By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Corbin's career was taking over the family's life. Was the dream of stardom Corbin's? Or was it the result of overachieving parents projecting their ambitions onto their son? And what about the consequences of a youngster finding success too soon? One need look only to the Dallas area's LeAnn Rimes for a sobering reality check, as the sweet, wholesome young country star turned into a bitter adult immersed in a lawsuit with her father, who had banked everything on her success.
Detta and Gary say they're different, that Corbin is the one pushing the dream, pulling them along behind him. At every escalation in his acting career, the Coronas say, they've sat down with Corbin to talk about possible consequences. What they're doing, they say, is no different from the mother who drives her hockey-playing son to the rink every day at 5 a.m. or the father who moves to another city so his child gymnast can train with a prestigious coach.
Yeah, some would say. They're all equally insane.
Why are his parents hell-bent on pursuing Corbin's dream? "We want him to have a contented, happy life," Gary says. "This is what Corbin wants his life to be. He's so passionate about this, to turn our backs would mean we weren't being good parents." Gary says they also plan to do whatever it takes for their other sons to achieve their goals. In college, Ben spent a semester at the University of Sydney. Next fall, he plans to enroll in a program to get a dual MBA and law degree. Adam is exploring veterinary medicine.
But show business is different. The rejection is more personal and success more arbitrary, based in large part on things no one can control: beauty, charisma, luck and proximity to power. To the Coronas, those things are simply obstacles to overcome.
In September 2001, a Dallas producer cast Corbin in a show to be called Cyberforce, a potential TV pilot about kid hackers who help police catch bad guys. The pilot went nowhere, but Corbin began a refrain: "I want to go to L.A."
His acting coach encouraged them to take Corbin, then 12, to the West Coast for pilot season, February through April, when casting directors audition actors for new TV shows. Not only was his acting improving, Corbin, it turns out, had one bankable skill that could make him stand out from the pack.
Corbin focuses with large blue eyes, oddly canted at the corners just like his mother's. Slowly, a bit of moisture appears, filling his eyes, then oozes out onto his long lashes. In moments, a tear forms and slowly slides down his freckled cheek.
Corbin can cry on demand.
This talent, such as it is, first appeared when Corbin prepared an emotional short monologue for auditions. He could end it with weeping every time. "When I first started to do the crying thing," Corbin says, "I'd think about my dog dying. Now I can do it whenever."
Waterworks-on-cue is a highly valued skill, especially for child actors who sometimes have difficulty with drama foreign to their life experience--the mom dies, the father runs out, the world as we know it is about to end.
Going to Los Angeles for two months so that Corbin could make the rounds of auditions was an expensive proposition. But they finally agreed. "People told us he was talented," Gary says. "We thought we should take him out there to give him a fair shake."
It was a big step. "I knew I'd have to give up stuff, like my parents did," Corbin says. "But I knew I could book business. Honestly."
In February 2002, Detta and Corbin moved into the Oakwood Apartments, a 1,150-unit complex in Burbank across the street from Warner Bros. and near the back lots of other studios. They leased a furnished unit for $2,300 a month and rented a car. Specifically set up for child actors pursuing stardom, the Oakwood is a little city of adorable youths, with gyms, pools, tennis courts, a mini-market, hair salon, theater and playgrounds for tots. Activities for various age groups are provided, as are "studio teachers," who work with residents for three hours a day. Most use curriculum provided by their local schools or homeschooling courses. The Oakwood also provides information on workshops, acting schools, photographers and talent agencies. Current and former residents include Hilary Duff, Frankie Muniz, Kirsten Dunst and on and on.
KD Studios had referred the Coronas to three agents who handle child actors. They talked to the first one. Corbin cried on demand. They visited the second, a dynamic agent named Mitchell Gossett who has ties to Dallas. Gossett has produced several plays at the Undermain Theatre and comes here several times a year looking for young actors. "Dallas has the best talent pool in the country outside New York and L.A.," Gossett says. Corbin immediately impressed Gossett. "It was clear that Corbin had some comic flair. For his age, he seemed poised and ready to pursue an acting career." Just as important: The Coronas were willing to invest a lot of time and effort into it.