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Connor Corum is no typical 6-year-old boy: He was picked out of a nationwide search to be the central character in the TriStar Pictures film "Heaven is for Real," which opened in theatres nationwide on April 16.
Connor, a Macedonia first-grader, stars alongside Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award-winning actor Greg Kinnear.
The film tells the story of Todd Burpo, a small-town pastor and volunteer firefighter who struggles to provide for his family. After his son Colton (Corum) is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, Todd and his wife, Sonja (Kelly Reilly) are relieved by his miraculous survival. After his near death experience, Colton shares with his parents his own miracle: He has seen Heaven.
In a recent interview at the Record Publishing Co. offices in Kent, Connor's mother, Shannon Corum, talked about her son's silver screen debut.
"I made a scrapbook for Connor so when he came home from filming in Winnipeg, Canada he would be able to talk about it," she said.
The scrapbook captured all the important moments of Connor's first acting gig, from his first plane ride to Los Angles to audition for the film, riding the merry-go-round at the Santa Monica Pier and images of him hard at work acting in Winnipeg.
Connor's big, blue eyes lit up with excitement when he looked at the picture of his first plane ride.
"I remember thinking -- as the plane was taking off -- that this was going to be really cool," Connor said.
And he wasn't disappointed, Shannon said. He yelled "woo" as he and his mom soared off into the sky for the first time.
A star is born
Shannon said she heard about the casting call for the film -- for a blond, blue-eyed boy between the ages of 5 and 7 -- from a friend last year.
On a whim, she sent in Connor's picture and date of birth.
Shannon said she was not aware of the magnitude of it all at the time. She just thought it would be a fun thing for her and Connor to do.
Connor was invited to audition, was presented with the task of singing the song "Amazing Grace" and asked to speak candidly about heaven.
"I never even told him that was going to happen," Shannon said. "I didn't want to mess with the authenticity that was coming out of his mouth. So we just took it casually. He just did his own thing."
Connor told the casting directors that heaven is "where all the good dead people go."
It was Connor's natural approach and innocence that eventually landed him the role, his mom said.
"I think him just being a normal kid was what they liked," Shannon said. "In our car ride, on the way home, he said 'They said I was the best one yet'!"
It was during that car ride that Connor told his mom that he definitely wanted to be an actor.
From that moment on, the Corum family was told to brace themselves and "prepare for the floodgates to open," said Shannon, referring to publicity surrounding the film.
When Shannon's grandfather learned that Connor landed the role he dropped down on his knees to say thank you to God. Shannon's aunt was there and was taken aback at the site of seeing her 95-year-old father on his knees.
"He said that God helped me down and God will help me back up again," Shannon said of her grandfather. "There's a strong connection between him and our faith as a family."
Unfortunately, he died before the film's release, Shannon said, adding he was very spiritual man.
On set in Winnipeg
Last summer, Shannon and her husband Chris packed up their three children, Connor, 6, daughter Ryan, who was 3 at the time and baby Pierce, then 6 months old for filming in Winnipeg, Canada.
"We really wanted to focus on the unity of our family," Shannon said. "Uprooting and going to Canada was something that we needed to do. We are in this together and we are here to support Connor."
Shooting lasted two months.
It was an adjustment for the whole family, Shannon said. While she took a leave from her job, her husband worked remotely.
They also had help from grandparents.
"It's a cute, quaint little city where the suburbs are kind of wound into the city itself," Shannon said. "Then it starts to spread out the further you go, to the point where it's all prairie."
Connor got to work as an actor for the first time in fields of wheat and bright yellow sunflowers, under a boundless crisp-blue sky.
"It was gorgeous," Shannon said. "The people there are extremely friendly. It's true what they say about Canadians, they are so sweet and welcoming. They were really family-oriented and that was very nice for us."
Shannon said she tried to give her children some of the comforts of home and bought them bicycles at a yard sale.
Meanwhile, Connor was making friends on the set.
He wasn't too shy to correct Greg Kinnear if he missed a line, and Connor loved when film director Randall Wallace held him upside down and pretended that he was about to drop him into a container on set.
Getting back to normal
Even after all the fanfare, Shannon said Connor is still "your typical 6 year old."
He loves playing with toy model cars and proclaims to be a huge Spider-Man fan.
The Corum family is open to Connor exploring other acting opportunities, as long as it remains fun, said Shannon.
"We really have to keep our hand on the pulse to make sure that we are not getting swept away with a fantasy land or something that is not important in life," Shannon said. "Money is not the most important thing. Fame is not the most important thing. It's your family, it's love, it's consistency. That's what counts."
Shannon said any earnings that Connor made for filming have been put into a trust for him for the future.
"He loves the fact that he did the movie and he is proud of himself," Shannon said. "The first time he saw a commercial he got tears in his eyes of pride. I think that is very cool that he can appreciate that being only 6."
Heather Beyer: 330-541-9432