With his face hiding behind long beard and tucked under a baseball hat, Haley Joel Osment, who has been famous since before the third grade, fits in well on the streets of New York City.
He's a little bit more conspicuous at New York Comic Con, a packed-to-the-gills convention of pop culture obsessives. But unlike the general public, which may still recognize him for The Sixth Sense and Forrest Gump, Osment gets noticed at the geek convention for his more recent work, including his run on Silicon Valley and the upcoming Hulu comedy, Future Man. So after his press responsibilities are done, he ducked out of the Javits Center and met up with SYFY WIRE at the bar of his Midtown hotel to talk about the two halves of his career, which were divided by studying at NYU.
Thanks to his beard and hat, no one noticed him (or at least bugged him), even as he mentioned names like Steven Spielberg and Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy, both of whom he counts as old colleagues. In the first part of SYFY WIRE's interview with the 29-year-old actor, we discuss his acting comeback and his favorite geek franchises.
You’ve been back working for a bunch of years now, doing big new projects. Did you feel like you had to re-establish yourself and audition again after returning from school?
HALEY JOEL OSMENT: Certainly, in a lot of ways. It's probably not a very sound business decision to go to New York for five years and not appear in anything and not audition. But I always understood that would be part of the process. A lot of the stuff that I was reading at the end of high school, when I was applying for college, there weren't a whole lot of really interesting roles. Even when I was a kid, you wanted to find something that you'd never done before and I got really lucky to do a series of films where the characters are really different from each other.
It's hard to find diverse roles for kids and I got the opportunity to do that and when I was in my late teens a lot of stuff just kind of felt pretty rote, and it was fun to come back, sort of starting with a clean slate and going in for things as an older person. The past five years have been full of characters that are widely different, wildly different.
So is that how you ended up doing so much comedy?
That's just some of the most interesting scripts that I read after being at college were all comedies. The Spoils of Babylon is one of the first things that came across my desk after I was coming back to L.A. a little bit after school. I ended up playing on It's Always Sunnny in Philadelphia right after I graduated and then a movie in Toronto and then I was like alright I'll spend some more time in L.A. and see what's going on there. I mean Silicon Valley was a really exciting thing to do and this show [Future Man], which we did the pilot for almost two years ago.
Really, that long ago?
Yeah it's been a long time coming, as can happen even with a show with great momentum. Just aligning with everybody, working really hard on it, sometimes it takes a while for things to go from inception to people being able to see it. I'm excited, too. These scripts are so crazy and there's a lot of stuff I wasn't on set for, so I think I'll be bingeing it the same way hopefully a lot of people will be doing.
Future Man is steeped in video games and geek culture. Are you a geek?
Yeah, I probably wouldn't make a trip out to something like this [Comic Con] unless it's for work, but I'm a huge Games of Thrones fan and Liam Cunningham was there today. I'm doing a show called Oasis on Amazon and Richard Madden is the lead, and we had Mark Addy play kid Robert and we had a couple people connected to [Game of Thrones], too. I was like, "I'm not going to ask them, I'm not going to bug them with questions about it. If it comes up, it comes up, but I'm going to try as best I can not to pepper them with questions."
Did it come up?
[laughs] Yeah, yeah it did. They were all really super guys.
They probably don't even know what's going to happen next.
Those guys, it makes sense, because otherwise they'd still be on the show. They all got killed off. I remember in interviews Richard said he was just very upset on the plane flying home because you get really invested in the character and then you die — and you die in such a horrible way on that show, too.
It’s to service a narrative, but it’s gotta still be tough.
And the book was written like 25 years ago. I think they probably don't feel that it's too personal. Sometimes I imagine if you get a good death it's cool but if you gotta serve the show and get bumped off early it's gotta be tough. Then you have things like wasn't Jesse supposed to be killed off in Breaking Bad and they kept him around? That must feel really good.
When you do go to a Comic Con, it must be so different for you, as someone who has been on sets since you were a little kid.
Yeah, you understand why people get really excited. They fall in love with these shows and it's their opportunity to see and talk to people on it. Whereas while it never feels like work, that's your day-to-day experience, being on set and seeing how everything is made. It doesn't kill the magic but you just have a different relationship to the show.
You aren’t writing fan fiction, because you have the scripts.
Right. It must be really tough for writers today because now there's such a powerful industry of fan fiction. I think people feel that they have more the ability to push back against certain things everything and it must be really tough to walk that tightrope of being true to the story you want to tell, or if you're working with source material and a very powerful fan base that wants certain things now.
It's a tough balance because the fans are part of the relationship and it wouldn't exist without their interest, so you want to give fans their respect, but also you’ve got to write the story that's true to what's being told. When things happen on series that maybe is not something that I want to happen as a fan, I generally like to lean towards the side of "this show's been so good to me." With Game of Thrones, everyone has complaints about that, but as someone who's read the books, I'm just very impressed they were able to get this on screen at all.
So you’ve been happy with the way the show has unfolded?
I think Season 7 seemed a little like it's accelerating to an end. You had the luxury of letting things develop, but now they are restricted by time itself as everybody's getting older. You're having certain things that need to draw to a conclusion, and also they're out ahead of the books which must be a really difficult thing to be writing. I'm very sympathetic to the people on the creative side trying to fly this dragon to some sort of logical completion.
Is there anything else you geek out on?
I grew up a pretty big Star Wars fan. I think I have perspective on it now but I did watch the original trilogy all in a row the night before The Force Awakens came out. I think a lot of my friends were like, why did you do that? It’s Game of Thrones now too. Any world that's really large and immersive that you can get lost in.
Have you liked the new ones?
Yeah I did. I'm mostly excited for this one though. I think Rian Johnson is just an outstanding director and as everyone knows, Empire's the best, so the second one in the trilogy is supposed to be the best.
Isn't it weird knowing about what happened behind the scenes now, things like a director getting fired and they’re bringing in other people? At least weird as a fan, anyway.
Yeah, but it's cool for me because I worked with Kathleen Kennedy twice, on The Sixth Sense and on A.I., and she's just an amazing producer. I call her the Mayor of Star Wars now and she's in charge of that world which I think is pretty cool. You can't pull any BS with her, she's as professional as they come. Not that I've ever tried.
If you could play one Star Wars character, who would it be?
Damn. I guess everyone wants to be Han Solo. When I was a kid growing up it was Luke, but then you get older and Han is sort of the coolest guy.
He’s definitely the coolest.
I also enjoy in the Expanded Universe playing Shadows of the Empire on N64, which now is hard to even see that there are graphics. They’re just sort of polygons, but I just remember that was a cool little chapter in the story. So Dash Rendar, if they ever did like a spin-off of that, that'd be kind of cool to play.
Do you like going against type? You're evil in Future Man, and a weasel in Silicon Valley. Is that something you're doing on purpose?
I think it's mostly a coincidence, and I think on Silicon Valley he definitely doesn't think of himself as a villain. He's in that universe people — I mean you hear Zuckerberg, who might destroy all of our lives, and he comes to the table with "We're going to make the world a better place." I guess that's Silicon Valley's unofficial tagline, but yeah it's been cool to play some antagonists recently and Future Man might be the biggest exponent for how crazy things get.
When you're developing projects or getting on a show or movie, do you still do a lot of auditioning or do people come to you?
Certainly. Like Silicon Valley I didn't even know what that character was, I just went in with some random scene and no vision for that. If it's the right project I will definitely audition for it.
What does your off-time look like?
Music is a big hobby for me. I play guitar and drums mostly just recreationally but it's one of the biggest things I like about living in New York: you can see a good show like basically any night of the week if you want to, and I like to try to get out and see shows here a lot. In L.A. it's a lot of golf. It's a big thing our industry's into. I used to play with my dad. I still play with him a lot and the more you work on different projects there's a little bit more of a golf community and a regular foursome that develops so that's fun in L.A.
What made you want to stay in New York after college?
I just always liked it more and just enjoyed living here more than L.A. L.A. is where most of the work is but this city allows me to be a little bit more anonymous and there's always a reason for me to go back to L.A. I have family there; there's always projects here but a lot of my friends from L.A. moved out here, and if I had the choice I'd like to be here.