I see dead people. The pale child with liquid eyes peers up at his mother as the ghost of a splattered bicyclist lurks to his left. Haunting and gruesome, it’s a pivotal moment in The Sixth Sense — a surprising creep-fest that’s counting on Bruce Willis’ star power for its box office legs, but has the extraordinarily nuanced performance of young Haley Joel Osment at its heart.
”Doing something this huge has been my biggest challenge,” says the 11-year-old Los Angeles resident, the son of an actor and a schoolteacher. ”I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t act.”
He shouldn’t worry. Since debuting in a Pizza Hut commercial at age 5, Osment has become one of the busiest child actors in the biz, supplementing roles on such TV series as Ally McBeal, Murphy Brown, and The Jeff Foxworthy Show with features like Forrest Gump, in which he played Forrest Jr. ”I was adamant about not using a Hollywood kid,” says Sixth Sense writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, who reconsidered when Osment coolly announced he’d read the entire script — twice — before his audition. ”And then Haley walks in, blond and cute as a button, and blew the frickin’ roof off.”
Osment, who has yet to settle on his next project, warns that The Sixth Sense is not for everyone. ”The movie scared my mom and dad,” he says. ”My sister Emily isn’t even allowed to see it. She’s only 7. And I don’t think 7-year-olds should see this movie.”