Michael Humphreys made his acting debut playing “Young Forrest” in Forrest Gump. Though he was just eight years old at the time, his performance had an enormous impact on the success of the film. Born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in rural Independence, Mississippi, Humphreys was cast from an open call which drew hundreds of hopefuls to Memphis shortly before the film went into production. His mother was inspired to bring him to audition after seeing a television commercial that said the filmmakers were looking for a boy who looked like “a young Tom Hanks, with light eyes and a quirky disposition.” “That’s Michael,” his mother realized.
As producer Steve Starkey recalled, “Ellen Lewis, our casting director,
brought this tape of his audition out to us in Los Angeles. After
seeing it, director Bob Zemeckis had a big smile on his face, because
he’d just seen this unique character that so far he hadn’t seen
anywhere.” As a result, Michael Humphreys proceeded to the next phase
of casting, which was a screen test in Hollywood. Starkey said, “We
invited a number of boys out to actually read in front of the camera,
because sometimes these children will just freeze up and won’t be able
to perform at all. So Michael Humphreys came out, and he was as natural
as ever. He didn’t have any fear at all. All he wanted was a peanut
butter sandwich off the catering table.”
The filmmakers all agreed that young Michael Humphreys proved to be a
“vault of treasure.” In fact, the boy provided the key to unlocking Tom
Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance. “I was afraid of any sort of accent,”
Hanks admitted. “People know who I am.”
“I was very, very wary of the whole vocal thing, because it’s not my gig – I don’t know how to do it,” Hanks revealed. “I was always trying to
convince Bob that there was some way of soft-pedaling it somehow, even
though it is so evocative and it’s grammatically written out in Winston
Groom’s novel… I told Bob, ‘This is new turf for me, and I don’t know
how to do this. I think the audience is going to hate us, like I’m
doing Ken Berry in Mayberry RFD.’ Bob says, ‘Look, you’ve just got to
figure out a way of doing it.”
So Hanks did – he chose to study young Michael Humphreys and base
Forrest’s vocal style on the way the boy spoke. Fortunately, all of the
scenes with “Young Forrest” were shot before Hanks began filming, so
there was plenty of time for Hanks to observe him. “Michael’s got this
way of talking – he’s got this kind of vocal quality that’s hard to
define, but it’s definitely there,” said Hanks. “Being eight years old,
and having a very particular personality, and being from Mississippi,
he had this kind of vocal cadence or signature that was really kind of
strange. It was weird! I studied him and transposed the way he spoke
and some of his phrasing, and put it into the script.”
Throughout filming, Hanks hoped that he had found a way of presenting Forrest’s voice that would be appealing. “I have seen movies where somebody has adopted a sort of bizarre way of talking, and it seems like as much thought went into it as them wearing a pair of glasses in a movie,” he said. “It took months for me to figure it out.”
Fortunately, his dedication paid off. Audiences worldwide adored Forrest Gump, making it the most successful summer drama in history, and the Academy awarded Tom Hanks with the Best Actor Oscar for the second year in a row.
Watch the enhanced version of Forrest Gump tonight, March 9 at 7PM | 6C. For a complete schedule, click here.
Read more about author Winston Groom’s Inspriration.
Read how A Father’s Memory Inspired Winston Groom.
Is Forrest your favorite film Underdog?
Cathy Thompson-Georges, “Tom Hanks Shows His Gumption,” Entertainment Today, 7/1/94
Irv Letofsky, “Hanks’ Role Has Plenty of Gumption,” San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/3/94
Tom Provenzano, “Get Ready to Meet Forrest Gump,” Drama-Logue, 7/7/94
Forrest Gump Production Information: Paramount Studios Press Release
Forrest Gump DVD: Bonus Materials