Once the cute, but hypnotic kid from The Sixth Sense and AI, Haley Joel Osment has grown-up. Audiences will discover a new Osment in Secondhand Lions, a comedy/drama about an isolated teenager who discovers unexpected love and friendship with two irascible uncles, played with devilish glee by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall.
So how does the 15-year-old think fans will respond to the new, deeper-voiced personna?
"I think it'll sort of be a surprise, but I don't think it's going to weird people out," he says, while his ever-present father listens in the background. "It's been two years since my last film…"
Osment, who established himself as a child actor "seeing dead people" in The Sixth Sense, before reaffirming his talent in the likes of Pay it Forward and Spielberg’s A.I, began to lose his voice after he was signed to play the isolated teenager in Secondhand Lions, in which he holds his own with the likes of legends Michael Caine and Robert Duvall.
Osment says making the transition from the cute kid image, that began years ago with Forrest Gump, to mature adolescent was easy. But treading the right path through this period was hard.
"For me, choice is the most important thing because I'm going to be an adult actor pretty soon. So I've got to be choosing the right roles now so that by the time I get to that age there will be wide options available."
Finding a good script, with a suitable character in his teens, has been one of the challenges.
"This period is always really hard for any actor to go through because you're changing so quickly and roles aren't available for very long. If the script is written, it can sometimes take two years to be made. This film took 10 years from the writing of the script until it got made so that we're constantly growing and changing, therefore it's harder to find a role that's available right then. The right screenplay's got to be out there."
Osment hasn’t been on screen for two years. "We were just looking for the right script and this one came along," he explains. "I was going through similar changes as Walter was at that time, so it was very convenient."
Secondhand Lions follows the comedic adventures of an introverted boy called Walter (Osment) left on the doorstep of a pair of reluctant, eccentric great-uncles (Caine and Duvall), whose exotic remembrances stir the boy's spirit and re-ignite the men's lives. The farm, inhabited by cast-off and abandoned animals, has an obvious significance. "Walter lets these two old men know that they still have something to live for and they in turn teach him how to be a man. They teach him how to count as a person and how to live life the right way."
Outside of the world of film, Osment says that it remains important for him to live as normal life as possible. He won’t be home-schooled, but attends a regular high school in Los Angeles, "a big priority for me as always". He’s also running with a cross-country team, "a big sports aspiration for me."
He also recently got his driving permit ("no wrecks yet!"), although he hasn’t ventured into the dating arena. "It's that time, but there's nothing going on right now."
He has always tried to maintain at school that he’s just a normal kid and wants to keep it that way. "I think they got it from the start. All I had to do was be myself and it was up to them to get what it was all about and they did. Acting is not a factor on campus, nor is it something that I'm doing there, so they just treat me like the person I am."
As an actor, Osment’s perceptions of acting have also changed as he has grown older. "Working with those guys (Caine and Duvall), I really understood what they were doing a little bit more than had I done it a couple years ago," he says. "I learned how to observe in the films before and now I'm absorbing information whenever I can."
Maybe there’s a budding director here too… "On top of the acting part, I really watched the technical part of filmmaking carefully this time. Jack Green, the cinematographer, allowed me to really watch how they were shooting this movie and I got really involved in watching how they were executing the film which has always been really interesting to me."
Even at fifteen he can enjoy the luxury of looking back at his earlier films with a degree of objectivity. "I've been happy with the stuff I've done, but I can also see the level of progression in those movies. I feel that every film that I do, I'm bringing up the level of performance. Every actor should learn from their last performance and use it in their next one," he says.
"We're able to create a sense of reality around every character, because we learn what it's like to feel like one character, and we take the reality that we learned on one film and then add it to the next film. It's like we're starting with more information than we did last time."
Osment returns to school in Autumn and plans on taking another break from the camera "until another script comes along."
He says that is unconcerned about being forgotten. "I don't think there's any fear of that. With acting, you can never count on there being work available. It’s whatever's there. Some day, there may not be any work, but I guess that's not something I'm worried about. If I just keep doing the right roles, I think that won't be a problem."