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Haley Joel Osment has been acting for a quarter of a century, starting with a role in 1994’s Forrest Gump, which went on to win best actor, director and picture at the 1995 Academy Awards. “That was the first official movie [I was in]. I was four when we shot it and five when it came out…I remember I learned to tie my shoe on that film set,” he said.
Five years later, Osment played opposite Bruce Willis and Toni Collette in M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit The Sixth Sense. Osment plays an introverted boy who can see and communicate with ghosts. It’s an intense role that required a then 11-year-old Osment to scream, cry and be generally terrified in nearly every scene. He earned an Oscar nom for best supporting actor for the role and became one of the youngest acting nominees of all time.
“I was at an age where I knew it was a bigger movie than I had done before, but we didn’t have the expectations for it that it would become a big hit or be part of awards season,” he said. “We all just had this sense that we had this great story on our hands, and if we all just worked well together as a team, it would turn out to be something special.”
When asked how he managed to pull off such a deep character at such a young age, he credits the environment that Shyamalan created on set, as well as practical filmmaking tactics. “We had an actual cold room where you could see people’s breath. I think they might animate that today, but there were actually sets you had to go on that were 30 degrees so that your breath would come out. You really felt like you were in that world,” he said.
In 2007, with over a dozen films under his belt — and an Oscar nom to boot — Osment decided to attend college, like all his friends and peers were doing. “It just felt really important for me to do it at that age,” he said. “There’s only going to be one opportunity when you’re 18 years old and you move to a different city and you’re studying acting around people that are all your own age. That was completely new for me. I was usually the only kid on the set in a lot of situations, so to do something where it’s only people who are your exact age and have your shared experience in that way, it was just time.”
One consistent through line during his career is voicing the character Sora in Kingdom Hearts, a video game that mashes up classic Disney and Pixar characters and settings with role-playing and action elements from the makers of the Final Fantasy series. Osment has voiced the character in 10 separate Kingdom Hearts titles over the last 18 years.
“I started the first one when I was 12, in 2000 or 2001, and the second one was my last two years of high school. Then the third one was just this year,” he said. “It’s easier to do that young voice, but Sora’s gotten a little older as time has gone on. I feel like the character is like [Matthew] McConaughey in Interstellar, where he hasn’t aged very much and I’m the old guy on the ship at a different rate of speed.”
In addition to Kingdom Hearts, Osment has recently tapped into his comedic side with guest and recurring roles on shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley and Hulu’s Future Man. “[Comedy] is really addictive, so I definitely gravitate toward it,” he said.
On the seemingly opposite end of the spectrum is the Zac Efron-led Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019. During press interviews for the film, fans waited outside and mobbed Efron as he jumped to the next interview. “It’s crazy. I admire the person he is, having to deal with that all the time,” Osment said of Efron. “A lot of the time it was him going to the secure vehicle and some of us sneaking out behind him while everybody followed him. It was wild. It’s definitely like being with a rock band.”
Extremely Wicked features Osment as a coworker of Lily Collins’s character, Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Liz Kloepfer. “[My character] sees her take these calls from Ted Bundy and sees her start to wither and die because he’s just draining the life out of her with his manipulation and his lies. He kind of tries to make his way into her life and help her see a future without Ted Bundy.”
Osment was aware that signing onto a project that revolves around such a sinister, notorious serial killer had risks. “With it being a Ted Bundy project, I was aware of the risks and the need for it to be handled properly, but the way the script was designed and knowing that [director Joe Berlinger] was the guy that was going to do it, that made me confident to jump on board,” he said.
When asked about the polarizing trailer for the film that dropped recently, Osment said, “The important thing to remember is that the director and anybody from the film doesn’t have any input into it. It’s a marketing company that does it…. I totally understand that [polarizing] response to it, and we’re certainly at a point where it’s a particularly heavy topic and one to be taken seriously, and whether you should depict some things at all anyway. I wouldn’t want to argue with anyone who feels that that’s an absolute, that you should never depict it, but our approach to it is that — and I think everybody is on the same page about it, particularly Joe [Berlinger] — is that we’re trying to show how someone like this did what he did, because a lot of people through the murder trials did not believe that it was possible…. We’re seeing it from the inside of the story, before all the puzzle pieces fell into place.”
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile will air on Netflix in fall 2019, and seasons one and two of Future Man are on Hulu now.
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