Haley Joel Osment thought he was done for the day. It was 1998 and the 10 year old boy was shooting The Sixth Sense, directed by M Night Shyamalan. With 10 minutes remaining on set, they wanted to sneak into a short scene. The terrified character of Osment, who memorably sees dead people, had to face a bloody ghost. Osment must have quickly got into the right frame of mind. The young actor threw himself against a door, over and over again, until he was shaken enough. “If they had known I was going to do it, they would probably have arrested me,” he said of Shyamalan and the other adults on set. “It came to me spontaneously – and I guess it worked. “
I see little of this intensity in the 32-year-old man facing me via Zoom. Still boyish, despite a dark beard, Osment is optimistic and laughs. He returned to his hometown of Los Angeles last fall, after 13 years in New York City, and found this home a week before the lockdown, while filming an upcoming Goliath series for Amazon. After the tremendous success of The Sixth Sense – a box office phenomenon, his critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated performance, while his most famous line of character quickly became a slogan – he enjoyed a different kind of career lately. He works regularly, on screen but in one way or another under the radar, probably not recognized as the kid of the Sixth Sense by most of his audience.
In recent years, he has appeared on television in What We Do in the Shadows, The Kominsky Method, Silicon Valley, Teachers and The Boys. Last year he had a supporting role in the movie Ted Bundy Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Since the lockdown, he says, there have been “endless opportunities to think quietly at home,” including his time as a child star.
Although his father, Eugene, was an actor (and ran a theater on Santa Monica Boulevard), Osment fell into the game by chance, having been spotted at the age of four at Ikea. His first screen appearance was in an advertisement for Pizza Hut in 1993, which led him to be approached by the casting director of Forrest Gump. Forrest Jr was just a small part for Osment, five, but his screen test with Tom Hanks is still circulating on social media, thanks to their heartwarming double act – and the kindness of Osment.
Shyamalan had feared that Osment was too much of a “cherub” to be interpreted in The Sixth Sense. But the boy was also serious and precocious. For Osment’s last three audition for The Sixth Sense, he wore a costume. The director said he was moved to tears by the boy’s vulnerability and depth, especially in his delivery of the now classic line: “I see the dead.
“I had worked with him for so long, the material was really ready the moment I saw it,” says Osment. His father had helped him prepare for the audition and shaped his early career. “His relationship with the business was so resistant to doing things that had no purpose and were not quality work,” says Osment. “There will always be plenty of opportunities to bail out for a big paycheck… so having someone like that, who really cared about protecting artistic merit before I was old enough to understand what that meant, was an influence. so important. “
On set, Osment was also supported by Shyamalan and his co-star, Bruce Willis. “I don’t think I could have done it, if it hadn’t been for this feeling that they believed in me. Although Shyamalan himself is only 28 years old, and under pressure to deliver his multi-million dollar screenplay, he didn’t push that to his cast, Osment says. “I remember he was dribbling a basketball from his director’s chair between lighting changes. He just projected the calm.
Willis, too, was convinced of the film’s success, telling Shyamalan that he had felt the same when directing Pulp Fiction. There was a feeling that “we are building this story together,” says Osment. During those pivotal early years, he said he never felt manipulated or negatively motivated to gamble. “That’s why it’s still something I love to do, almost 30 years later.”
Osment was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor in The Sixth Sense, but lost to Michael Caine. Caine praised Osment in his speech, “Haley, when I saw you I thought, well, I don’t have one. (“Probably a better result than my victory,” said Osment warmly.)
A series of blockbusters followed – starting with the 2000 drama Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey. Spacey’s predatory behavior allegations were “a shock to me, [they were] to a lot of people, ”says Osment. He says he felt “super safe” on every movie he worked on as a child – not least because he was always accompanied by either Eugene or his mother, Theresa. “They had a policy of never letting me go alone on a set.” They also worked to minimize the disruption to his education, even as his star continued to rise. Acting “was something I went and did, like going to camp,” he says.
Then Osment ended up in school, where “the big news in fifth grade” was Nintendo 64 and a new Star Wars movie. It was an undeniable “shift”, he said, but it seemed natural to sail. He wasn’t treated like a celebrity and because The Sixth Sense was rated as inappropriate for children under 13, he says, “Most of the kids in my class haven’t even seen it. “
Osment’s younger sister Emily, 28, had “a more difficult path” to stardom, says Osment, playing Miley Cyrus’ best friend Lilly on Hannah Montana from the Disney Channel. “This show was all about creating a fad in this age group. She has had to deal with much more bizarre invasions of privacy, not being able to have a normal school life. And what exacerbated all of this was that it had to be on social media. I resisted until I was 27. “
In 2006, aged 18, Osment moved to New York to study Experimental Theater at New York University. His parents wanted him to go to college and Osment wanted the college experience. “I did a job that hardly anyone had seen for a long time, which was not a big career change – but, ultimately, it was important for me to determine if that was what I really wanted to do it for the rest of my life, ”he says.
In 2008, he made his Broadway debut, playing a heroin addict in a cover of David Mamet’s American Buffalo, to mixed reviews. After graduation, in 2011, a wave of quirks and bad guys followed, from a nasty millionaire in the Entourage movie to a greasy-haired Nazi in Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers and a virgin teacher in Sex Ed. “It was definitely a great fun time playing with a lot of bad guys,” Osment says. He admits it may have been a late rebellion against his childhood angelic image: in fact, Osment says, he grew a beard “to try and hide in public. It didn’t really work at all.
His public journey through adolescence was “free from major indiscretion,” as the New Yorker puts it with approval. In 2006, while driving while intoxicated, he overturned his car, for which he was fined, sentenced to pardon and placed on probation for three years. But it was an arrogant Los Angeles teenager’s “terrible mistake”, centered on the car, Osment says. “It couldn’t have had less to do with Hollywood.”
The popular child star narrative may be “the spectacular explosion,” he admits, “but I think the percentage of people with a positive experience of child labor is much higher than most. people imagine. ” You just don’t hear about child actors who “move on to something else that works for them”, or who have such a long career that their youthful roles disappear in the rear view, says Osment.
“As an actor you can never count on success all the time. I remember having this feeling with The Sixth Sense – like, “It won’t always be like this. He is hoping his next move will be behind the scenes, in writing and directing, which was part of his motivation to return to Los Angeles, he says.
Even as he begins the next stage of his career, he does not want to be questioned about the past. “I am fortunate to have a positive relationship with these times which can sometimes be difficult for other people.” Regarding his early successes, he says, “I feel like I’m still leaning on it.”