The following article was originally published in the UK "Film Review" magazine, Special #36 dedicated to Steven Spielberg from September 2001. Concept art by James Clyne .

Pinocchio: 2001


He's just become a teenager but he's already a Hollywood superstar. Roald Rynning discovers just why Haley Joel Osment won't let taking a lead role in a Spielberg movie go to his head.

Steven Spielberg's A.I. is a futuristic take on the classic Pinocchio tale. In it, 13-year-old Haley Joel Osment - the Oscar-nominated star of The Sixth Sense - plays David, the first robot child programmed to love.

Haley is already an old Hollywood pro, having been discovered by a casting agent at the tender age of four. A Pizza Hut commercial led to the role as Tom Hank's son in Forrest Gump. On TV, the young actor was Murphy Brown's son on the Candice Bergen sitcom and a dying boy trying to sue God on Ally McBeal. Then The Sixth Sense became the sleeper hit of 1999. Last year, he stole Pay It Forward from Oscar-winners Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.

After A.I., Haley will return to the screen in another big-budget production, the World War Two drama, Edges of the Lord. Here the very articulate, 4-foot-7-inch teenager talks of his role in A.I. and how it really is to work with the legendary Steven Spielberg. He seems relatively calm when it's mentioned that A.I. is one of the event movies of the year. "It's cool that people are so excited about A.I.," he says, "I'm excited about it, too. I think the secrecy around it helped it. People anticipate something that they don't really completely know about, which is cool because they don't really know what they're in for."

But what people really want to know is what it's like working for Spielberg.

"He's a great guy," the 13-year-old says gregariously. But he would say that, wouldn't he? "When we met the first time, he didn't even talk to me about the script. We talked about a bunch of other things and a few days later he let us know I got the part."

The actor and director began meeting six months before filming began. Was this a sign that Spielberg was taking a Kubrick-like determination to make the film just right?

"We discussed the themes of the movie and developed the physicality and mentality of David's reaction; how he perceived the world around him. And how he thought and how he moved. Those meetings made me feel comfortable enough to ask questions and to make suggestions once we began filming. Steven allowed me to develop my character, but he was always there as a guide. What is so marvellous about Steven is that he always knows what he wants from a scene and he knows how each scene is interrelated, so he is completely in control."

"It was pretty challenging [to act like a robot]," he adds. "We didn't want to make David obnoxiously non-human. Before he begins to interact with his human family, his movements had to be basic and simple. Gradually, he becomes more fluid and human-like. I made sure whenever David turns a corner, he turns it the same number of steps every time, the same movements. And the eyes were important. Turn the eyes first, then the head. Don't blink. It was difficult at first but got easier every day. When you just don't think about, blinking isn't very necessary. So if you just concentrate on not thinking about it, it makes your body stop."

And that wasn't all the research Osment did. "Because A.I. is inspired by Pinocchio, I first read the story and watched the Disney film. But what proved more important than looking at Pinocchio was talking with Steven about Kubrick's vision. There is so much of Kubrick in the film. His influence is everywhere because Steven was working from Kubrick's notes, drawings and storyboards. On the set, Steven would say sometimes, 'This is a shot Stanley would've done'."

Then comes the almost inevitable question that the child star is surely a little young to have seen any of Kubrick's films or even know what his style is.

"A.I. is almost a Kubrick film, so after seeing A.I. and talking about it with Steven, it sort of feels like you know Stanley. I'm waiting to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on a big-screen revival. Dad says it's better to see it there because the small screen doesn't do that much justice."

Young Osment shares a lot of scenes with a mechanical teddy bear. Now, an animatronic toy would ba any kid's dream, but wasn't it a bit of a nightmare during filming?

"He was almost like another actor on set," he says. "There'd be 'Teddy acting notes'. Sometimes he'd miss his mark and stumble forward and Steven would go, 'The bear is not on his mark'. He'd get frustrated with Teddy, just like any other actor."

The other star of A.I. who is also making his mark on Hollywood is Jude Law, who plays the android Gigolo Joe.

"Jude is one of the most fun people to have on a set. You never have a bad day with Jude because he's just happy to be there. I never saw him get frustrated or annoyed. I didn't feel like the only kid on the set because Jude is like a big kid himself."

One of the downsides of movie-making is the amount of time spent just sitting around for the next shot to be lined up. But Osment doesn't really mind the downtime.

"They had a Sega Dreamcast in the craft service trailer. So at lunch we'd play. I got pretty good, but the craft-service guy, he was probably the master. He beat everybody. We had our own championship of video game playing at lunch."

Haley Joel Osment's performance in A.I. is another winner, even one that might just bag him another Oscar nomination.

"Getting nominated for The Sixth Sense was a really huge honour," he says sincerely. "As for the chances it might happen again for A.I., I'm not getting my hopes up too high, but it would be a great honour."

Just like The Sixth Sense there won't be any kids in the cinema as Osment admits that his new film is more than a little scary... "If I weren't in it, I wouldn't have been allowed to see it. My sister, who's 9, is not seeing it."

While it's reported that Osment received $2million for starrring in A.I., it's not all spend, spend, spend. He only gets a weekly allowance (although we bet it's not 50p every Saturday).

"My earnings go into a trust fund. Even if I could spend the money, I wouldn't. It's so much smarter to save it up for college. College will pay off more later than any gift could. What's important is the education that will be important to me some day."

So he's keeping a level head on those shoulders but it can't be easy living a normal teenager's life when you've become so famous. "Everything at home is very normal. I get ready for school and do my chores at home, so everything is like a normal kid. So making movies and my private life are like two different worlds. And I like getting the best of both worlds, because I love working and I love the normal part of life, and it's good that you have that to come back to."

"[At school] they treat me pretty normally, as if I didn't act at all. They get all the acting stuff, and it's great that it just doesn't affect them. For a little while I was asked to reapeat the line 'I see dead people' (from The Sixth Sense). It never annoyed me because it brought back such good memories.

"I don't want to be a kid with a swelled head," he says finally. "And I got a lot of help with my career; it's not all my doing."


Haley is the best.

 

 

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