Haley Joel Osment Closes The Chapter On His Child Star Image

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Learning The Industry

Haley Joel Osment was familiar with the movie industry from a young age due to his father being a theatre and film actor. Despite having a “good old-fashioned Southern upbringing” Haley unexpectedly headed for Hollywood, but nothing could have prepared him for the cutthroat nature of the industry.

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An Unexpected Photo

When Osment was four-years-old, he had an unexpected encounter while running an errand with his mother. The two were seen shopping at furniture store IKEA, when a stranger snapped a picture of Osment. As it turned out, that person was a talent scout looking for new, young actors and Osment fit the bill. Osment later received a call from an agency requesting that he come in to audition for commercial. With the support of his parents, Osment went along.

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A Child’s Imagination

At the audition, young Haley was asked to describe the biggest thing he has ever seen. Without much hesitation, Haley confidently began describing an IMAX theater screen having seen a movie on it. Through his imagination and impressive description of his chosen location, Haley impressed the casting director and won the part in a Pizza Hut TV commercial, advertising the ‘Big Foot’ pizza. Despite the fact it was just a pizza commercial, it became Haley’s big break and caught the attention of directors.

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Starting Strong

A couple of months after his first commercial, he took up a number of roles in hit TV shows. Haley’s first part in a television series came in ABC sitcom Thunder Alley but perhaps his most recognized role was in feature film Forrest Gump. Haley starred alongside Tom Hanks playing his son, Forrest Junior in 1994, which led him to other smaller roles in Mixed Nuts, The Jeff Foxworthy Show and the last season of Murphy Brown.

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Working With Famous Faces

Haley’s first opportunity to work with a big name in the industry was in Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks, but it didn’t stop there. The child star began learning from his famous co-stars who showed him the ropes of the industry and helped him on-set. Osment worked alongside the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu, and from his experience, he began landing larger roles, showing his impressive acting skills. However, it was in 1999 when Osment achieved star status in Hollywood.

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Preparation Is Everything

When Osment was about to audition in The Sixth Sense, his father Eugene made him read the entire screenplay twice and practice over and over again. Eugene’s background in movies significantly helped Haley in preparing properly and effectively from such a young age. In order to get the best out of Haley, Eugene told him that the movie was not a horror movie and that it was about communication. When it came to auditioning, the directors and producers were blown away by Haley’s professionalism.

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“I See Dead People”

At just 11-years-old, Osment appeared as Cole Sear, a psychic child, in supernatural horror-thriller The Sixth Sense, co-starring Bruce Willis. This was when one of Osment’s lines, “I see dead people,” became a hugely popular catchphrase and is something he will always be remembered by. His outstanding performance earned him a number of awards including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the second-youngest actor to ever receive an Academy nomination for a supporting role.

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Star Status

Immediately following Osment’s Academy Award nomination, he was catapulted to the top of Hollywood’s child stars. In 2000, he starred alongside Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt in Pay It Forward and the following year, he was hand picked by award-winning director Steven Spielberg to appear in  A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This cemented Osment’s position as the leading young actor in Hollywood resulting film critic Roger Ebert to claim that “Osment, who is onscreen in almost every scene, is one of the best actors now working.”

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Rejected

From four-years-old, Haley won almost every role that he auditioned for but his success was given a knock in 1999. It could have been the biggest opportunity of his career but when he read for the role of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, he didn’t even get a callback. Instead, the role went to Jake Lloyd and the achievements of the film speaks for itself, being part of the most successful franchises of all time.

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Disney Come Calling

Being asked to voice a character in a popular Walt Disney Pictures movie is very rare and the opportunities are saved for the best in the industry. Between 2002 until 2003, Osment lent his voice to Disney classics including  The Country BearsThe Hunchback of Notre Dame II and The Jungle Book 2. While Osment’s exposure continued to expand, so did his income and he quickly became one of the highest paid child stars in Hollywood with one of the best reputations.

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Almost Harry Potter

At one point, Steven Spielberg was tipped to be the director for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and if these plans had gone ahead, the one person who Spielberg wanted to play the lead role of Harry was Osment. However, when the rumors got back to Osment, he vehemently denied everything and even expressed his reluctance to the magical books being adapted into movies. In addition, the Harry Potter franchise refused to employ American actors for the roles, as per author J.K. Rowling’s request.

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Acting Professional

Despite being a child actor, many commended Haley for his commitment to acting professional in every role he received. The way he was brought up and his family values were ingrained in Haley, which gave him a great reputation in the industry. Haley admitted “That professionalism comes from what I’ve watched people do on the set. I’m just trying to be as respectful to the environment, as they have been. I think I still act like a kid. I just try to be as professional as I can.”

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Much Needed Hiatus

Between 2001 until 2003, Haley dropped off the movie circuit for a while, leading many to wonder what happened to him. Despite the fact he was involved in a number of voiceover roles, not showing his face in a feature film made fans concerned that he had gone down the negative route which many child stars unfortunately take. Haley had been working since the age of four and this hiatus was necessary to give him an opportunity to stay out of the public eye for a while.

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Defending His Co-Stars

When Osment’s Sixth Sense co-star, Bruce Willis came under fire when many accused him of outrageous behavior on his movie sets, Haley came to his defense. He admitted, “I don’t have to be diplomatic because I had a great experience with him. When we were in The Sixth Sense, I think everybody was in the mode of like, ‘All right, we have this wonderful thing, let’s not mess it up.’ So everybody was in a good place.”

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Car Accident

In July 2006, Haley hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when he was involved in a single person car accident. Haley drove into a brick mailbox and overturned his car while driving near his home. The serious accident left Haley with significant injuries including a broken rib, a fractured shoulder blade and many cuts and abrasions. As it turned out, Osment was under the influence when the accident took place and at 18-years-old, he was in trouble with the law.

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Run In With The Law

Osment was then charged with driving under the influence, driving whilst having 0.08% or higher blood content and the possession of illegal substances while driving. Haley didn’t have much of a choice but to plead guilty to the charges and he was sentenced to three years probation, 60 hours in alcohol rehabilitation and education program, a fine of $1,500 and a minimum requirement of 26 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings over six-months. People were concerned that this was the beginning of the end for the child star.

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Learning From Mistakes

However, in response to his widely publicized DUI arrest, Haley maturely admitted, “I brought it upon myself. So I would definitely not say that my childhood in this business caused that in any way but the response to it is definitely something that is affected by my place in the business. So for me it was a good lesson.” He further added that it was expected that they press would shed light on the situation and all in all, it was a huge learning curve.

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Back To School

Through starting in the movie business from a young age, Haley was never given the opportunity to be a normal kid, as in going to school and growing up in a normal way. After his DUI arrest, Haley reevaluated what he wanted in his life and how he wanted to be perceived. In an attempt to regain control, he enrolled at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, majoring in experimental acting and began taking on projects he was passionate about.

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Reflecting On Mistakes

After taking an entirely different direction and enrolling at NYU, Haley reflected on his past and the events which led to him enrolling at college. He explained that he acted irresponsibly before attending college, saying, “That night was an example of being a foolish high schooler sort of screwing around before college starts.” Haley also had the support of his parents to keep him on the right path. Haley intended to graduate from college and put his negative past behind him.

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Broadway Fail

In November 2008, Haley made his Broadway debut at the Belasco Theatre. Haley played the role of a young addict in a remake of David Mamet’s American Buffalo which co-starred John Leguizamo and Cedric the Entertainer. There was plenty of hype surrounding the show which presented Osment in a completely different light but it opened to mixed reviews from critics. Unfortunately, the show could not go on and producers released a statement confirming that it would close following the opening week.

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Best Investment

However, Haley’s fail on Broadway wasn’t a total disaster, and he saw it as an experience that was part of something bigger. It was college that led him to taking on that role and he said of his decision to enroll, “it was the biggest investment I’d made in acting to date, it gave me a radically different set of ideas. I was working hard on my craft, just not in a way that was visible to the public.”

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Putting Things Into Perspective

Attending NYU was a grounding experience for Haley and he admitted, “I try to keep away from being big-headed. That’s what causes people to lose the acting thing. They start being commercial, and then they stink for the rest of their lives.” In addition, Haley understood the importance of having positive people in his life and he asserted, “My friends are definitely more important than my career. If I had to choose, I’d choose my friends over my career.”

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Child Star Stigma

Osment’s appreciation for his friends over his career separated him from many other child actors who knew fame and success from such a young age. Child stars have a reputation for spiraling due to the intense fame and attention on their lives. However, Osment’s positive attitude and successful career has allowed him to go the other way. He said that, “It makes me feel great when other young actors say they look up to me. I hope I can be a positive role model.”

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Brotherly Advice

The acting gene in the Osment family was handed down to Haley and in later years, it was also inherited by his sister Emily. After appearing in several movies including Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Emily was signed by Disney Channel to star alongside Miley Cyrus in the Emmy-nominated TV show Hannah Montana. Haley and Emily have a great relationship, supporting one another and attending important premieres and events.

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Family Business

The one person who was integral in assisting in Haley’s career was his father Eugene. Eugene had been working in the acting business for years and was able to guide his children through his knowledge. Haley said of his influential father, “He’s a great actor. He’s been acting on stage for 12 years now. And I got the feel immediately. Dad’s been helping me all the way. It comes naturally for me. I think it got passed down from dad, acting.”

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A Different Direction

After graduating from NYU Tisch in 2011, Haley reflected on his opportunities there and how it was in contrast to his past roles. He noted “I’m most well known for being a good kid and the moral center of the movie. So, in college, the most fun I had was to play as bad guys. It’s telling that most of my current roles are dark and nasty.” He welcomed the new and fresh challenge, admitting, “It’s some of the most satisfying work I’ve done.”

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No Longer A Baby Face

Haley is most recognized for being a child actor with his adorable, youthful looks but he is a far cry from that today. Osment could not be further from a chiseled Hollywood actor, resulting in fans describing him as “unrecognizable” from his younger self but he still has distinct features. However the giveaway is through his eyes which have the exact same slant as they did when he played Cole in his famous movie The Sixth Sense.

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Fame Isn’t Important

Haley has never been an attention or fame obsessed actor and he explained, “I try not to let the fame part of it be a factor in everyday life. Because when it comes down to it, the only thing that’s important to me that has to do with the fame is just the work on the set and the acting part of it.” He continued, “that’s not the most important thing about this business for me. It’s about the work.”

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Turning Back

In 2015, many people were surprised to see Osment take on a large role in the highly anticipated Entourage Movie alongside Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier, and Kevin Connolly as well as a number of celebrity cameos. His character had some risqué scenes and many people didn’t recognize him until his name appeared in the credits. He knew his role was unexpected adding, “I’ve done some really off-the-wall stuff, and stuff that people might not expect, that’s one way to work through people’s expectations of you.”

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New Beginnings

Slowly but surely, Haley began taking on more projects after leaving the limelight to reevaluate his life while attending college. Instead of being given projects, his creative experience in college gave him new direction and he decided to begin writing and directing his own work. He said of his new idea and opportunity, “If you’re smart about budget and realistic about what people are into, you have more opportunity to create your own projects than ever before.”

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Back To Acting

Osment’s hiatus from acting gave him a new outlook and perspective on life and his career. Taking himself out of the awkward stage of turning from an adolescent to adult actor helped his career in the long run. Recently he appeared in HBO comedy Silicon Valley and his career is back on track. No longer will Osment be known as the young boy from The Sixth Sense, he has managed to pave his own way in the industry to be taken seriously as an actor.

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