Haley Joel Osment at ease with himself
|Haley Joel Osment and Frances O'Conner in a scene from "A.I.," in which Osment plays a robotic child. The film originally was a Stanley Kubrick project.
At times, it seems like the 13-year-old star of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence," which opens Friday, could be some sort of robot, given his cool demeanor and the ease with which he fields questions.
While grown-up stars twice his age grumble at reporters or strain to form a sentence, the kid who hit it big in "The Sixth Sense" handles the press like Pete Sampras patrolling the base line, firmly lobbing back each inquiry with a polite but unrevealing answer.
On working with director Steven Spielberg: "I'd say the nervousness went away after the first time that I met him, just because of the great person that he is. And working with him itself was just a lot of fun."
On his huge role in "A.I.": "Every character in every film is important to the story, but this being a pretty crucial character wasn't too nerve-wracking, because you're just doing your best on the performance, that's just all I concentrate on."
On the box-office failure of his last film, "Pay It Forward": "Not every movie is going to be huge ... You hope for the best for every film, but it doesn't always become a smash hit, so you just get used to that and move on. It was great to work on and a great learning experience. I'm glad I did the role."
On "A.I." co-star Jude Law: "Great to be around. Always had a good attitude on the set. Always was glad to be there. Just amazing, you never had a bad moment with Jude. He was always prepared and always happy, just always ready to do whatever he had to do on the set, and did it with a smile."
On burning out: "I don't think I'll ever get tired of it (acting). I'll definitely want to continue doing it for the rest of my life. But I have thought about it, but I don't think I'll ever lose the interest for it. And maybe want to get on the other side of the camera and do some directing when I get older."
And so on. The pat answers are probably the residue of design. Osment's actor father, Eugene Osment, spends a lot of time rehearsing with his son, and it's a good guess that he preps him for publicity appearances. At the same time, Eugene never comes off like a meddling stage parent.
When he's not working, Haley Joel does what other kids do, enjoying golf and basketball, playing video games and collecting pet geckoes.
"When I come away from movies, everything's really normal at home," he says.
Still, before he's even ready for eighth grade (he starts in the fall), Osment is the consummate professional, on and off the screen. While others may have shrunk from such a daunting role in "A.I.," a futuristic adventure about a robot boy, Osment embraced it.
He and his father worked long hours perfecting Osment's peculiar manner in the film, designed to tip the audience that his character is indeed a robot.
"The eye movement was very big," the younger Osment says. "The not blinking. The way he would move his eyes, that was big, that was a big hint that he was not real.
"At the beginning, I concentrated a lot on not blinking, but by the end of the film, it's down to a science, it had gotten pretty easy to do."
In a one-on-one interview, away from the gaggle of reporters, Osment loosens up a little bit, laughing about how the original Pinocchio story is much more hardcore than most people realize.
"Fairy tales are very violent when you read them in their original form," he says, "like the Brothers Grimm and everything, very, very dark."
And so is "A.I.," at least in places, and Osment says that's a homage to the late director Stanley Kubrick ("2001: A Space Odyssey," "Eyes Wide Shut"), who came up with the original concept for the film.
"You can see the style of his movies in this film, certain shots and the darkness of the film," Osment says. "You know that Stanley always had a say in this film, even though he's gone. Steven would say on the set when he's shooting a scene, 'Oh, this is a shot Stanley would have done.'"
According to his brother-in-law, producer Jan Harlan, Kubrick once built a mechanical boy in an attempt to jump-start his "A.I." project.
But ultimately, it took a real live boy to embody the director's fantastic imagination.