For audiences around the world whose ears ring with the haunting and fateful revelation of a child tortured by terrifying visions of the afterlife, Haley Joel Osment may forever be linked to his role in what would rank among the most popular supernatural thrillers ever made, The Sixth Sense (1999). An Oscar nominee at the age of 11, Osment quickly became one of the most recognized and versatile young actors working in film, proving to audiences that his talents exceeded typecasting by constantly tackling new and challenging roles and characterizations. Born in Los Angeles, CA, on April 10, 1988, Osment set his acting career into motion as many actors do, by appearing in commercials and taking small roles on television. Accompanied by his father to an audition for a Pizza Hut commercial and initially discouraged by the overwhelming amount of children vying for the role, Osment eventually stuck out the wait at his father's request and landed the role that would launch his career. Soon making his feature debut as the youthful counterpart of the titular character in the phenomenally successful Forrest Gump in 1994, Osment alternated between television (Murphy Brown and The Jeff Foxworthy Show) and film (Mixed Nuts and Bogus) while frequently appearing in such made-for-TV movies as The Ransom of Red Chief before making his breakthrough in director M. Night Shayamalan's The Sixth Sense. Following the success of The Sixth Sense with the well-intended but fatally flawed feel-good failure Pay It Forward, Osment escaped relatively unscathed as critics recognized the young actor's exceptional performance in what was otherwise a flop with critics and audiences alike. Imagination was the key to Osment's next project, director Steven Spielberg's long-anticipated, much-hyped A.I. An elaborately futuristic tale of an android that aspires to experience human emotion, A.I. was the first and only collaboration of two of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, the late Stanley Kubrick (who conceived the story based on Brian Aldiss' short-story Supertoys Last All Summer Long) and Spielberg. In addition to appearing onscreen, Osment lent his voice to a number of animated films in 2000 and 2001, including the Disney sequels The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and The Jungle Book II.
you've seen "Secondhand Lions," the Texas-filmed movie that opened recently, you've probably made one inescapable observation. It's not about whether the movie looks good, it's about Haley Joel Osment's voice. It has changed.
This should come as no surprise. Osment, perhaps the best child star of recent years ("The Sixth Sense," "A.I. Artificial Intelligence") is no longer a child star. He's 15, itching for the day next April that he can get his driver's license and amused by the attention his deeper voice is getting. But he's also determined not to become a child star frozen in time.
Haley Joel Osment
"As an actor, that's the last thing you want to do is stay doing the same character over and over," he says. "The character, while you're doing it, is great, especially if you get to do a performance that you'll always be happy with. I'm very happy with 'Sixth Sense.' But that's on its own. That can't be part of what you do afterward."
That's the answer of a seasoned actor, one who's used to talking to the media. Which, of course, Osment is. As he bounces with nervous energy, it's easy to forget that this teenager is already an Academy Award nominee, and that he's already had a career-defining role.
In "The Sixth Sense," he played a haunted child, Cole, with such empathy and eeriness that Cole's fear became part of the movie's chills.
He also slyly fit into the movie's clever structure, which led to a knockdown twist that only the sharpest viewers could see coming.
Most actors wait a lifetime for roles like that; child actors sometimes never recover from them. But Osment already has another beautiful performance to his credit, as David, the android who wants to be a real little boy in "A.I." Osment added wonder, poignancy and even subtle terror to a character that could have been cloying.
Even when he's drowned by melodramatic mawkishness, as he was in the well-meaning misfire "Pay It Forward," Osment transcends the story.
In "Secondhand Lions," Osment is surrounded by some more melodrama, but there are also heavy doses of humor and adventure in Texan writer-director Tim McCanlies' story about a shy teen who spends a summer with a couple of eccentric uncles.
Osment's fourth high-profile movie role shares an earnestness with his other best-known work, and as talented as he is, he risks typecasting and even critical backlash, which is something a teen shouldn't have to worry about.Not that Osment does. "I think most actors don't pay too much attention to reviews," says Osment, adding that he would like to play a villain someday, but that opportunities for that kind of role are limited in his age group. "It's good to know the response that you get. But there's so many reviews, and they're so varied, and you don't know what causes people to respond a certain way. So it's really good not to take them too seriously, good or bad."
Osment is known for his maturity, and he has been fortunate to work with directors who are sensitive to young actors. Those include "Lions" director McCanlies, who directed four up-and-coming stars in the regional hit "Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81." With "Lions," McCanlies aims for something bigger, and that includes working with stars such as Michael Caine and Robert Duvall, who play Osment's uncles. These are people who are a little more intimidating and experienced -- and McCanlies counts Osment among them.
"This guy has worked with (Steven) Spielberg, (Robert) Zemeckis, M. Night Shyamalan," McCanlies says, adding that it was interesting to see the bonding that went on among Osment and the older actors.
With experience has come a reputation for professionalism and politeness, on-set and during interviews.
"It's really just what I've learned being around these people, though," says Osment, whose co-stars have also included Bruce Willis, Helen Hunt, Ed Asner and Candice Bergen. "That professionalism comes from what I've watched people do on the set."
The true grounding element for Osment is his family, especially his father, Eugene, who doubles as his acting coach and has a bit part in "Lions." (Haley's younger sister, Emily, also acts; she appeared in two of the three "Spy Kids" movies.)
Osment aspires to go to Yale, but he's not sure whether he'll pull a Brooke Shields and drop out of acting for a few years to concentrate on college.
"It's hard for me to say whether it will be possible for me to do films while I'm in school," he says. "But if I go to Yale or wherever, I definitely will be involved in the drama department."