“My dad never told me that when you audition, you might not get the role. He wanted to wait until my first disappointment to tell me.” Shying away from any requests to repeat his iconic “I see dead people” phrase from The Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osment has made the transition from child actor to adult star seem incredibly easy. Getting his start in the 1990s, the California native had a minor role in Forrest Gump but didn’t turn heads until he joined Bruce Willis in M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 thriller, The Sixth Sense. Taking home nearly a dozen awards for his performance, he went on to star in Pay It Forward and A.I. Artificial Intelligence before stepping away from acting to focus on college at New York University. Graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2011, the now 29-year-old Osment has made his way back into the spotlight as one of the most well-adjusted and beloved child actors the industry has ever seen!
With his parents both hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Haley Joel Osment might have grown up in Los Angeles, California but, from the day he was born on April 10, 1988, he was raised with southern values. The son of a schoolteacher and a theater and film actor, Osment’s first brush with acting came from his parents as his father ran a local theater on Santa Monica Boulevard during the late 1980s. “I was really young when he was doing that, but I knew what his job was,” he recalled. “My mom is into dressing up and costumes and designing her own curriculum that way. She stayed home for about eight years with me and my sister when we were young before going back to teaching, so we had a lot of time with her. She taught us to read really early.”
Learning to read at an early age paid off for Osment who, at four years old, was discovered by a talent scout at the local IKEA store. With the scout taking Polaroids of every child coming into the store, Osment’s mother didn’t think anything of it until Osment was called to audition weeks later. “We went, and from that audition, within a couple of weeks, I was doing a Pizza Hut commercial for Bigfoot pizzas, a promotional pizza they had,” Osment said. “Just from that commercial, the casting director for Forrest Gump got in contact with us and I was reading with director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks pretty soon after that. It all kind of snowballed from there.”
Appearing as Forrest Gump’s son in the 1994 blockbuster Forrest Gump, Osment took home a Young Artist Award for his performance and landed the starring role of Harry Turner on ABC’s newest series, Thunder Alley. Wrapping up the show a year later, he joined Jeff Foxworthy on The Jeff Foxworthy Show and made appearances in popular series like Murphy Brown, Chicago Hope, Touched By an Angel and Ally McBeal before his career took a huge turn in 1999 when he auditioned for and won the part of Cole Sear in M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller, The Sixth Sense.
“That script was going around town and I think it was evident to pretty much anybody who read it that it was something special,” Osment recalled. “When I read it, I’d never read anything like it before. It was probably pushing the subject matter and maturity of anything I’d read or seen. I think that’s one of the best examples of how lucky I was to prepare with my dad. When we were rehearsing the scenes before I went to audition, he said, ‘Technically it’s a horror movie, but it’s not so much about the horror of death, but the fear of not being able to communicate with other people.’”
Earning an Oscar nomination for his performance and taking home over a dozen other accolades for the film, Osment was at the top of his game but remained humble as he hit it big in 2000 with Pay It Forward and again in 2001 with Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The A-lister went on to join Hollywood legends Michael Caine and Robert Duvall in Secondhand Lions in 2003 and gave a stellar performance as the voice of Mowgli in The Jungle Book 2 but knew he had bigger plans for his future as he focused more on his studies in high school and later enrolled at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“There was this five to six-year period when I was at school and I was not appearing in a lot of things,” Osment said of his hiatus. “I did an indie film, I did a show on Broadway when I was in college that was not that successful, but going away to study was not a tough decision, because I always knew I wanted to go to college. And with my mom being a sixth-grade teacher, I was definitely going to college. Skipping it was out of the question.”
Making the most of his time away from Hollywood to explore writing and creative work, Osment graduated with his degree in 2011 and has spent the last six years reinventing himself with off-the-wall projects that many never expected from the former child actor. He’s appeared in films like Tusk, Sex Ed, Yoga Hosers and Holding Patterns with recurring roles on television series like The Spoils of Babylon, The Spoils Before Dying, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Silicon Valley. Of course, he’s also known for voicing the characters of Sora and Vanitas in the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise.
As for what’s next, the 29-year-old says he’s constantly looking for the next challenging role with the hopes of one day trying his hand at working behind the scenes or even snagging a starring role on a television series. “I’ve had all these great opportunities to do these indie projects,” Osment admits, “but I’m really interested in getting on a show that runs for a couple of seasons and to dig into a character that way… I’d like to focus on getting some of my stuff produced and just moving toward the future.”