I first heard the name Haley Joel Osment in 1999, shortly after the release of his breakout film, THE SIXTH SENSE. Thing is, I heard it everywhere. Casting was in progress for PAY IT FORWARD, the film based on my novel of the same name, but I was not involved. I was just keeping my fingers crossed. I started getting calls and e-mails from friends who said, “You have to see ‘The Sixth Sense.’ You have to see this kid act. You won’t believe how good he is. They have to get him as Trevor. Tell them to get Haley Joel Osment.” I saw the film. I couldn’t believe how good he was. But it wasn’t my job to cast the role of Trevor. I could only hope.
A month or two later, I heard that Mimi Leder, the director of PAY IT FORWARD, had a meeting with Haley. On November 19th it was official. Haley was by then a respected celebrity actor, and I was lucky enough to see him portray my vision of the 12-year-old who changes the world.
Behind every “sudden success” is a long road spanning many hard years. I knew that Haley Joel Osment didn’t come out of nowhere to co-star with Bruce Willis in THE SIXTH SENSE. I had seen him in the T.V. sitcom THUNDER ALLEY, and playing Tom Hank's son in the hit film FORREST GUMP. I had also seen him in BOGUS, the 1996 film that starred Haley alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they starred alongside him. The movie revolved around Haley’s character; he was on screen for almost the entire film. BOGUS could well have been his breakout film. But somehow it was THE SIXTH SENSE that got the attention of almost everyone on the planet. A supporting-actor Oscar nomination followed, and woke up the one or two who might have been left over. When he was first cast in PAY IT FORWARD I would say, “Haley Joel Osment…” Pause. “…the kid from ‘The Sixth Sense.’” Then the praise would flow. By the time PAY IT FORWARD premiered, I just said, “Haley Joel Osment.” There was no time to say more before the praise started. There was no need.
But the story goes back further--all the way back to a shopping trip Haley took with his mom when he was only four. They passed a video screen test-people in search of new talent. Haley asked his mom if he could give it a shot. He stood in front of the camera and read some lines. Soon after, he got a call for the Pizza Hut commercial that launched his career.
In addition to his early movie work, he also did TV guest appearances on MURPHY BROWN as Murphy’s son, Avery, and on ALLY MCBEAL as the dying boy who sued God. He also completed two made-for-TV movies, THE LAKE, and CAB TO CANADA.
When I first met Haley, we were on the set of PAY IT FORWARD. The Las Vegas shooting had wrapped, and the cast and crew were shooting interiors in a version of the McKinney home built on a Hollywood sound stage. The E.P.K. (electronic press kit) crew was on the set that day, and after my own interview I was invited to watch Haley’s. A little crowd gathered, just listening to him--and being impressed. How could someone so poised, so articulate, so calm and professional, be eleven? He seemed almost like a grown man in a kid’s body. By the time I left that day I’d watched him chase Kevin Spacey back and forth across the set, I’d watched him jump onto Kevin’s back declaring, “I am Leech Boy, and you can’t shake me off.” (Not entirely true-he ended up hanging head-down from Kevin’s waist before it was all over.) I watched him take off on his bike across the lot. Before Kevin Spacey left to chase him in a studio golf cart, he said of Haley, “He’s a forty-year-old midget.” I’m not sure which impresses me more-that Haley has an intelligence and professionalism far beyond his years, or that underneath it all he is a genuine, spontaneous, fun-loving kid.
Since then we’ve seen him blow everyone out of the water yet again as the non-human David in Stanley Kubrick’s A.I., the Steven Spielberg-directed drama about artificial intelligence. From the minute they showed his face on screen, I had goosebumps. The real challenge of this role is that David began as a machine with no emotions at all. When his “mother” programmed him with a series of random words, he was nothing but emotion, and his love for his mother became the driving force of his existence. Yet whether he played artificial intelligence with or without emotion, I was always able to see that in his face. He never just played the role as a human boy. Can another Academy Award nomination be far behind?
In 2002 we’ll get to see EDGES OF THE LORD, which he filmed in Poland shortly after completing his Trevor role.
Now the only question is: In what role will Haley amaze us next? I’d have to say: Just about any role he wants.
-- Catherine Ryan Hyde, Author of "Pay It Forward"