On the big screen, Corbin Allred the actor and former kid clogger from Utah has had Kirk Douglas cry on his shoulder, argued with Dan Aykroyd, played the trumpet for Susan Sarandon, been rescued by Cary Elwes and eat your heart out, guys kissed Natalie Portman right smack dab on the mouth, all before his 19th birthday.
At the time, Allred was a teen actor on the rise. As soon as he finished one movie or TV show, he was starting another one.
And then he threw a plot twist into his life Hollywood never would have imagined. He walked away from all of it the money, fame, premieres, the lights, cameras, action, and Natalie Portman's lips.
Allred took a two-year break to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, walking the streets of Australia all day in a suit. After giving up part of his childhood for acting, he gave up acting for his God.
"It was bad timing," says Allred. "I couldn't have been doing better. It was movie after movie. It was the peak of my career."
Allred, now 25, was sitting in the family room of his parents' home in Midvale during a Christmastime visit from his home in Los Angeles. In the four years since he returned from his mission, he has made one movie the small-budget, Utah-made, critically acclaimed "Saints and Soldiers."
"It's been like starting over," Allred says. "Physically, I'm different, too. I'm older. It takes time to build momentum again. But that wasn't my goal anyway. I didn't go on a mission so I could be blessed and have this great career. The mission was the greatest experience of my life."
Allred hasn't exactly been standing in the unemployment line anyway. He has made the rounds as a guest star on a variety of TV shows "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: Miami," "ER," "The Division," "Judging Amy," "Dharma and Greg," "Boston Public," "State of Grace," "7th Heaven," "JAG," "Navy NCIS" and "Threat Matrix."
"The funny thing is, before my mission I played all-American roles," he says. "Since returning from my mission, I've played bad guys and disturbed people. In 'CSI,' I was a killer. I was crazy. The message was that it's wrong, and it was handled. I went to jail for the rest of my life."
This is the way it is for a devout man in Hollywood, this constant weighing of roles and what they portray and trying to preserve a piece of himself. The truth is, he has been offered several movie roles, but declined them because they compromised his values. Moviemakers have even offered more money to change his mind.
"They would have been good to have on my resume, but at the expense of my soul," he says. "There were some sex scenes. One of them had the foulest language I've ever heard."
He continues to pursue a movie career, but on his terms, and who knows where that will lead. Allred, who married recently in St. George, is developing a backup plan. An avid climber, he teaches climbing classes. He earned an emergency medical technician license and is trying to get a part-time job with search and rescue in Los Angeles. He plays guitar and sings in a band that is a regular on theLos Angeles-Hollywood club scene, playing all original material. He plans to return to school soon. Go ahead, ask him what he plans to study.
"I've wanted to be a pediatrician since I was a kid I love babies and kids," he says. "But that's a lot of school. A law degree would be cool and business and finance and communications. I'm an adrenaline junkie law enforcement or forensics would be good."
Did he miss anything?
"As long as my acting career continues to go well, I'll do it," he says. "If it dies out, there are a million other things I'm interested in."
Allred, who has never taken an acting class in his life, stumbled into movies at the age of 12. His credits include a supporting role in "Anywhere But Here," starring Sarandon and Portman, and a co-starring role in "Diamonds," with Douglas and Aykroyd. He was the star of the TV series, "Teen Angel," and had a small part with Elwes in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."
"We really just fell into this," says Allred's mother, Diane. "It's not something we planned on. He just kept getting these jobs."
He was a clogger. That's how he was discovered. Clogging, for the uninitiated, is really another term for competitive tap dancing, with judging and scores based on showmanship, tap skills (the sound of the taps), difficulty, etc.
"When they told me he was a clogger, I said, 'What's a clogger?' " says Al Onorato, Allred's longtime manager. "He actually had a tape of it. I thought it was hilarious."
A friend had a clogging class and Allred went along to watch. "I thought it would be so lame, but then I watched, and, I don't know what it was, but I thought it was really cool. Plus, the room was packed with cute girls."
He should have seen it coming. His father, Michael, now an accountant, was a professional tap dancer who performed in the theater and appeared on TV shows and in a couple of movies, including the original "Gypsy."
Allred took up clogging at 10 and became almost unbeatable. Rivals videotaped his performances to try to find a way to beat him. A natural ham, he loved an audience and the stage. After performing his own routine during one competition, he reappeared again on stage a second time in place of a friend who had dropped out of the competition. One portion of the competition called a cappella consists of the judges turning their backs to the clogger so they can focus on the sound of the tapping. With the judges' backs turned to him, Allred put tap shoes on his hands, knelt on the stage and performed a routine with his hands. The crowd ate it up, laughing and roaring its approval. He was awarded first place for both of his routines but was later disqualified after rivals complained.
Once, he was scheduled to perform a synchronized routine with his sister, Aleece, but at the last moment they got into an argument and she refused to perform with him. Allred went on stage without her, using a Cabbage Patch doll he found in the audience as his partner. He held the doll's hand as he performed, then tossed the doll in the air and caught it, passed it between his legs, etc. The crowd and judges laughed, but he was disqualified again "One of the many DQs I got for doing stuff to lighten things up," he says.
After watching Allred on stage, a friend of the family suggested he attend an open casting call for a Disney movie she had seen advertised in a newspaper. The casting director, Sherri Rhodes, decided Allred was too young for a role opposite Reese Witherspoon, but she gave the kid rave reviews.
"He's just got it," she told Diane Allred.
After telling her associates in Los Angeles about Allred, they asked for a taped audition for "Man Without a Face" with Mel Gibson, even though the parts were already taken. After watching the tape, Rhodes and her associates wanted him to come to California.
Diane Allred was skeptical. "I thought they were just after our money," she says. "You hear about these scams."
"Just give it one month," Rhodes told her. The first day the Allreds arrived in California, they were invited to dinner with various representatives. The next day, Rhodes called to tell them they had both an agent and an audition.
"We didn't know it at the time," says Diane Allred, "but it's not supposed to be that easy. We know kids who come every summer and never get an agent, let alone an audition."
Two weeks later Allred got an American Express commercial that never aired. A week later he won the lead role in "Quest of the Delta Knights," which required him to do a British accent "I had never done one, but I had watched hundreds of hours of National Geographic," he says. The writers added a scene to utilize his dancing.
He was such a novice that when he appeared on the set for the first time he didn't understand the terminology. "Find your lights," they would tell him, or "Hit your mark, Corbin," and, he'd say, "What do you mean?"
"It was so surreal," he recalls. "I had had no interest in being an actor. Now, all of a sudden, I'm shooting a movie and memorizing a script on an airplane." Suddenly, he was working with Mel Brooks, Elwes, Kris Kristofferson, Aykroyd, Portman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jenny McCarthy, Lauren Bacall, Jessica Beal, Danielle Fishel, Maureen McCormick, Jerry Van Dyke, Ann-Margret . . .
The precocious Allred was unfazed by auditions that put him in a room with just a cameraman and a 50-something woman, and he was considered a natural actor. "At a young age, I had an overactive imagination," he says. "I was always pretending to be something. When I read in front of them at 12, my ability to convey emotion and play a role was unusual, I think."
He screen tested with the surprisingly small Schwarzenegger for "Last Action Hero," but he lost the part to Austin O'Brien because, "I didn't make him look big enough," says Allred. Instead, he won a part in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."
Work continued to come his way. During his teen years, he made TV movies "Blue Rodeo" and "My Son Is Innocent" and played the lead superhero role in "Josh Kirby . . . Time Warrior," a straight-to-video movie series that produced five sequels. He was the co-star in one TV series "Teen Angel" and a main character in another TV series "Social Studies." Teen Angel gave him his first real taste of celebrity.
"There were times I wouldn't go to a mall," he says. "Security would have to escort me out. It was nice, but it was a burden. I experienced only a little part of it, but I can't imagine being Brad Pitt."
Allred and his family he has three brothers and sisters settled into a routine. From the age of 12, he spent a month or so each winter in Los Angeles for the TV pilot season and then returned each summer for the movie audition season. He shared an apartment with his mother, living in a complex where most other child actors stayed. The rest of the Allred family joined them in the summer.
"It was two different worlds," said Corbin. "When I got home, everything was as normal as any childhood. I played with my friends and did Boy Scouts and church and had my siblings around. Down there, it was entirely different."
Ruined child stars are a cliche in Hollywood, and Diane Allred was determined it wouldn't happen to her son. She sat on movie sets for 10 hours a day, reading books, eating, watching TV in a trailer, talking to the other mothers (who are required by law to be on the set until their child is 18). On Sundays, she marched the family past the crowded apartment pool on the way to church. Over the years, they saw some of Allred's childhood contemporaries fall to the temptations of the industry.
"There is that ugly element to it," says Diane Allred, "but I was very protective and savvy to what was going on. One of the kids on Corbin's TV series was busted for drugs and never worked again, and he's gone from worse to worse. It breaks your heart. He was a good kid. Drugs were certainly available if you wanted them.
"We would see other kids and the way they treated people. I would tell Corbin, 'If I see you treat anyone that way, I will kick your behind all the way home and you'll never see a camera again.' "
Allred liked to invite the other child actors to his apartment for weekend parties because he knew they would be better off in a place where there was no alcohol or drugs. He tended to attract girls, who attracted boys, so the Allred apartment was popular.
"He was hit on as many times by guys as he was by girls," says Diane Allred with a laugh. "It would go right over his head. I'd take him aside and tell him, 'That guy's hitting on you.' He'd say, 'No he's not.' 'Yeah, he is.' "
Allred attended Hillcrest High School when he was home, but that wasn't often. By law, studios are required to provide tutors on the set. Allred missed out on school sports and most extracurricular activities. He barely had enough credits to receive his diploma.
The Allreds, who met as a family at the outset to determine if they would support Corbin's acting career, strived for some degree of normalcy, but it wasn't easy. They negotiated contracts that required the studio to fly the family to the set for visits, but there were long separations anyway.
Allred and his mother lived for six months in Romania to shoot "Josh Kirby . . . Time Warrior," which included only one visit home for three weeks. When they arrived in Bucharest, they were shocked. The buildings were riddled with bullet holes and reduced to rubble. Their hotel was a converted mental institution (the beds had rings on them to hold the straps that confined patients). Not only couldn't they drink the water, they had to shut their eyes in the shower. They had to wear flip-flops in their room to protect themselves from worms. The food was unpalatable Allred's weight fell from 130 pounds to 113.
"My mom started crying when we got there," says Allred. "She was saying, 'What have I done?' We were under contract for six months. I remember my dad swapped with my mom once. He flew 24 hours with a cooler filled with Taco Bell food. It was so good. We cooked it up at 2 a.m."
Allred's career continued its ascent over the years, but there was always one thing on the horizon: his church mission. For years he had been telling his representatives that he planned to drop out of the business and serve a mission when he turned 19. As luck would have it, his workload crested in the months leading up to his 19th birthday with "Teen Angel," "Diamonds" and "Anywhere But Here," as well as several TV commercials and guest appearances on TV shows.
"I warned my representatives early that I'd be gone for two years," says Allred, "but when it came up, they were like, 'Are you serious? You're nuts. Can't you go later?' I'd be lying if I didn't say I thought long and hard about staying home."
Says Diane Allred: "There were agents who were saying, 'You'll be a big star; you'll make your million this year.' They couldn't understand that there was something more than this (movie) life."
Allred finally told his family: "If I don't go now, I'll never go."
He opened his mission call on the set of "Diamonds" in Reno, Nev. Half of the cast and crew thought he was crazy to abandon his career, but a few days later, Douglas, the legendary actor, called Allred at his home in Utah and told him, "I know you've gotten a lot of flak for your decision, but it was the right decision, and God will bless you." Douglas continued to write to Allred during his mission.
A week after finishing the shooting of "Diamonds," Allred entered the Missionary Training Center. While he was gone, his family attended the premieres for two of his movies one in New York, one in Los Angeles without him. Publicists searched in vain to find him for interviews and promotions. Premieres are important for actors, a time they can promote themselves and land other roles. When he returned from his mission, some studio types told him, "Where were you? We wanted you for a movie."
Allred was recognized occasionally during his mission, and one newspaper wrote a story about him, but for the most part, he worked in anonymity. More than once, while talking with people at their front doors, he heard or saw himself on the family's TV behind them.
Onorato, Allred's manager, was among those who didn't question Allred's mission. "You don't interrupt a religious (calling) for a career," he says. "That was uppermost in his mind for a long time. I knew eventually we were going to have to deal with it. The timing wasn't the best, but ... "
Onorato and Allred acknowledge that his career hasn't regained its momentum. Along with his absence, Allred's age precludes him from playing roles he once played. And his religious beliefs narrow the field again.
"There are certain roles that he doesn't audition for," says Onorato. "He wants to look back on his career and say he didn't fall into the trap of just doing a role to do it and then compromised his values."
Over the years Allred pondered what he will and won't do in front of a camera. He has been forced to stand his ground. He had already accepted the role for "Diamonds" before he actually got around to reading the entire script. After discovering that his character had to do and say some objectionable things, he told his agent he would have to quit the movie, even if it meant a lawsuit.
Informed of this, director John Asher said he wanted only Allred for the part, even if that meant changing the script. Even after the changes, Allred was still uncomfortable. At one point during the shooting of the movie, he was required to say the f-word. He refused, and after some debate on this issue, Douglas intervened, saying, "This word is so overused in movies, let's just take it out." Asher agreed.
Instead of smoking a cigarette, Allred simply held it in his fingers. His character was also required to go into a brothel with his father and have sex with a character played by McCarthy. (Off camera, McCarthy said, "I'm supposed to play this girl in the movie who seduces a virgin and he really is a virgin!") As a compromise, the movie shows Allred entering the brothel and then shows him getting into a car afterward with his father asking what happened "Nothing," says Allred.
"I get so frustrated with actors who come from moral upbringings who say it's so hard to maintain their standards," says Allred. "It's not hard. It's not any harder than it is for any high school kid in Salt Lake City. As with everything, you have to make the decision before you're faced with certain situations.
"I make it clear with the agency. This is what I won't do. I've gotten nothing but respect from people in Hollywood. And it's not just me. There are others. If you don't have integrity in this business, you're a sellout. You might be successful, but you know what? You've got to look at the big plan on this pinprick of time and then you don't care about one movie."
Not every situation is black and white. Allred has wrestled with the gray areas, and he knows he will face plenty of those, especially with his decision not to do a lot of "Mormon movies" (he has done two in his 13 years as an actor). He also knows he's being held to a higher standard by certain members of the audience.
In "Anywhere But Here," the Natalie Portman character invites Allred to her house when her mother is gone. Portman's character plans to have sex with Allred's character, but he's nervous and scared. She tells him to remove his clothes, and he strips to his boxers. He says all he wants to do is kiss her. They kiss and embrace, and she cries because she has never experienced pure affection from a male, and the scene ends with the impression that Portman craves love and affection, not sex. (Originally, the scene was going to show them having sex, but it was changed for Allred.)
Allred was on his mission when the movie was released.
"I got hate mail from members of the church," he says. "That was my first taste of how careful I have to be and how quickly judgment is passed. I don't fault those people, but at the same time I'm going to have to play characters who are different than who I am.
"If the message is that certain things are wrong, I will consider playing the bad guy who does those things. There has to be a consequence to wrong actions that it resulted in jail, or that it caused heartache. But there are certain things I won't do sex scenes or nudity. The violence is fake. The drug and alcohol use is fake. But sex and nudity are not fake, and foul language and blasphemy are not fake. I would hope fans consider the greater message of the movie."
It's a credit to his acting skills that Allred can play the rougher characters, because in reality he is a humorous, happy man with a sweet disposition and boyish charm. He doesn't play the part of an actor off the screen. He favors jeans and T-shirts and drives a Jeep with 140,000 miles on it that he bought when he turned 18. About the only thing he splurged on was a trip to Hawaii for him and his family, not to mention a handful of guitars.
He carries a guitar with him when he boards airlines and finds a corner of the airport to play music to kill time. He writes his own songs, including one he sang to his wife at their reception. (He proposed to his wife, McKenzie, in typical Allred style, falling to the ground with a fake ankle sprain so he could get to one knee without her suspecting what was coming.)
Allred and Onorato believe he has a promising future in Hollywood; it just takes the right job, they say.
"There's a naturalness and honesty about (his acting) that you don't teach people," says Onorato, referring to Allred's lack of professional training. "There are certain people who learn by doing and excel by doing it."
For his part, Michael, Allred's father, believes his son has built a career without losing himself in the process. Michael Allred turned his back on an entertainment career because he didn't believe the lifestyle was conducive to raising a family. He let his son venture into Hollywood with some trepidation."The entertainment industry can be very ugly," he says. "We read about it all the time. But he's stayed grounded. His values are right, and we never saw a lot of ego in him. He's kind to other people, which is important to us, and he works hard. We've been playing at this game a long time, and he's handled it well."
E-mail: [email protected]