Haley Joel Osment Barely Survived the Child Actor Curse

The adorable little kid who acted way older than his age got famous for saying one of the most well-known catchphrases in movie history. He started out as Tom Hank’s on-screen son but is now fond of playing bad guys. You might have seen his face lately, as he stars in The Kominsky Method and Silicon Valley, among other things.

Haley Joel Osment / Steven Spielberg and Haley Joel Osment / Emily Osment and Haley Joel Osment/ Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment
Source: Getty Images

For a while there, the world nearly forgot about him. After being the “next big thing” and wowing audiences with The Sixth Sense, Forrest Gump, Pay It Forward and A.I., he pretty much disappeared. Well, now we know, through some of his candid interviews, that Haley Joel Osment desperately tried to avoid the “child stardom curse.” He even said he grew a beard to try to hide himself in public.

How Old Is Haley Joel Osment?

The 33-year-old man is still boyish-looking, despite his heavy, dark beard. He only recently returned to his hometown of Los Angeles after living in New York for 13 years. He achieved an extraordinary level of success after The Sixth Sense – a box office phenomenon that earned him an Oscar nomination – but now his career is very different.

Haley Joel Osment participates in the 20th-anniversary screening of
Photo by Rachel Luna/Getty Images

Osment has steady work, but most of it flies under the radar. And funnily enough, any or all of his younger fans have never even seen the films that made him super-duper famous. Osment was born in L.A. as the son of a teacher named Theresa and a theater and film actor father named Michael Eugene Osment. Both of his parents were Alabama natives.

Growing Up Osment

Osment has a sister who’s also a famous face in Hollywood. Emily Osment, who’s four years younger than him, was also a child actress best known for her role as Lilly Truscott on Hanna Montana. The Osment kids were raised Roman Catholic, and according to mom and dad, their kids enjoyed a “good old-fashioned Southern upbringing.”

Haley Joel Osment and Emily Osment dine at the Bafta La Britannia Awards.
Photo by Newsmakers/Getty Images

Mr. Osment said that when his son was learning to speak, he deliberately avoided speaking to him with baby talk. If you’re wondering if that made an impact on the kid and his uncanny maturity for his age, I would think that his going to a preparatory school might have a little more to do with it.

He Understood Things His Fellow Child Actors Didn’t

There’s also the fact that Osment’s mother was an elementary school teacher who taught him and his younger sister to read at a young age. According to Osment, it was what allowed him to understand the context of scenes much earlier than other child actors.

Haley Joel Osment, mother Theresa, father Eugene and sister Emily attend an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Before auditions, he would go over lines with his dad. “Not just in terms of saying the lines correctly but a process of entering into what it was all about, Osment explained. With The Sixth Sense, the father-son duo discussed how it wasn’t so much a horror story as it was a story about communication.

He Was Discovered at Ikea

Osment was an active kid who wrestled and played basketball, football, and golf. And even though his own dad was in the entertainment business (and ran a theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard), Osment actually fell into acting by chance. Believe it or not, the cute four-year-old was spotted at the Ikea in Burbank.

Headshot of child actor Haley Joel Osment.
Photo by Munawar Hosain/Fotos International/Getty Images

Osment was suddenly having his picture taken by some stranger as he and his mom walked into Ikea. Apparently, the Swedish furniture giant had a casting table “with two women taking Polaroids of all the kids who would come into the store,” Osment laughed. They were right by the “play place” for the kids to hang out in as their parents shopped.

Going to a “Cattle Call”

The woman took a Polaroid of the boy, and nobody thought anything of it, that is until they got called to do a “cattle call at one of those kids’ commercial things.” That call was from an advertising agency offering Mrs. Osment to bring her son to audition for a role in a Pizza Hut commercial.

Osment at a young age.
Source: Pinterest

So, his first-ever onscreen appearance was in an advertisement for Pizza Hut back in 1993 for Bigfoot pizzas, a promotional pizza they had at the time. It was a modest little gig, but it led to a major opportunity.

From Pizza Hut to Forrest Gump

After that pizza ad, he was approached by the casting director for Forrest Gump and read with Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks. He was about to steal the hearts of every moviegoer. Osment was only five years old when he was cast as Forrest Jr., Tom Hanks’ on-screen son.

Tom Hanks reading a book beside Haley Joel Osment on the set of ‘Forrest Gump’
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Paramount Pictures

His screen test with Hanks still circulates on social media. Osment also revealed a nice little anecdote from his first film – for all the fans who will always remember him as the sweet boy watching TV on the floor in his mom’s apartment. Even Osment himself is nostalgic about the movie that put him on the map.

Hanks Was a “Great First Cinema Dad” to Him

Osment himself remains nostalgic for his days as a child actor in those classic films. During an interview with TODAY, he talked about working with Hanks, calling him “a great first cinema dad.” He also explained the story behind an Instagram image he posted, including a picture of a note from the “Gump” set.

The framed note Osment posted on his Instagram.
Source: Instagram/@hjosment

He explained that they were filming the last scene, where he appears as Forrest Jr., and director Robert Zemeckis opted to do a rewrite. He called both Hanks and Osment into his trailer, “and Tom wrote down my lines on a piece of yellow legal paper… I still have this little piece of film history.”

He Moved M. Night Shyamalan to Tears

Osment was almost unnaturally mature for his young age and had impressive poise. When he auditioned for the role of Cole Sear in M. Night Shyamalan’s 1998 film The Sixth Sense, the director had already seen countless other children try out for the role.

M. Night Shyamalan and Haley Joel Osment attend the 26th Annual People's Choice Awards.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“It was like I had never heard the dialogue before,” Shyamalan recalled when watching Osment’s performance. “He finished the scene, and he was crying, and I was crying. I could not believe it. I said: ‘Oh my God: Who are you?’” (Believe us, Mr. Shyamalan, we were thinking the same thing when we saw him, too).

He Wore a Suit to His Audition

At first, Shyamalan was worried that Osment was too much of an angel to cast in his psychological thriller. But his baby face was a tad deceiving because the boy was serious and intelligent. For his final of three auditions for The Sixth Sense, he wore a suit.

Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment in a scene from ‘The Sixth Sense’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Walk Disney Pictures

It was Osment’s “vulnerability and depth” that moved the director to tears, especially when he uttered the now-classic line: “I see dead people.” Osment said how he had “been working with it for such a long time; the material was really ready by the time I saw him.”

With the Help of His On-Set Role Models

Osment said his dad helped him prepare for the audition as well as guide his son’s early career. “To have someone like that, who really cared about protecting artistic value before I was old enough to understand what that meant, was such an important influence.”

Willis and Osment in a still from ‘The Sizth Sense’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Walk Disney Pictures

Osment was also supported on-set by Shyamalan and his co-star, Bruce Willis. Osment attributes his success in that film to them: “I don’t think I could have done it, had there not been that sense that they believed in me.” Shyamalan himself was young, only 28 and under huge pressure to produce his multimillion-dollar script, but he didn’t pressure his cast.

Getting Himself Into Character

There was one time on set when 10-year-old Osment thought he was finished for the day. With 10 minutes left on set, Shyamalan wanted to squeeze in one last short scene. But it required Osment’s character to confront a bloody ghost.

A terrified Osment, as Cole Sear, tries to distance himself from a ghost.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Walk Disney Pictures

The kid needed to get into the right mindset and fast. So, the boy threw himself against a door, over and over again until he was really shaken. “If they’d known I was going to do it, they probably would have stopped me,” he said of the adults on set. “It came to me spontaneously – and I guess it worked.”

The Oscar Nod From Michael Caine

Osment ended up getting nominated for an Oscar that year for best supporting actor in The Sixth Sense, but he lost to Michael Caine. Still, the seasoned actor praised the young Osment in his acceptance speech: “Haley, when I saw you, I thought, well, that’s me out of it.”

Haley Joel Osment attends the 72nd Annual Academy Awards.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Later, Osment said it was “probably a better outcome than me winning.” He said in a recent interview that during those pivotal early years, he never felt manipulated to perform, which is why acting is still something he loves doing three decades later.

What’s With His Name Anyway?

In an interview with Vulture, Osment was asked about his peculiar name. Apparently, his parents simply pulled it out of a baby-name book. Osment even said that to this day, he has yet to meet a guy named Haley. (Maybe his parents thought they were having a girl?)

Haley Joel Osment with his father, Eugene.
Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage/Getty Images

His parents, both born in Birmingham, Alabama, came from large Catholic families in which there were lots of “Michaels, Marks, and Patricks.” So, according to Osment, they wanted to choose two names that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the family tree: Haley and Joel.

His Parents Had an On-Set Policy

Osment was in a string of blockbusters, including the 2000 drama Pay It Forward, with Kevin Spacey. When Osment heard of all the allegations of Spacey’s predatory behavior, he was “shocked.” He said he felt “super-safe” on each and every film he worked on as a kid.

Osment and Spacey in a scene from ‘Pay It Forward’
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Warner Bros.

It also helped that his mom or dad was always there. Apparently, his parents had a “policy” of never letting him go off alone on a shoot. They also strived to have as little disruption to his education as possible, even as he grew more and more famous. For him, acting was “like going to camp.”

His Classmates Didn’t Even See The Sixth Sense

Osment always went right back to school, and the “big news of fifth grade” was the new Star Wars movie and Nintendo 64. He wasn’t treated like a celebrity as one might think, and because The Sixth Sense was unsuitable for kids under the age of 13, Osment explained that most kids in his class didn’t even see it.

Osment in a still from the ‘Sixth Sense’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Walk Disney Pictures

In 2006, at the age of 18, Osment moved to New York to study experimental theatre in college. While his parents wanted him to go to college, he really just wanted the college experience.

Going Off the Radar

It was a period of time when he took on roles that “practically nobody saw for a long time, which was not a great career move.” While he was off the radar, it was an important period in his life because it helped him discover what he truly wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Haley Joel Osment at Comic-Con.
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Studying at the Experimental Theatre Wing of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University meant he was working on his “craft” – he just wasn’t visible to the public while doing it. Osment confessed that he grew a beard “to try to hide in public” but that it “didn’t really work at all.”

The “Dark and Nasty” Characters

As much as he tried to stay unrecognizable, he couldn’t avoid the fact that he was one of the most famous people in the country. Being in New York also gave him space to explore new roles. When it comes to villainous kids, there aren’t many roles.

Haley Joel Osment sits in an oversized chair as a kid.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

Since he was known for being a good boy on screen, playing bad guys in college was “the most fun” he had. And even now, most of his roles are “dark and nasty,” as he puts it and it’s some of the most satisfying work he’s ever done.

Playing Oddballs and Villains

2008 was when Osment made his Broadway debut as a heroin addict in American Buffalo. The reviews were mixed. In 2011, after his graduation, he started playing a series of oddball and villain characters.

Kevin Connolly Haley Joel Osment and Adrian Grenire in a scene from ‘Entourage’
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Warner Bros.

He played everything from an obnoxious millionaire in the Entourage movie to a greasy-haired German in Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers to a virgin teacher in Sex Ed. He referred to that period of playing bad guys as “very fun” and admits that it very well might be his belated rebellion against his angelic childhood image.

His “Terrible Mistake” as an “Arrogant Teenager”

In 2006, he was driving under the influence and overturned his car. He was fined, sentenced to rehab and put on probation for three years. He now refers to it as the “terrible mistake” he made as an “arrogant teenager” in L.A.: “It could not have had less to do with Hollywood.”

Haley Joel Osment’s mug shot.
Photo by Kypros/Getty Images

It’s a common belief that child stars are messed up (for lack of better words). But according to Osment, the percentage of people who had a positive experience working as children is a lot higher than most people think. We just don’t hear about those actors who moved on to something else that works for them. (The guy has a point).

It Was All a Part of Summer Vacation

Osment arrived safely at adulthood, which is partly thanks to his stable family and partly to his agent of over 20 years, Meredith Fine. Osment knows that the adults in his life were “worried a lot” about what might happen to him along the way.

Haley Joel Osment and his family.
Photo by John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images

Parents of kids in the industry are, after all, questioned about their motives. Are they being exploitative? Osment insists that his old folks never made acting the focus of his childhood. For example, when he auditioned with Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump, they were going on a camping trip in South Carolina right after. It was all part of summer vacation.

Putting the Osments to the Test

The Osments were a relaxed family unit, and so the success of The Sixth Sense really put his parents to the test. For the first time, the 10-year-old was being recognized in public, which was when he “encountered the whole new challenge of maintaining privacy,” he recalled.

Haley Joel Osment is signing autographs before a large crowd of fans.
Photo by John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images

It was a major change – a “great upheaval for us.” Even now, Osment uses the word “we” when he discusses the decisions he and his family made in those pivotal years. The way he experienced it, his success was a collaborative effort. “After that movie,” recalled, “we had to think about what smart choices we were going to make.”

Ring Ring, It’s Steven Spielberg

He and his parents tried their best to make sure Osment wouldn’t be cast in the wrong movies. So, when Steven Spielberg called to offer him a role in his 2001 film A.I., it was an easy choice. With Spielberg, “they” knew they were in the right hands and doing the right work.

Spielberg is giving Osment direction on the set of ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Dreamworks Pictures

Getting to rehearse with Spielberg and being in the trailer at lunch, reading through the script – it was all a “really cool process to be a part of.” He also said that Spielberg did a good job making him feel comfortable on set.

The A.I. Process

His role in A.I. is “maybe” one of Osment’s favorites. It was a long process, he explained, which began in ’99, after which he trained to scuba dive in 2000 – for all the underwater shots –and then he stayed with Spielberg and rehearsed over the summer.

Spielberg, Osment and Frances O’Connor behind the scenes of ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Dreamworks Pictures

The whole process took over a year, in which he spent a lot of time digging into the character. And this wasn’t just any character. He was a robot child who went through a real transformation, feeling emotions for the first time. The hardest thing for him in the role? “Finding the right tone.”

He Came Prepared to Auditions

When Osment was asked why he thinks directors liked him or why he stood out, his honest response was that he was always prepared. He didn’t just know his lines; thanks to his dad, he would come to understand the characters, the script, “everything.”

Spielberg, Osment, and Jude Law between takes on the set of ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Dreamworks Pictures

He went into things prepared, and because of it, he was the brightest crayon in the box, so to speak. Was he treated like an adult, then? Osment considers himself lucky in the sense that no director or producers were ever condescending, nor did they use any tricks or manipulations to get him.

He Was Never Tricked (Like the Boy From The Shining)

Unlike the boy from The Shining (Danny Lloyd), who reportedly didn’t know that he was in a horror movie, Osment said he was never tricked. Another positive thing about being in those big studio movies was getting the chance to meet with Shyamalan and the whole cast for weeks before they even started shooting.

Haley Joel Osment and Steven Spielberg with the A.I. Team at the premiere.
Photo by KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

They were able to “leisurely pace about things” and rehearse scenes. Same with A.I. – the whole cast went to Spielberg’s house in the Hamptons during the summer before shooting and had long conversations and rehearsed. All that prep made such a big difference for him.

He Never Got Sick of “The Line”

When filming The Sixth Sense, no one involved thought the line “I see dead people” was going to become the film’s tagline. At one point, Osment started seeing posters with the quote, and it “almost felt jarring,” but then he figured that it did make sense.

Haley Osment on set holding the clapper.
Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Getty Images

The moment it really hit home was a year later when Tiger Woods did a Chrysler commercial. In it, he saw the golfer roll up in his car, roll down the window and say “the line.” Did he ever get sick of the famous line? Nope! “I don’t think I ever got to that point,” he stated.

Ring Ring, It’s Tom Cruise

There was a whole year where Osment went through all the “awards stuff and everything,” which he said wasn’t necessarily a blur, but so many things happened. He explained how they would travel as a unit “with the other people who aren’t necessarily traveling together.”

Haley Joel Osment and Michael Clarke Duncan during 52nd Annual Writers Guild Awards.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

All the people who were nominated in his category were together. His category that year had Tom Cruise, Michael Caine, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Jude Law. He said going to the luncheons with those guys was “pretty awesome.” He got to work with Michael Caine two years later on Secondhand Lions. Oh, and Tom Cruise called the house to talk to his parents “for a long time.”

His and Jude Law’s Little Robot Secret

Jude Law was also in the mix. His A.I. co-star was a “nice, nice guy.” He had never met Law before the Oscars, but he did just meet with Spielberg in their first talks about A.I. At one point during the award show, Law came over to his seat.

Osment and Law in a scene from ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI’.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: Dreamworks Pictures

He went up to the 11-year-old and said, “Hey, I hear we’re playing robots in a movie!” For Osment, it was like this secret they had. You can only imagine what that’s like for a kid to hear! (Heck, I’m a grown-up and I want to hear Jude Law whisper that in my ear… among other things).

The Voice of Kingdom Hearts

Osment stars in the video-game franchise in voice form, which he started in 2001. How did that even happen? Well, it all started when he did the high school play Red in Philadelphia as part of a student field-trip performance.

Haley Joel Osment at the
Photo by Maury Phillips/WireImage/Getty Images

The audience was full of sixth and seventh graders, and they did a Q&A afterward. Every question was some variation of, “When is Kingdom Hearts 3 coming out?” He’s done over eight versions of the game by now, and his character has gone through many ages and plotlines.

Playing Keenan on Silicon Valley

Osment was in a few episodes of the popular Silicon Valley – something he auditioned for despite not knowing a lot about the character. The scene he read for was the coffee bar scene with T.J. Miller. He didn’t know that he was going to be the “VR guy.”

Osment playing alongside Thomas Middleditch in a scene from ‘Silicon Valley’
Source: Moviestillsdb.com / Copyright: HBO

His character was all about wanting to feel good all the time, and when he doesn’t feel good, he gets confused and upset and has to find out how to start feeling good again. It’s actually pretty hilarious. “He’s living in the moment, so I zeroed in on that,” Osment said of getting into that character.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

In 2019, Osment played a part in the movie about Ted Bundy called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, starring Zac Effron. Osment played a compassionate coworker of Lily Collins’s character, Liz Kloepfer.

Zac Efron, Lily Collins, and Haley Joel Osment of 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile'.
Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images

Osment’s character, Jerry Thompson, also ends up dating the girl once she finishes with Ted, of course. Osment was aware that such a film had risks, considering it’s a film about a notorious serial killer. But the way the script was designed and the fact that Joe Berlinger was the director made Osment comfortable with the project.

The Sister: Emily Osment

Emily is now 29 and had “a way tougher path” to fame, according to Osment. She played Miley Cyrus’s best friend on the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, a show aimed towards creating a mania in that age group.

Haley Joel Osment and Emily Osment at the American Film Institute’s Achievement Award Gala.
Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images

Osment said his sister had to deal with a lot more “strange invasions of privacy” and not being able to have a normal school life. Then, there’s the whole world of social media – something Osment resisted until he was, “like, 27.” Recently, Emily stars in the Fox series Almost Family, and Osment was in FX’s What We Do in the Shadows.

They’re Both in The Kominsky Method

Both Osment siblings have been working hard in the industry since the ‘90s, and the pair have only crossed paths on-screen once. According to EW, it was in Netflix’s The Kominsky Method. Fans of the show known Theresa, the acting student, which is played by Emily.

Emily Osment and Haley Joel Osment attend an event.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Fans will also know – and probably enjoy — Osment’s character as the wacky grandson who showed up at the end of Season Two but is a recurring character in Season Three. Unfortunately, the siblings didn’t share a storyline together. Still, it was a thrill for both of them to be on the same show.

From Sitcoms to Serious Roles

Emily’s earliest TV credits were guest spots on Friends and 3rd Rock from the Sun. When she got older, she got to do more serious roles, like in the CBS series Mom in 2015/16 as a teenager named Jodi who struggled with addiction.

Emily Osment guest appearing as a ballerina in a ‘Friends’ Halloween episode.
Source: Twitter

Similar to how it was for Osment when he started playing bad guys, Emily’s transition to such roles was a departure from what made her famous. “I think every actor can agree that when you’ve been playing a certain character for a while — no matter what that role is — it’s always attractive to try something that’s different.”

An Overnight Tween Star

As Hannah Montana became a phenomenon, Emily became a tween star overnight. In 2007, she spoke about what it’s like having “7,000 people waiting outside the mall” for a signing. The pressure wasn’t easy.

Emily Osment and Miley Cyrus pose together.
Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage/Getty Images

Her life changed dramatically as she left traditional school for private home tutoring. She also tried to steer clear of “snarky comments” and impersonators on the internet. Even as a kid, she always preferred “being busy” to “sitting and doing nothing.” Other than acting, Emily has been into making music. In fact, she was writing songs while in elementary school.