It’s nearly impossible to become a household name faster than Haley Joel Osment did in the late ’90s. The critical and commercial success of The Sixth Sense catapulted him into the limelight as a child actor worthy of being considered alongside adult peers in major award categories.
Osment seemingly managed to avoid the dark side of young stardom despite his entrance into the entertainment industry coming in a way that can only be described as creepy AF.
Osment’s career started after strangers took pictures of him at an Ikea
When Osment was four years old, he went to an Ikea in Burbank, California, with his mother, Theresa. That shopping trip would change the course of his and his family’s life. When the Osments went passed the child’s play area, two women took pictures of Haley Joel, something they did with every kid who entered the store that day.
This sounds like the beginning of a true crime documentary, but the women turned out to be talent scouts searching for youngsters to put in various professional projects.
“It’s so weird that they’d do this because I think if you saw this now, you’d be like, “What?” recalled Osment in a conversation with Vulture. “I guess our stranger-danger knowledge was poor in the early ’90s, as a society.”
This definitely wouldn’t fly in the modern age, but he parlayed that strange encounter into his first acting roles. After an impressive audition, Osment made his acting debut in a commercial for Pizza Hut, which got him on the radar of the casting director for Forrest Gump, where he played the title character’s son, who is also named Forrest Gump. All of a sudden, Osment was on course for an incredible trajectory in the following years.
He was a huge child star in the early 2000s
Osment continued to work while going to elementary school, splitting his time between small roles in movies (Mixed Nuts, Bogus, I’ll Remember April) and guest spots in TV shows (The Larry Sanders Show, Touched by an Angel, Ally McBeal).
But everything changed after The Sixth Sense came out in 1999. His portrayal of Cole Sear, the psychic child who could famously see dead people, earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, making Osment the eighth-youngest performer ever to receive an Academy nomination for a supporting role.
He was among esteemed company that year. The rest of the nominees were Tom Cruise (Magnolia), Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), and Michael Caine, who took home the trophy for his performance in The Cider House Rules.
Osment drew further acclaim for his work in Pay it Forward, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Secondhand Lions. He also did voice work for several Disney animated movies and Sora, the main character of the Kingdom Hearts videogame franchise.
Becoming a famous commodity at such a young age can warp a person’s mind, but Osment was protected from the worst aspects of early fame. Directors treated him well, and his parents made sure that he didn’t get overly involved in the business side of the industry.
“My parents were always on set, and they very quickly had the right attitude towards it. We weren’t doing anything outside of the movie and press because I was going to school and doing normal kid stuff,” he said.
“My parents always emphasized school more than anything. My mom harbored hopes I’d go with my original job choice when I was a small kid and be a veterinarian. I think she wanted that until my teenage years.”
Osment returned to the industry after taking a break to go to school
Osment never became a vet, but he did go to school. He put his career on pause to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he graduated in 2011.
Between 2004 and 2010, Osment only appeared in two movies (Home of the Giants and Montana Amazon) and a sadly shortlived Broadway production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo starring John Leguizamo and Cedric the Entertainer.
He returned to the acting world post-NYU and has worked regularly in the decade since then. Most of Osment’s film roles have been as supporting characters in stuff like Tusk and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, and he’s been a guest star in many acclaimed TV shows like Silicon Valley, The Boys, and What We Do In the Shadows, according to IMDb.
His next appearances will be in the romantic comedy Somebody I Used to Know (out February 23) and Zoe Kravitz’s Pussy Island.