Twenty years ago a young boy with a thick southern accent nabbed a role in an Oscar-winning film. But instead of growing into a career in Hollywood, Michael Conner Humphreys, the young “Forrest Gump,” chose the military. The actor enlisted in the Army in 2005 mirroring the life of his classic character.
"No doubt that being a soldier is something that you have to do. You have to force it," Humphreys told Fox News. "No human is designed to do certain things. You have to make yourself be that person, it's an engineered effect. The same thing as acting."
He was born in 1985 in Independence, MS and at eight years old attended an open casting call for “Forrest Gump” in Memphis.The casting team sought “a young Tom Hanks with light eyes and a quirky disposition.” Besides winning the role, Humphrey’s dialect captured Hanks.
“(He) had this great vocal cadence with very particular characteristics, with hard 'Gs' in the middle of things. Like he said, 'sing-ging'. I listened to Michael a lot,” Hanks said in a Turner Classic Movies interview. He and his vocal coach decided that was the way Gump would speak. “It took the better part of three weeks and by the end I was doing it without having to think about it."
The movie was released on July 6, 1994 and went on to win six Academy Awards and seven other Oscar nominations. Humphreys was nominated for a 1995 Young Artists Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor Co-Starring in a Motion Picture. His two child co-stars, Haley Joel Osment and Hanna Hall, won in their respective categories. It earned $677 million at the box office.
To celebrate the 20th Anniversary “Forrest Gump’s” release, Paramount Pictures will re-release the film in IMAX on September 5, 2014.
With early success behind him, Humphreys chose not to pursue further acting opportunities besides high school productions. He spent the rest of his youth back in the south and developed a great desire to serve his country.
He enlisted in the Army in November 2004 and completed Basic Training at Fort Benning as an infantryman. Staff Sergeant David Hicks of Jackson Battalion’s Corinth Mississippi recruiting station said, “I think he will make an outstanding Solider with his positive attitude,” in a 2005 Recruiter Journal article. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion 36th Infantry Regiment and spent a year deployed to Iraq’s Anbar Province.
"It was a good experience, and you saw a lot of bad things, a lot people got hurt over there," Humphreys said in the Daily News. “I just hope that we did some good."
Upon returning to the U.S. he was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas. His enlistment ended June 4, 2008 and though he hung up his official U.S. Army Service Uniform he would still be a soldier – this time back on the big screen.
He landed a role in the independent film, “Pathfinders: In the Company of Strangers,”a true story about the volunteer paratroopers whose mission was to land 30 minutes before the Normandy invasion, locate and mark strategic "drop zones" and set up the top-secret navigation equipment needed to guide the main airborne assault on D-Day. He played Eddie Livingston, one of the original Pathfinders. The movie was released on January 11, 2011 to mixed reviews.
He studied at the University of North Alabama also following his Army career and his next steps could be just about anything with his experience. He told Fox News, “If (acting) snowballs and it goes somewhere else, that'd be fine.”