Jeff Cohen parlayed his young acting talents (most notably, Chunk fromThe Goonies) into a successful career as one of LA’s top entertainment lawyers and his own firm, Cohen Gardner LLP. I sat down with him to discuss the old Goonies crew, how his clients get a kick out of having Chunk represent them, and how a flash mob formed in college to force him into doing the ol’ Truffle Shuffle.
Lets talk about your career. I usually ask people about their first job out of law school, but I think it makes sense to start before that in your case? First acting job?
I was on a kid’s show in Cincinnati called the Uncle Al Show. But I was more a participant. I’m from LA, I was visiting my relatives. I was 6 years old.
Were you pushed by your parents or were you clamoring for the stage?
I was just kind of a natural clown, and when I was seven, they sent my picture in to a game show called Childs Play, which taped in LA. Kids would describe words without seeing the word and an adult would try and guess them. I interviewed a pilot that Ron Howard shot, called Little Shots, for NBC, I guess I was eight. That was my first real gig.
I had already been acting for a few years at that point, my agent sent me in, I met with the casting director, and then Richard Donner and Spielberg, and they picked me up.
Did you have a sense of how big this was gonna be?
I was excited for sure.
Everyone wants to know about the Goonies. You got to work with Spielberg? Richard Donner?
They are both great. Richard Donner is still a friend today and a mentor to me. He taught me a lot about the other side of show business. I love entertainment and I love art and I think the experience of being in front of the camera and understanding how that works is crucial to what I do now. For me, entertainment law is not only academic. You know how fragile these deals are and how people’s personalities and egos are so wrapped up in them, and how important this was to people, and its not just academic. It’s something I’ve experienced.
Do you feel like you get it from that side and your clients have a sense that you sort of get them because of your experience?
I think there are certain things that a performer goes through whether they are eight or 80: the auditioning, the vulnerability, and the laying it all on the line, just being exposed to create something. I think that the clients really appreciate that and it’s somewhat unique for our firm
Are you still in touch with any of the old child actors?
Yes, I’m still friends with Sean and Josh and Ke. Out of everyone, me and Dick Donner are really close. He actually got me my first entertainment job. He spoke to Ron Meyer at Universal when I still in law school, Universal Studios Television Production.
That’s a pretty good reference! Why do you think so many child actors have such a hard time adjusting?
I think being a performer is difficult. You have to be very vulnerable. It comes with the territory. Whether you are an actor, a comic, a writer or director. I think why a lot of child actors run into trouble because when you’re an actor, you have to be someone else, and when you’re a child, you have to figure out who you are. So you’re put in this situation where you have to be someone else and you don’t get a chance to grow into your own being. I think child actors sometimes miss that step. Which is “Wait who am I, what am I all about, what do I want?” Then you create your psyche about who you are, and then it’s more reasonable to be like this is who I am, and then you can step into these characters. I think you miss that step. That’s my dime store psychology take on it.
It does seem like you are the exception, what is your secret?
In my case, when I hit puberty, I looked different. I couldn’t get work anymore. In a way, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Then I find all these other things through academia. I went to Berkeley. I can study political science and literature and business. There is a whole different world out there. I got out of LA. I think what saved me was school.
Full interview: http://www.bitterlawyer.com/interview-jeff-cohen/