an Oscar. Not an Academy Award. But I do remember that I got something in the mail for it and that was nice. And I received the German equivalent of an Oscar. when I went to Germany to promote the film about a year later. And Tom Hanks actually gave me an honorary Oscar. Just from him in particular. I've got the only Tom Hanks Oscar in the world, I believe.
Casey Chambers: That's a cool button to button. You mentioned Germany. So you were doing some traveling for the film then.
Michael Conner Humphreys: Nowadays, whenever they release a film, it all comes out at the same time. Worldwide streaming and whatnot. But in '94 or '95, they would release the film by region every six months in different parts of the world. So it would come out in Europe and it would come out in Asia. Then it would come out, y'know, just here and there. So from the release of the film in '94 until I'd say about '96...I was traveling worldwide to promote the film. Every time it came out in a new region. At that time it was easier to send me than it was to send Tom Hanks or Gary Sinise or whoever to do it. So for about two years, they would send me to Germany, England, Japan...just various places to promote it. It was really cool. I was getting to travel the world.
Casey Chambers: How exciting that must have been. You were doing the kind of traveling most of us don't get to do 'til after high school or college if ever.
Michael Conner Humphreys: Oh yeah. It was all just an insane experience. I never really had a chance to think about it all until years later...as I grew up and it was like, 'Oh, wow, I can't believe I did all that.' But yeah, it was just a very surreal, but very valuable experience, I would say.
Casey Chambers: You mentioned Tom Hanks earlier. As a young kid, do you remember much about working with him?
Michael Conner Humphreys: From what I remember he was always very nice. They had cast me to do the part and I had this really deep Southern accent. And sometime into the film...Bob Zemeckis, the director had realized, 'Okay, we're going to have to get this kid to start talking like Tom. He's going to have to start talking and acting like him or else this isn't going to work.' But since I was just eight years old, Tom had the idea, 'How about we just do it the other way around? How about I talk like him and I act like him?' And so they went with that. So I was in this situation where Tom started to study me. (laughs) My way of speaking. My way of moving. My way of everything. He just started to like study me intently for weeks. Tom was basically trying to turn Forrest into the adult version of me as an eight-year-old child. For weeks I was just with him all the time and he was just engaging with me at all moments. Trying to like...become me, I guess you could say. So he ended up doing that and it worked for the character. He was just a really cool guy. Really down to earth. I've met a few people over the years that are on his level of fame...and I've never met anyone that didn't somehow let it go to their head. They always call him the nicest guy in Hollywood. I don't know if he is or not, but I'd say if he's not the nicest guy, he's probably the most genuine.
Casey Chambers: That's a really nice share. Thanks for that. You stepped away from acting after the film. And later, after finishing school you decided to join the military. Thank you very much for serving. And now you're jonesing to do more theater and film.
Michael Conner Humphreys: Absolutely. It's a weird thing. By the age of like 10 years old, after doing that movie and promoting it, I was at the point where I just wanted to be a kid. You can't convince a 10-year-old to spend all his time doing auditions. I was just not interested in it. My parents didn't force me and I'm glad they didn't. So I just left it. But there are consequences of having been in a successful film and then trying to be a regular person. That doesn't always work out that well. I went through my years as a teenager trying to be a regular kid, but I always had that following me around. And it affected everything. And y'know, it was great. There's a lot of benefits. But there's also a lot of fallbacks too. Whoever met me after that...only knew me as that. So it affected my social situation. By the time I was 18 or 19, I was like, 'Well, hell, I've got nothing else to do, why don't I just go be in the army?' So I did. I joined the army. Went to the war in Iraq. Was like, 'Hey, maybe this is another form of success.' Anyways. the fallout of having been in a war. The PTSD and all that other crap. It basically took me about 20 years to get around to saying, 'Hey, what do you want to do with your life?' So the last few years, I've actually been doing theater and acting classes and trying to get back into it sincerely. I have found that the acting has been like therapy after being in Iraq. The acting and PTSD therapies have been one and the same as far as I'm concerned.
Casey Chambers: It'd be great seeing you out in front of the camera again. And the added benefits of working the stage is just bonus.
Michael Conner Humphreys: Oh yeah, definitely. The thing you'll find with a lot of veterans...is that you've got two kinds of trauma coming out of a war. There's the shell shock kind where somebody slams the car door and you think a gun went off and you jump. And then you've got the other kind. Which is the untraumatized trauma. When you deal with the trauma by sealing it all off and not letting it affect you. But the problem with that is that nothing affects you. You lose your emotions. You can't love. You can't hate. That kind of stuff. And that's something I've dealt with a little over the last decade, after coming back from Iraq. Once I started doing theater and classes, it's been a really enlightening experience getting back into acting. It's definitely something I would like to pursue. I'm working my way back into it. Obviously, the events of 2020 have temporarily put a hold on that, like for everyone else. But things are looking up. I hope they are for everyone else too.
Casey Chambers: I always like to find out what kind of music people have been getting into, so would you mind sharing an album that you particularly enjoy?
"Unknown Pleasures" - Joy Division (1979)
Michael Conner Humphreys: Well, I'll tell you right now. I've got two. One of my lifelong favorite bands is Nine Inch Nails. I've always loved Trent Reznor and anything he does. Always been one of my faves. So, always worth mentioning there. And also, I just discovered Joy Division last year. They're an English band from the late '70s and early '80s. Post-punk. They call it post-punk. They only had two albums before their singer committed suicide. He was an epileptic. He had a bunch of depression issues and whatnot. They were only around for a brief period, but I've heard them referenced a million times by other bands and artists. I was always like, 'I really need to check them out.' And then last year, I started listening to them and I swear to God, they don't have a single song that has not been copied a hundred times by somebody else.
"Shadowplay" - Joy Division / "Unknown Pleasures" (1979)
They are up there with your David Bowie's and your Pink Floyd's and your Led Zeppelin's and Rolling Stones. When the story is all said and done, they will be at the top of the list of one of the most influential bands ever. Yeah, they're worth a listen if you've never heard them. As far as an album goes, "Unknown Pleasures." (1979) That was their debut album. I mean, you can't find a song on there that's not just insanely...I don't even know what the word is for it, man. It's just influential and creative. It's just everything it has to be. Just amazing.
Casey Chambers: You're making everybody want to grab their copy and give it another spin. Good stuff. Thank you so much for hangin' out with me this morning. It's been a lot of fun and I appreciate you taking the time. Stay safe out there and hope to see you soon.
Michael Conner Humphreys: Yeah man, absolutely. Thank you.