His role as a cherubic 10-year-old with a classic catchphrase made him world famous. He talks about how he coped with the early attention, working with Kevin Spacey, and why he loves playing bad guys
Haley Joel Osment thought he was finished for the day. It was 1998 and the 10-year-old was shooting The Sixth Sense, directed by M Night Shyamalan. With 10 minutes left on set, they wanted to squeeze in a short scene. It required Osment’s terrified character, who, memorably, sees dead people, to confront a bloody ghost. Osment had to get into the right mindset, fast. The young actor threw himself against a door, again and again, until he was sufficiently shaken. “If they’d known I was going to do it, they probably would have stopped me,” he says of Shyamalan and the other adults on set. “It came to me spontaneously – and I guess it worked.”
I see little of that intensity in the 32-year-old man facing me via Zoom. Still boyish-looking, despite a dark beard, Osment is upbeat and quick to laugh. He returned to his home town of Los Angeles last autumn, after 13 years in New York, and found this house a week before lockdown, when he was shooting a forthcoming series of Goliath for Amazon. After the extraordinary success of The Sixth Sense – a box office phenomenon, his performance lauded by critics and rewarded with an Oscar nomination, while his character’s most famous line quickly became a catchphrase – he has enjoyed a different kind of career lately. He works steadily, on screen but somehow under the radar, probably not recognised as the Sixth Sense kid by most of his audiences.