By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Detta, trying to preserve their options, told Gossett they had one more agent to interview. But Corbin had made up his mind. "I don't want to go anywhere else," he told his mother. "I like Mitchell."
Next on the agenda: head shots, the calling card left with agents. Five hundred dollars later, they were ready.
For eight weeks, Corbin and Detta drove all over L.A. for two or three auditions a day. "They sent him on everything in his age range," Detta says. "At 12, he could go out for the 10-to-13 age parts. There's a ton of stuff for kids that age." Some days they didn't get home until 7 p.m. Then there were acting workshops.
Corbin began seeing the same actors going for the same parts. There were also times he saw mothers--child actors are almost never accompanied by fathers--yelling at their kids after a poor reading. "I felt bad for those kids and their lives," says Corbin, who says his parents just shrug if something goes wrong. "They're just doing it for me, not themselves."
During that first trip, Corbin didn't book any business, but Gossett got positive feedback on his client. The Coronas returned to Dallas after the pilot season and then flew back several times for callbacks. Each time, Corbin lost out to another actor.
Homesickness had set in after a few weeks in L.A. Corbin missed his friends and his dog. But as soon as they got back to Dallas, Corbin began campaigning to return in the summer to audition for film roles. In July, the Coronas realized they either had to fully commit or wait until he was older. They talked with Corbin to make sure he knew what he was giving up: time with friends and family. Traditional school experiences. His room at home.
Corbin insisted he wanted to return to L.A. Detta and Gary agreed that they would make a pull-out-the-stops commitment for two years. "But we told him," Gary says, "if you ever get tired of this, say the word. We'll be back in Dallas."
The Coronas moved back into the Oakwood in the summer of 2002. Instead of renting a car, they bought a Malibu. Corbin signed up for acting and comedy workshops. They hired an acting coach to prep him before each audition. The total cost: about $7,000 a month, or $84,000 a year. "It's taken over our lives," Detta says. "I used to play tennis five days a week. When I'm in Dallas, it's only because I have a job."
But this time Gary's life also changed dramatically. He and Detta began meeting in the Burbank airport, exchanging kisses and duties. "We'd leave the car at valet parking at the airport and leave the ticket number on voice mail," Gary says. "I'd fly in on the plane she'd fly out on."
"We were trying to provide two parental environments," Detta says. "We'd eat at the dinner table each night wherever we were." That was easier because Ben was in college and Adam spent his junior year at boarding school, courtesy of bad choices and like-minded friends, as Gary tells it.
Making the casting rounds, the Coronas realized they were unusual. Most child actors came out only for the pilot season. And most of the parents are divorced.
The decision to move back was validated when Corbin got cast in an independent comedy film called Ticklish, which he calls a "messed-up film about a messed-up family." He plays the main character during his 12- to 18-year-old phase, which apparently occurs sometime in the '70s.
"They put a mullet on my head," Corbin says. He made $500, though he'll receive more when the film, now in post-production, is released. (All his money goes into a "blocked trust account"; his parents fund all of his expenses out of their pockets and say they expect nothing in return.) And the shoot provided an inadvertent eye-opener to the weirdness that is Hollywood, when a tattooed Bridget the Midget, dressed for her topless scene, strolled across the set in full view of a startled mother and son.
Then came the best month of Corbin's life: October 2002, when he hit the actor's jackpot in both TV and film. But one triumph would make Corbin think about giving up on his dream for good.
Leno's producer called in September, during Gary's stint in L.A. The show had been looking for young stand-up comedians, and they liked a tape of Corbin performing a monologue at the Ha-Ha Comedy Club, which capped a comedy workshop with acting coach Trisha Simmons of LAKidsAct.
Simmons started running classes at the Oakwood, where she met Corbin. "From the beginning, Corbin stood out," Simmons says. "His timing, his joy for life. You can't teach that. It's a gift. And he has charisma. I have a lot of kids who are really good at stand-up. But they didn't get called."