Haley Joel Osment has now been back as a working actor for as long as he was away, but because he was famous as a little kid, and is now an adult man with a bushy beard specializing in off-beat comedy roles, interest in his academic absence continues. And because the years that the now-30-year-old actor spent at New York University's Tisch School were so important to his creative development, Osment is more than happy to discuss in depth the things he learned over that time.
He is also extremely gracious when asked about roles he performed over two decades ago. And so when Osment met up with SYFY WIRE during New York Comic Con — the first part of our interview is here — to answer some SYFY WIRE Survey questions, we discussed all periods of his career, from The Sixth Sense and A.I. to his college years and on to his current run as a comedic MVP. Osment has been prolific since graduating NYU, with roles in shows like Silicon Valley, The Spoils of Babylon, the upcoming Oasis, and Hulu's new sci-fi comedy Future Man, as well as movies like Kevin Smith's body horror comedy Tusk.
What did you focus on in school?
I was in the Experimental Theatre Wing, so that's mostly acting but the cool thing about that program is that we worked with the Morse Cunningham teachers for ballet and stuff. We did Afro-Asian dance and we did a lot of self-scripting so developing our own work and that was what the later years really sort of geared toward, Some of the work I was doing back then is still around and hopefully we'll find a place in something I can do soon.
Did you have to sort of recalibrate your brain to do that program once you'd been doing movies so long?
It totally does and that's the great part of it. Had it been an acting program ... there are terrific acting programs that are more traditional scene study or that have a way of wanting to break down all your habits, which is actually good in most cases. But to completely remake you from the bottom up, I don't think I would have taken to that as much and ETW is great because even if you have a way of doing things that you've done for a long time, they say now let's try something completely different for a completely different goal, if you can describe it as that. It's just finding new ways to be creative and your brain expands a lot. Those were some really fun years.
Were those years strange, having to go back to a normalcy?
Not really. I really enjoyed that. There's a couple of years — 2009 and 2010 — I don't think I have any credits at all and those were some of the best years of my life. It was a year just doing work in these great rooms down on Broadway that we had at NYU with a group of 20 people that were basically in a program the whole time. We were developing those relationships and really having the freedom to think about what you want to be as an artist without having to produce work immediately and without having to put it up if you didn't want.
What's the best thing you did there?
The final year culminates with you can do an independent project which can be anything. One guy invented a sport called "Circle Rules Football." He was a couple years ahead of us and he toured around the world trying to create this sport. A lot of people do plays or performance art and stuff like that. I did a one act play and that I got to work on with these friends I'd made in the program and had been working with forever and got to put that up. That project is incubating in some form, I don't know what it's going to turn into.
What kind of stories do you want to tell as a writer? What kind of stuff are you working on as a writer?
It's hard to say. I think in the past two years or so everyone's kind of maybe feels a little overwhelmed by how negative things are out there. I didn't do social media or anything until like 2015 and it definitely changes the way you think. I'm trying to find a way to have something that is taking place in the current day without being ... like nobody wants to hear about Trump anymore, everyone's so sick of the stuff they hear about every day.
What’s your dream project?
At this point my dream project is making some of my own work and I always want to make movies, that's number one for me. It's hard when you see Martin Scorsese — they had to really struggle to get The Wolf of Wall Street made. You're like, "A Scorsese movie? Starring Leonardo DiCaprio? And no one wants to give that money?” Like, Jesus. So it's tough to get financing for really ambitious stuff like that, so for me I think the next step is getting a consistent series that allows me to wall off part of the year to say this is when I can go try and get this weird movie made.
Something you can write and produce?
I think what Kumail [Nanjiani] from Silicon Valley has just done is certainly a dream model for somebody. On a great show, obviously he's been working in stand-up for a really long time which is part of the career, then he and Emily Gordon wrote this great screenplay, got this movie made [The Big Sick] and now the options that they have, they can make anything they want now. That's a really cool trajectory for an artist.
You get that one safe financial project and then can take a risk from there.
That's what it all depends on. Things like Comic-Con shows us that built-in audiences are where the money goes. They're only going to take a chance on things now if there's a built in audience that can be proven, so everybody has to figure out a way to create within those restrictions.
Like Children of Men, they didn't know how to market that at all. I think a lot of people were talking about that in the last year or so, how present it seems and I remember when the posters of that were up nobody knew what movie that was. I went into the theater having no clue what it was about and it's one of the best movies in the last 20 years.
What is the best piece of creative advice you ever received?
It’s one of the earliest ones and it was one of the simplest. My dad studied theatre in college and he said that "acting is believing," and it's pretty simple but that's kind of all that it comes down to. If you in the moment of the scene are believing what you're doing it's going to work out. You're going to be getting the job done.
When did he tell you that?
Growing up, probably before The Sixth Sense or anything. That was always the big motto for the style of acting that at least I aspired to do.
Not quite method but believing in the moment?
Being on a film or television set, I don't even think that actors that are technically called "method" could ever truly be that extreme, because you still have to know where the camera is and can't actually attack your fellow stars.
What’s been your best day on set?
There's a lot of best days. In every project I can think of a really great day where it's normally some combination of very difficult scene that you'd know that you've nailed or some technical thing that's really hard to get, if it's late at night and you're running out of time and certain things have to happen. Getting those is like scoring a touchdown everybody gets a really big boost from that.
Worst day on set?
There's never been any real terrible ones 'cause the worst ones are not some emotional hardship or something. The worst ones are just when there's a lot of waiting around. Sometimes you're waiting for weather or things like that to come together, but I can't think of any low points in making stuff.
I do have a good one that sort of hits both boxes. The scene in The Sixth Sense where we're towards the end, where we're in the car, me and Toni Collette, and she finally learns my big secret, that was a technically tough day. It was raining, we were in a car and I remember being kind of rushed on that one and the tone of the scene is really delicate. We did seven takes of it and we just felt like we weren't getting it, and by the seventh one we felt like we had gotten some good stuff but there was still this unsureness.
And back then we'd have dailies where [director M. Night Shyamalan] would bring everybody to the movie theater and get like Wendy's to cater it or something, and so we all went into dailies that night feeling kind of nervous that we might have missed this important scene, and once you saw on the big screen it was this huge sense of relief because it had just happened. That was a very big lift.
Were you really hard on yourself as a kid?
I think not crazy hard but to this day I do have a pretty high standard for myself, which is a good thing. ETW was a good counter against that. If you're trying too rigidly to hold yourself to some standard, you could lose the freedom and enjoyment of a scene and pretty much it's always the case that your best work is going to be done when you're not being hard on yourself and you feel a sense of freedom and everything. That's why theater is so great, because you get a different crack at it every night on stage.
Do you have anyone you’d consider a mentor?
My dad, definitely. He's the first one, and I had a ton of great teachers at ETW. Some of them since the '70s. A lot of the directors I've worked with have been really generous. When I was a kid, they didn’t treat me too much like a kid and really brought me into the process in really generous ways.
When you worked on A.I., did Spielberg ask for your input?
Even a movie like that, where he'd written the screenplay and had been developing it for such a long time, we had to get on set and see how things sound. I don't think there were any real rewrites or anything but there was certain tonal things in certain scenes that had to be felt out as we did them and you know rehearsing that with him and sort of being in the trailer at lunch reading through the script. Creatively that was a really cool process to be a part of.
He does a good job at making you comfortable even though it's an enormous production and I only really appreciated the secrecy of what was going on after the fact ... The secrecy was for other people, because it doesn't feel like that when you're at the center of the storm. It seems like a fun creative environment to be there.
So what are you working on right now?
I just finished a movie called Claire's Ghost which is written and directed by Bridey Elliott and stars Abby Elliott, Chris Elliott, the whole family's in that. Oasis if we get picked up will go into production next February probably, and Silicon Valley, I think we're going to back into production on that later this month.
You want to make original work, but is there anything you’d like to adapt?
My mom's a sixth grade teacher and there's this book by Edward Bloor called Tangerine, which is just a really cool weird young adult novel and Danny DeVito's had the rights for it forever. I don't even want to make it myself I just hope that he makes it 'cause it's exactly the perfect sort of film for him to direct, but that was one of the first things I read growing up and I was like, "This should be a movie" and DeVito's had it forever.