Charlie Korsmo is an American actor-turned-lawyer who is most commonly recognized for his role in the 1990 film Dick Tracy and the 1991 film Hook.
He also appeared in the popular ‘90s films What About Bob? and Hook, among others. Despite his successful film career though, Korsmo is now known just as much for his career in law and political activism.
Charlie Korsmo was born in Fargo, North Dakota on July 20th, 1978. His mother Deborah Ruf worked as an educational psychologist in the area, and his father, John Korsmo, was a hospital administrator.
John Korsmo would ultimately go on to work in politics, first as the Chair of the Republican Party of North Dakota, and then as a congressional candidate (though he was never elected).
He was nominated to be Chairman of the Federal Housing Board by President George W. Bush in 2002 –– when the bulk of Charlie’s acting career was already in the past!
Despite being born in Fargo and having a father involved in North Dakotan politics, Charlie’s youth was spent primarily in a Minneapolis suburb called Golden Valley.
During his childhood in Golden Valley, Charlie Korsmo attended the independent Episcopalian school known as the Breck School.
Though he would ultimately earn his diploma from the Breck School however, Charlie started working before he even became a teenager.
When his first two films –– Men Don’t Leave and Dick Tracy –– were released, Korsmo was only 11 years old. And bear in mind, the filming will have been months at least before the release dates!
As Korsmo would say in a 2014 interview at Cleveland.com, he recalls having worked “pretty much constantly” from the age of 10 to 13.
Charlie Korsmo got into acting following a childhood trip to Los Angeles and a live viewing of the taping of Punky Brewster.
A young Korsmo thought that the acting looked easy, and subsequently persuaded his parents to set him up with a talent agent –– as he put it, just to earn enough money to buy a Nintendo.
Before long, Korsmo started to earn roles during what some look at as the heyday of the star child actor.
Several articles across the web compare his early career to those of Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, and indeed these were the contemporaries with whom he competed for roles.
It’s said that Wood only got the chance to act alongside Culkin in 1993’s The Good Son because Korsmo had made the decision to move on from acting (turning down a seven-figure check in the process).
For his part though, Korsmo is best known for a handful of early-‘90s films that preceded The Good Son, as well as a few later projects….
Men Don’t Leave
Men Don’t Leave is a 1990 dramedy based on a French film called La Vie Continue. Jessica Lange starred as widowed suburban mother Beth Macauley, who is forced to relocate with her sons Chris (Chris O’Donnell) and Matt (Korsmo) to Baltimore.
The film is largely about the ways in which this upending divide the family and then bring them back together, and Korsmo was lauded for his work as the younger son –– at once tough, impressionable, and earnest.
Another 1990 project, Dick Tracy is arguably Charlie Korsmo’s biggest film and most enduring role.
The film was a hybrid crime/comedy caper in which Warren Beatty famously directed and played the titular role –– the ultra-capable (and archetypal) detective, Dick Tracy.
Al Pacino starred opposite Beatty as Alphonse Caprice, aka “Big Boy,” a formidable crime boss.
And the famously loaded cast also included Madonna, Dustin Hoffman, Dick Van Dyke, Kathy Bates, James Caan, and Mandy Patinkin, among others.
Dick Tracy was nominated for seven Oscars.
Notably, despite a cast full of renowned actors, Charlie Korsmo had far more than a bit part. He played The Kid, a nameless orphan who is taken in to some extent by Tracy and Tracy’s girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly).
Ultimately, it was Korsmo’s performance in this role that turned him into a child star on the level of Culkin or Wood.
What About Bob?
Many recall this 1991 comedy as something of a one-man show. Indeed, What About Bob? served as a vehicle for Bill Murray at the height of his powers, and ultimately went down as one of his finest performances.
Among the few other characters who feature in meaningful roles, however, was that of “Siggy” Marvin, played by Korsmo.
Siggy (real name Sigmund) was the son of Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) –– the therapist attempting to help Bob (Murray) deal with crippling phobias.
Along with his sister Anna (Kathryn Erbe), Siggy helped Bob to relax and enjoy himself in a way Dr. Marvin couldn’t at first manage.
1991’s The Doctor is another film in which Charlie Korsmo played the child of the lead. In this case, said lead was Dr. Jack McKee (William Hurt), a doctor whose personal experience with a cancer diagnosis led him to reexamine his own ability to care for his patients (and relate to his family).
Korsmo played the part of the doctor’s son Nicky. The film earned strong reviews from critics and viewers alike, though it hasn’t lived on with quite the reputation of Dick Tracy or What About Bob?
If there’s a Charlie Korsmo film that some perceive as being bigger than Dick Tracy or What About Bob?, it’s Hook.
This Steven Spielberg-directed 1991 film is regarded by many as a classic –– a rollicking retelling of the Peter Pan tale pitting Robin Williams’s Pan against Dustin Hoffman’s legendary Captain Hook.
At the height of his child-star powers, Charlie Korsmo played the role of Jack Banning –– Peter’s son.
His was a crucial role in this creative retelling. In the real world, Jack was disillusioned with his father due to Peter’s busy work schedule.
So, when Jack and his sister Maggie (Amber Scott) were kidnapped and taken to Neverland, and Peter followed them, Jack was susceptible to the manipulation of Captain Hook.
More than physically rescuing the children, the film became one about an adult Peter Pan winning back the affection of his son.
Korsmo was widely viewed as having done an excellent job in this pivotal role.
Can’t Hardly Wait
Charlie Korsmo had quit acting by 1993, but returned to the movies for this 1998 teen comedy (having been 19 at the time of the film’s release).
Can’t Hardly Wait revolved almost entirely around an over-the-top high school graduation party.
Caught somewhere between Animal House and American Pie (though tamer than both), the film played on traditional high school tropes and captured the carefree vibe of the late-‘90s, early-‘00s MTV-era teen scene.
Korsmo played William –– essentially the “nerd” –– alongside the likes of Jennifer Love Heweitt, Seth Green, and Ethan Embry.
Chained For Life
This somewhat overlooked 2019 film marked another return from retirement for Charlie Korsmo. He played the role of “Herr Director” –– a film director working on his first English-language project.
The challenge of the project, however, was that its female lead Mabel (Jess Weixler) had to find a way to relate to and interact with the male lead, Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) –– who suffered from a condition resulting in significant deformity.
Korsmo’s was an eccentric role in ways, but one he performed well. And while the film was largely overlooked by audiences, the critical consensus was that it was a daring, original, and successful project.
Actors won’t always go into detail about their own careers. Perhaps because he has largely (if not entirely) stepped back from acting though, Charlie Korsmo has been fairly candid about his past on the screen.
To that end, the former child star has named Dick Tracy as his favorite of his own films.
He’s specified that it’s the one in which he’s most satisfied with his own work, and has added, “I don’t think I could have done any better than that.”
That said, Korsmo also identified Can’t Hardly Wait as the film he had the most fun making.
Why Did He Retire From Acting?
Charlie Korsmo retired from acting essentially to be a normal kid. He’s stated in the years since that he never viewed acting as a “lifelong career ambition,” and once he’d enjoyed his leading roles, he had essentially had enough.
As stated, he turned down a seven-figure opportunity to star opposite Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son, and that was about it! He left acting, and soon thereafter started high school.
What Is Charlie Korsmo Doing Now?
Korsmo graduated from the Breck School outside of Minneapolis in 1996. Thereafter, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in physics in 2000.
He would later earn his doctorate of law from Yale University in 2006 –– though in the interim between undergrad and law school he also worked briefly for the Environmental Protection Agency and the national Republican Party.
Korsmo passed the New York State Bar Exam in 2007, and promptly went to work at the firm Sullivan and Cromwell.
Today however, Korsmo is primarily a professor –– teaching at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
It’s believed that while at Yale, Korsmo was affiliated with the Federalist Society –– an organization of college conservatives that concerns itself with matters of law and judge selection.
Despite this evidently Republican-leaning background however, Korsmo was also nominated in 2011 by then-President Barack Obama to serve as a board member for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation –– a group that aims to support students interested in science, engineering, and math.
As far as we know, Korsmo has quit acting for good. That said, he’s returned from his young retirement before on multiple occasions.
Charlie Korsmo has managed to keep his personal and dating life fairly quiet for a former child star.
It is believed however that he dated the actress Sara Marsh for a time. Marsh is best known for her role as Lucy Whitman in Sugar And Spice (which also starred James Marsden and Mena Suvari).
Following this relationship, Korsmo met and married Adrienne Jones (who became Adrienne Korsmo). As of this writing, the two are still married.
Charlie and Adrienne Korsmo have two children together. Lilah Nell was born in 2010, and her younger brother William in 2012.