Army Spc. Michael Conner Humphreys stands at attention for the camera in Fort Riley, Kan., Friday, May, 9, 2008. Humphreys, who played "Young Forrest Gump" in the movie "Forrest Gump" served a year in Iraq and is now stationed at Ft. Riley. Humphreys' enlistment ends June 4 and he has landed a role in the upcoming film "Pathfinders." (AP Photo/Chuck France)
FORT RILEY, Kan. - As a boy, Michael Conner Humphreys made a splash on the silver screen as "Young Forrest Gump." As an adult, he somewhat mirrored the life of his movie character: He joined the Army and fought in an unpopular war.
Humphreys' enlistment ends June 4 and Hollywood is already calling. He's landed a role in an independent film, playing, of course, a soldier.
It's a route similar to that of Tom Hanks, who won the Oscar for playing adult Forrest Gump.
Hanks later starred in "Saving Private Ryan" and produced "Band of Brothers," a series about the men of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II.
"I guess I'm following in his tracks," Humphreys said.
The film is called "Pathfinders," the story of the men of the 504th Parachute Regiment who jumped into Normandy early on D-Day to disrupt German activities and find the way for the coming invasion force. He heads to Oregon later this year for filming, playing the part of Eddie Livingston, one of the original pathfinders.
"It's a small start. I'm still going to go to school at the University of North Alabama, but if (acting) snowballs and it goes somewhere else, that'd be fine," he said.
Humphreys said making "Forrest Gump" was a great experience and he fondly remembers Hanks and Sally Field, who played his mother.
"Both of them were excellent people, just like you would expect them to be," he said.
He was especially excited to work with director Robert Zemeckis. Humphreys said he was familiar with Zemeckis' other works, including the "Back to the Future" trilogy.
"I tried to get him to do a fourth," Humphreys said.
He recalled that during filming he and Hanks worked closely to match the boy's running style and accent. Humphreys has since lost most of his distinctive Southern drawl but maintains the boyish looks, right down to the cropped Army haircut and lean body. His face looks a bit older, but doesn't appear to need to shave daily.
Humphreys said he chose not to chase an acting career as a child because he liked school and was content to continue growing up in the South, even though his parents would have backed him. There were offers, but until now, the only ones he took were in high school productions.
"No one really wanted to move to LA," he said.
He joined the Army in 2005, fulfilling a deep-seated desire to serve his country. He is an infantryman assigned to a tank battalion and was once stationed at the same post in Germany where Elvis Presley stayed. In the movie, Elvis stayed overnight with the Gumps, teaching the boy to dance.
After a year deployed to Iraq in its dangerous Anbar Province, Spc. Humphreys was transferred to Fort Riley. His unit is training to go to Iraq after he gets out.
"It was a good experience and you saw a lot of bad things, a lot of people got hurt over there," he said. "There was definitely a lot of violence. I just hope that we did some good. In the end, I learned a lot and I hope it made me a better person."
Humphreys said his movie career was always included in his personnel file but he never talked about it unless others broached the subject. At Fort Riley, he's affectionately known as "Gump." However, he said, acting and being a soldier aren't all that different.
"No doubt that being a soldier is something that you have to do. You have to force it," Humphreys said. "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."