M.I.A: Charlie Korsmo

Charlie Korsmo Kid From Hook Dick TracyLast week we discussed a man who made just as much of an impact in his old age as he did when he was a young man: Sir Sean Connery. This week I’d like to take a slightly different approach and put out an APB on a former child star who hasn’t seen much screen time since the dreaded onset of puberty. Today, we ask the burning question, where in the world is Charlie Korsmo?

Why We Love Him

For a brief period in the early 90s, Charlie Korsmo was the biggest little star in the world. Anytime a script called for a precocious, brainy little boy, the phone rang at the Korsmo house. It began in 1990 when he got his first starring role in Warren Beatty’s colorful film adaptation of the Dick Tracy comic strip. He demonstrated a star power and screen presence that belied his young age and actually exhibited an arguably deeper emotional range than the film’s hero/director. While Dick Tracy served as his official big break, the fact that his character was known simply as Kid served as a nod to his pigeonhole as a child actor; something that ordinarily brands a career with an expiration date.

From there, he was cast in Hook, Steven Spielberg’s imaginative revisiting of J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan. The interesting thing about Hook, in terms of Korsmo’s performance, is that so much of the soul of that world is the idea that its hero never grows up. But Hook is about a Peter Pan that did in fact grow up so the task of recapturing the essence of the original story therefore fell to the supporting cast of child actors. Korsmo, as the son of the now grown Pan, was as charming as he was fiercely independent; rising to the challenge perfectly.

Though it is a film that doesn’t get a great deal of attention, I really enjoyed Korsmo in Frank Oz’s 1991 comedy What About Bob? The film stars Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss as, respectively, a complete basket case and the media darling psychologist temporarily assigned to treat him. Murray spends the entire film dancing through a ballet of unbelievable neuroses and getting inappropriate close to Dreyfuss’ family, including his son Siggy (played by Korsmo). This role in particular showcases Korsmo’s braininess and how his beyond-his-years wit was his greatest attribute.

What Happened To Him?

Reflective of the surprising maturity demonstrated by his characters, Korsmo made the decision at the tender age of thirteen to give up acting. He wasn’t thrilled with the taxing price of fame and wanted to return to a normal life. In other words, a young man just entering puberty who is being lavished with attention and making enough money to obtain anything he may want opts to be a regular kid again? Astonishing! This may be a major reason why, unlike many child stars, Korsmo’s life wasn’t later marked by controversy and scandal. Interesting side note to his retirement is that it allowed for other child actors to be discovered. Many of the roles he would later turn down actually ended up going to a young Elijah Wood (including The Good Son) while he also declined the chance to play John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day; a decision for which Edward Furlong should still thank him.


Where’s He Been?

Korsmo did make a triumphant comeback in 1998 when he was cast in one of the lead roles in the ensemble comedy Can’t Hardly Wait. He played, not surprisingly, the high school super nerd who planned to get revenge on the jock who had tortured him the previous four years. More than ever, Korsmo got to let his inherent smarty-pantsness shine through while also proving his chops as a wildly silly and adept comedian. The scene wherein he discovers alcohol for the first time is now teen movie cannon; very impressive. But then, like Keyser Söze, he was gone again.

What Now?

I know I keep mentioning the mental acumen of Korsmo as it is a major threadline that runs through his body of work. But it also serves as a precursor to where good ol’ Charlie ended up. Korsmo ended up attending MIT and scoring a perfect GPA in the area of physics. He then spent time holding various government jobs before going on to receive a law degree from Yale, only one of the most prestigious schools on the planet. Clearly, the smarts displayed by his various characters, even at a young age, were no Hollywood façade. Given his immense success in both academia and politics, I don’t anticipate his return to film any time soon. But Can’t Hardly Wait provided sufficient evidence that Charlie Korsmo is just as talented as an adult as he ever was as a Kid.