Hayley Joel Osment for “A.I.: Artifical Intelligence”

Hayley Joel Osment is no mere child star. don’t be fooled by height or age, young master Osment walks into a room with the kind of mature self-composure that most adult celebrities would surely envy. There is a strange sort of duality about Osment. On the one hand, he jokes about playing video games on the set of A.I. Artificial Intelligence [“The grips were awesome”, he exclaims boyishly].

But when it comes to his portrayal of the deeply human robotic child of A.I, Osment the consummate professional is all business. In the film, directed by Stephen Spielberg from Kubrick’s long-time vision, Osment’s unique challenge is to draw the fine line between an unblinking robot and human child. The 13-year old actor says that it was partly in the script , “but most of it was just from my own imagination, sort of drawing on things that were in the script to create the character and  getting all the nuances and the developments in the role from what was happening on the set and what was happening during every scene.

A lot of it had to be drawn from what was happening right there,” the 13-year-old actor told me.  Osment added, “Before we shot, we had to develop the physicality and the mentality and his reactions. We needed to explore how it was that  he perceived the world around him and how he thought and how he moved;  all of that was developed long before we started shooting”. Osment recalls “having had a lot of meetings with Steven and getting all that down before we could put it all together and use it to create a character to react to the things that were being thrown at him in the film. Because when he comes into this film, he is just a clean slate. He just has his  basic blueprint and just goes and develops through all these things that happen to him”.

Throughout the film’s rollercoaster two and a half hours, the young actor appears in virtually every scene, and exploring such a complex development proved to be quite a challenge. “That development was hard, because he has to become more and more human, and he never makes it completely to becoming TOTALLY human, but he gets pretty close, and THAT development was hard”.  Equally challenging was talking to computer-generated robots and puppets, in particular the film’s most endearing character, Teddy, a remarkable waliking and talking teddy bear. “All of Stan Winston’s guys were pretty cool,” he said with boyish enthusiasm. “But Teddy was probably top of the list.  Reading the script, I just didn’t know how they were going to pull this off, but Teddy on the set was just amazing, almost like acting across from a real actor, because of how good he was at being Teddy. The finished result, just seeing the film, was amazing. He looks exactly what the script describes him as being”.

Osment is clearly an actor who thrives on being challenged, and as intricate as  it was dealing with special effects, Osment has some affecting moments with co-star Ausssie Frances O’Connor, who plays his mother. In an early sequence, which sets off David’s emotional journey, Osment is left behind in the woods by a tormented O’Connor. Dramatically, it remains one of the film’s most emotive moments and a tough one to pull off, Osment recalls. “Those scenes were tough. It was good that we shot in semi-continuity because we’d already shot all the scenes at home with Frances and developed the relationship between the two characters so I could draw on that. This scene was the first time the character has his emotions thrown open and he doesn’t react like a normal person or a robot. He’s sort of in the middle. So that was one of the most challenging parts”.

While his on-screen home life has been in disarray in the likes of The Sixth Sense, Pay it Forward and now A.I, Osment refuses to accept his celebrity status. His father, who also dabbles in acting, is always with him, and the teenager insists on a normal family environment. . “It’s easier than you would expect. I just go home, go to school and everything. I do my chores at home. Everything is just like a normal kid so it’s almost like two different worlds. I like living the best of both worlds. It’s good to have home to go back to after the film is over”.

But he remains a passionate lover of film, and admits his desire to one day make the transition behind the camera, he explains with a renewed boyishness.  “Some of my friends at school, this summer are gonna try and just shoot a small video among ourselves. I think it’s gonna be fun because there’s some pretty good talent. My friend’s good with the camera.  Nothing too serious yet but I’m also fond of writing. I love to write”. He also remains a voracious reader. “Lord of the Rings is probably my favourite series of books.  I’m interested in the Harry Potter books but I think it’s gonna be hard to make that into a good movie. It’ll take away from the magic you feel every time you read the book. Lord of the Rings could make a good movie. I’m excited about seeing that one”.

Next up, Hayley has a chance of pace, finally appearing in a cameo in the film The Bears which he describes as a “rollicking satire on the music industry”. Master Osment is no ordinary kid, that’s for sure.