Forrest Gump – the Academy Award-winning film about a man living through some of America’s most famous events of the 20th century – has now pretty much become a part of history itself. It’s also preserved in the United States National Film Registry as an iconic piece of work. Naturally, the actors who portrayed its youngest characters have long since grown up. And the girl who everyone knows as young Jenny Curran looks very different now.
We will return to those young stars a little later, but first let’s explore the movie which helped catapult their careers. Originally, Forrest Gump was actually based on a novel. The book of the same name was written by Winston Groom and published in 1986. It is, however, quite different from the film. Groom also initially didn’t receive his share of the movie’s net profits, nor did he get a mention in any of the Oscar speeches.
Though the pay dispute was eventually resolved, Groom appeared to knock the film a little when he wrote a second book. The 1995 tome Gump and Co. opens with the eponymous character saying, “Don’t never let nobody make a movie of your life’s story.” It also makes the success of the film part of the “real” Gump’s storyline.
Some people would agree with Groom that he should have “never let nobody make a movie.” Indeed, Forrest Gump got some fairly mixed reviews on release. Famous film critic Roger Ebert called it “a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths,” but Entertainment Weekly said at the time that it was “glib, shallow, and monotonous.”
And Sight and Sound magazine opined in its review, “It’s too specific to be a proper allegory, and too vague to provide a satisfactorily millennial perspective on the last 50 years. Neither is it caustic enough to make one cry, nor soppy enough to make one laugh. In the end, it is a feel-good movie for which it is hard to feel anything at all.”
Yet plenty of people clearly did feel something towards the movie, as is indicated by its enduring popularity. And perhaps a lot of that can be attributed to Tom Hanks’ performance as the title character. Reviews of the movie praised him, and in the end, he walked away with a Best Actor Oscar – his second one in a row.
If things had been different, though, Hanks would not have been in the movie at all. Believe it or not, John Travolta was first approached to play the role of Forrest, but he said no – something he later came to regret. Winston Groom, on the other hand, had wanted actor John Goodman for the title role.
Decades on from Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks is, of course, still one of the most celebrated and best-loved actors in Hollywood. In 2016 he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in American cinema. And a few years later he got a sixth Oscar nomination for playing Mr Rogers in the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
Hanks was only ten years younger than his onscreen mother Sally Field. And to make things worse, she had actually played his love interest in a movie before. Yet the two actors slipped seamlessly into portraying mother and son. In 2019 Hanks turned up to support Field as she received a Kennedy Center Honor, and he told reporters on the red carpet, “I’m in love with her. I think she’s an extraordinary artist.”
Like many of the other cast members of Forrest Gump, Field is still an extremely successful actor. She has a lot of critically acclaimed movies under her belt, including Mrs Doubtfire, Not Without My Daughter, Steel Magnolias and Lincoln. Plus, she’s done a lot of television and Broadway work as well.
The same is true of Robin Wright, who played the older Jenny Curran in the hit movie. Her performance won her a Golden Globe nomination, but the character herself was detested for her actions in the film. Audiences saw that she left Gump in his moment of need and judged her for that.
However, Curran’s character has been re-evaluated in recent years. People have pointed out that she was abused as a child by her father and all of her psychological issues stemmed from this. Curran tries to break out of the cycle of abuse, but she still finds it difficult to understand Gump’s true feelings for her.
In the years that followed Forrest Gump, Wright put in lots of other critically acclaimed and nuanced performances. In 2014 she won a Best Performance by an Actress Golden Globe for House of Cards, and she was nominated again over the two following years.
Another person praised for their acting in Forrest Gump was Mykelti Williamson, who played the titular character’s Vietnam War friend Bubba. The actor absolutely threw himself into the role; for instance, the scene where he recites a long list of shrimp dishes was partly ad-libbed, as he’d researched shrimping beforehand. And in its 1994 review, The Hollywood Reporter labeled him “outstanding.”
In fact, Williamson was perhaps too good at his job in Forrest Gump, because for a long time after casting agents couldn’t separate him from the character of Bubba. The fact that his false lip rendered him almost unrecognizable didn’t help either. Nevertheless, later Williamson went on to star in movies such as Heat and Con Air.
In 2016 Williamson starred in the Denzel Washington-directed movie Fences – playing a character with brain damage and learning disabilities. And his work on the film went down well, with The San Francisco Chronicle calling his performance “beautiful.” Williamson himself told the website Broadway World, “I hope we can touch as many people as we touched with Forrest Gump.”
Another character Gump met in Vietnam was Gary Sinese’s Lieutenant Dan Taylor. His story in the movie shows the horrors of war; while serving in the military he loses both his legs and is restricted to a wheelchair. Special effects – top-notch ones for the time – were able to make it appear that Sinise’s legs really were gone.
Playing Taylor actually inspired Sinise to start working with disabled veterans. In 2014 he told the official USO website, “I could not have foreseen that the Lieutenant Dan character would be a character that has a life of its own beyond the movie… It’s been a blessing and a benefit to be able to have this association with wounded in our military community.”
Though Sinise still acts, he also focuses a lot of attention on his foundation for veterans. He told USO, “Now I have a mission and it’s felt like it was a calling for me to be able to support our veteran community… It requires a lot of attention, and thankfully there are a lot of people that are out there doing it. I’m just one of them.”
One of the other characters from the Vietnam segment of Forrest Gump doesn’t have a name, but he made a big impact nonetheless. The drill sergeant – the man who screams into Gump’s face that he must have an IQ of 160 – was played by Afemo Omilami. And he’s racked up a lot of small parts in huge movies.
Omilami popped up in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as the mayor of District 11, and in Terminator: Genisys as Perry. He’s more likely to be seen on the small screen, though. Omilami had a big role in True Detective and has been in Madam Secretary and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders among many other things.
And there were other characters who had tiny roles but memorable scenes – take Sam Anderson. He played the principal who Mrs Gump offers sex to in exchange for admitting Forrest to the school. At that point in his career, he’d already done a lot of television work in popular shows such as Dallas and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Anderson is more of a well-known face now thanks to the massively popular TV show Lost. For five years from 2005 he played the regular character Anderson. After that, he began playing Lee Paxton in Justified, and he’s been in plenty of other shows too: including Bones and This Is Us.
However, one of the most important small performances in Forrest Gump came from Haley Joel Osment. He played Forrest Jr – the son that Jenny Curran and Gump had together. It was the actor’s first role in a movie, but it would be far from the last. Five years later, Osment starred in The Sixth Sense and won an Oscar nomination for it.
For a while, Osment was a massive child star; he appeared in a number of movies over the next few years including Pay it Forward and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Then, suddenly, he disappeared from the spotlight. Osment went back to school and started living a fairly normal life, though the actor did make headlines when he was caught driving under the influence in 2006.
Osment got back into acting as an adult, though. He’s been in the film version of Entourage, the HBO series Silicon Valley and the movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile among other things. Furthermore, in 2018 he appeared in the superhero show The Boys – playing a troubled ex-child star.
But there were some other child actors in Forrest Gump, too. One of these was Michael Conner Humphreys, who played the young Gump. Humphreys – who wasn’t even ten years old when he filmed the movie – was pivotal in the creation of the character. Apparently, Tom Hanks based the Gump accent on Humphreys’ real one.
Humphreys ended up following a similar path to the one that his character did. After a normal non-starry childhood, he joined the army in 2005 and served in Iraq. His nickname was, of course, Gump. He returned to acting in 2011 with the film Pathfinders: In the Company of Strangers, and he’s also studied international relations at university level.
And of course, alongside Humphries there was Hanna Hall, who played the young version of Jenny Curran. It was her first ever movie, and she almost didn’t get it. In 2007 she told the website Houseofhorrors.com, “Nina Axelrod, my manager, was tired of LA and moved out to Colorado to teach classes and she had a relationship with an agency that she would get represented by, and she had an open casting call in the newspaper when I was seven years old.”
Hall continued, “My mother didn’t want to take me. It was a Sunday afternoon and she really didn’t want to go, so I went with some friends and Nina ended up liking me. They called me back a couple of times and sent my tapes from Colorado to LA and they ended up casting me.”
Obviously, the role of little Curran was a difficult one for such a young girl to fully understand, but Hall had gone in prepared. In 2012 she told the website HollywoodChicago.com, “I was about eight years old and I understood the full extent of the character’s journey and what she had been through.”
The actress added, sharing a tidbit about the film that not many people knew, “They actually cut out a lot of the scenes that dealt with the abuse that happened to [Curran] when she was younger. I think they had a scene where they implied that I killed my father. When you’re that age, you don’t question the fact that it’s not you.”
And Hall continued to act as she grew older. In 1999 she starred in The Virgin Suicides and delivered the famous line, “Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.” She faded in and out of the spotlight after that, but the actress bagged another hit movie in 2007 with Rob Zombie’s Halloween.
Hall also went on to study at Vancouver Film School. She told HollywoodChicago.com, “… It takes the ego out of being an actor when you realize that the overall product is not solely about your performance. It’s really a collective art form and [in school] you learn about how important that is to the final piece.”
When the publication asked Hall, “Since [Forrest Gump] was so huge, did the role of [Curran] pigeonhole you in the minds of producers?” Hall answered, “I don’t know. I definitely play a lot of people who either kill themselves or get killed or are abused in some way, which is funny because it couldn’t be further from my actual life.”
In the same interview, Hall speculated about directing her own film one day. She said, “I work on small stuff all the time. I’m actually currently starting to write a feature. I love production. It’s nice to have a project that feels like your own. When you’re an actor, you’re at the mercy of the director, for better or for worse.”
Hall went on, “I worked in the camera department for a year, so the director of photography knows that he can talk to me and say, ‘This is where the good light is,’ rather than have to tell the director and have [them] talk to me. The line of communication is open between us, and it makes the process a lot easier. It’s more of an open experience when I’m aware of what everybody’s job is. It’s also more fun.”
Hall also did another interview in 2012 with Yahoo’s The Yo Show. She talked about how even after so much time had passed since Forrest Gump first came out, people still recognized her on the street. She said, “Mostly it’s like people think I look familiar, like, ‘Oh did I go to high school with you?’”
And she had heard her most iconic line from the movie, “Run, Forrest, run!” repeated to her hundreds of times. Hall said, “I don’t even know the accent anymore. The funniest is like just walking down the street and hear someone yell it to their friend, having no idea that I’m standing right there, and I’m like, ‘That was me.’”
So Hall – like most of the cast of Forrest Gump – seems to have gone on to have a good life after the success of the movie. And who knows, there’s still a tiny chance that a Forrest Gump sequel might happen one day. In 2007 it was reported that the script for Gump and Co. was being looked at once again. Even though more time has passed since then, Hall might want to keep her calendar free.