Funny Boy

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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.

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."

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Glenna Whitley

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