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The kid next door wanted to be a paleontologist when he was three; now he can be anything he wants to be, including a robot boy. Andrew L. Urban meets the lucky 13 year old Haley Joel Osment.

Haley Joel Osment waves cheerily as he walks into the hotel room for our interview, like any normal 13 year old, shakes hands nicely and sits down. The neat light brown hair and blue eyes are just as you’d expect after seeing him on screen; he’s in a short sleeved light blue check shirt and dark blue casual trousers, with brown lace ups, neatly knotted. A kid next door. Any door. Almost.

The thing that sets Haley apart is his experience in talking grown up stuff with journalists. The answers are eloquent, not too smart or precocious, well considered. For example, when asked whether The Sixth Sense was his favourite role, he is diplomatic. It was a great role, but no, not the one that stands out most. They’re all so different…and that’s what ‘we’ like.

“we’re always attracted by originality. Things that are unique”

‘We’ means Haley and Eugene; Eugene is Mr Osment, the surprisingly young looking actor and Haley’s father, who sits quietly through the interview. When scripts come in – which they do – “dad and I read them and make choices depending on the story…we’re always attracted by originality. Things that are unique. And we always agree, pretty much.”

Haley would think it great fun to play “a villain,” and he is actively looking for a good comedy. In the meantime, he is promoting his latest film.

Haley is in Australia to promote A.I. – Artficial Intelligence, in which he has the starring role of David, the prototype robot boy adopted by Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O’Connor). Travel is part of “cool stuff” that accompanies movie stardom. He’s already been to Japan four times, but on this his first Australian tour, he’s put Australia among the cool list, after two days of tourism which included visits to the zoo – kangaroos and koalas were a big hit – a Sydney harbour cruise, the Blue Mountains, and a wildlife park where some eager local ‘roos tried robbing visitors of ice cream cones, much to the Osments’ amusement. One tried nibbling Eugene’s sleeve and when Eugene objected, he got a kick in his side.

“my parents have done a good job of keeping my feet on the ground”

Away from the film set, Haley is a keen little sportsman (basketball, biking, etc) and enjoys writing projects at school – everything from sci-fi to historical fiction, which he also likes to read.

His life outside movies is “pretty normal . . .my parents have done a good job of keeping my feet on the ground.” It sounds like a precocious thing to say, but he does it without affectation or false modesty.

Like most kids, he likes animals and has two pet leopard geckos. (No, I didn’t know what they are either; they’re geckos the size of a large lizard, they have eyelids and look like leopards.)

Although attracted to acting at an early age by watching his father and thinking how much fun it was to play pretends, his first ambition – as a three year old – was triggered by a fascination for dinosaurs. “I wanted to be a paleontologist…” And as Eugene recalls, Haley was just three years old when he first uttered that word. “And impressed all my friends,” says Eugene.

Bet they’re even more impressed now.

Published September 13, 2001

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