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Finding a child actor who can carry a movie is tough. But finding one who can make an audience believe he's gone through a profoundly religious experience takes a miracle.
The people behind the film adaptation of the bestselling book "Heaven Is for Real" faced that challenge head on. Author Todd Burpo told the true story of his 4-year-old son Colton who suffered a life-threatening illness and survived. After his recovery, Colton regaled his family and community with his memories of crossing over to the other side, including details of deceased relatives he never knew. For the role of Colton in the movie adaptation, the filmmakers had to find a boy with presence and depth that belied his very young age.
"Finding Colton was a huge challenge because the movie could not succeed if Colton seemed artificial," explained director Randall Wallace ("Secretariat"). "If you believed that he was just reciting lines, you would never believe any of what he was saying." Casting director Sheila Jaffe conducted a nationwide search, narrowing the field down to eight contenders.
"Seven boys were very similar to one another but one boy was different," said producer Joe Roth, and that one standout was 5-year-old Cleveland native Connor Corum. "Once we saw him," added Roth, "there was no choice — he was the kid."
"He's kind of the greatest version of an actor, in the sense that everything that he does is on instinct," said Greg Kinnear, the Academy Award-nominated actor who plays Colton's father, Todd. "It's effortless, it’s just kind of there without any artificiality to it."
Wallace admitted that there were times when young Connor was just like any other kid his age, "full of energy, distracted and bouncing off the walls." In those moments, they would have to hold filming and allow him time to cool off. But with time, he was able to focus and ignore the cameras and crew. "What ultimately happened," said Wallace, "when he forgot that it was a movie, he just began to be that character in that space, which is what we want of any actor, and then he was riveting."
"Heaven Is for Real" opens nationwide on April 16.