Legally Speaking: Some child actors go to rehab; others go to law school

John G. Browning Aug. 27, 2012, 8:19am

I recently saw some footage of former "Sixth Sense" star Haley Joel Osment, now all grown up, acting in what seemed to be a forgettable role in an even more forgettable movie.

From an Academy Award-nominated turn for "seeing dead people" to struggling to keep his career out of the morgue, Osment has at least avoided the brushes with the law and the stints in rehab that seem to plague many former child actors.

The career arc that begins with a cute face and/or ubiquitous catchphrase all too often spirals downward during those awkward teenage years when America has moved on to a new kid/flavor of the month. Mix in meddling show parents, money mismanagement, a few substance abuse problems, and an "E True Hollywood Story," and faster than you can say "Gary Coleman," yesterday's breakout star becomes tomorrow's cautionary tale.

Of course, not all child actors wind up in the tabloids; some wind up in the courtroom—in a good way. Take Jeff Cohen. In 1985, Cohen shot to fame as "Chunk," the fat kid from the movie "The Goonies." On the hit film, Cohen worked with Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner. But then puberty struck.

As Cohen puts it, "I looked different. I couldn't get work anymore. In a way, it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Cohen turned his attention towards academics, eventually graduating from Berkeley and then UCLA Law School. His old "Goonies" director Richard Donner helped him land an internship at Universal Worldwide TV Production and, after law school, Cohen landed a job with a respected corporate law firm in 2000.

But his heart was still close to his entertainment roots and, in 2002, Cohen and former Universal attorney Jonathan Gardner started their own entertainment law firm.

"Because my background is as a performer," Cohen says, "we wanted a firm that really respected the artist and understood these deals weren't just academic, they represented these people and their lives and their vision and their art and their livelihood . . . it needed to be treated very seriously and very delicately."

Today, Cohen's firm represents actors, directors, writers, comedians, musicians, media companies, publishers, and more. The success he enjoys now—Cohen was named one of the Hollywood Reporter's "Top 35 Executives Under 35—is different from the sense of accomplishment he had as an actor. "As a performer you have a direct relationship with the audience. As an entertainment lawyer, the thrill is helping an artist achieve his goals," he says.

Another child star turned lawyer is Josh Saviano, best known for his role as Paul Pfeiffer, best friend of Kevin Arnold on the popular TV show "The Wonder Years." Saviano exchanged playing a geeky sidekick for studying political science at Yale. After graduation, he worked for an Internet firm and then enrolled at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law in New York City.

In 2003, Saviano joined the Morrison Cohen law firm. As a senior counsel in the firm's corporate department, his practice is devoted to "guiding clients through complex commercial transactions and on building, protecting, and exploiting celebrity and corporate brands."

Yet another child actor traded working with stars of the Hollywood variety to stars of the celestial type. Charlie Korsmo had a great career as a child actor, performing with Jessica Lange in "Men Don't Leave" (1990), with Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray in "What About Bob?" (1991), with Warren Beatty in "Dick Tracy," and with Robin Williams in "Hook." However, his interest in science led him to major in physics at MIT, graduating in 2000.

Along the way to his degree, he made a brief but memorable detour back into acting, starring with Jennifer Love Hewitt in the 1998 teen comedy "Can't Hardly Wait" (playing, appropriately enough, the science-loving nerd out for revenge on the school jock).

After MIT, Korsmo worked in Washington, D.C., for the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the House Select Committee on Homeland Security (as a policy strategist on missile defense).

Clearly not someone who simply played smart characters, Korsmo's next step was Yale Law School. After graduating in 2006, he clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and practiced briefly in New York with the prestigious firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

But academia beckoned, and Korsmo became a visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School before landing his current gig as an assistant law professor at Case Western University Law School in Cleveland.

So, there is life after being a child actor—even if you have to go to law school to find it.

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