Why choosing an unknown over Haley Joel Osment may not be a mistake

By Liane Bonin
Updated April 18, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
Haley Joel Osment
Credit: Ron Phillips

Though Warner Brothers is hunting for a British unknown to play the pint-size wizard in the upcoming movie adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” that hasn’t stopped rabid Harry lovers from pleading their case for American picks on Ain’t It Cool News, where ”Malcolm in the Middle” star Frankie Muniz and Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment have emerged as hard-to-beat favorites.

Osment has expressed interest in the part, recently telling EW, ”I would love to play Harry Potter… You can put the word out, and I’ll start working on my accent!” Still, the studio’s decision to pass over two of the hottest young actors around may not be the box office mistake it first seems. ”In this case, I think they have the right idea,” says ”Cider House Rules” casting director Billy Hopkins, who knows a thing or two about employing child actors.

Hopkins says casting a Brit in the role means goodbye to the wildly fluctuating accents that have marred other films. ”Even though I believe Haley could pull it off, there’s still the chance die-hard fans wouldn’t have liked him no matter how well he did just because he isn’t English,” reasons Hopkins. What’s more, Osment’s ”I see dead people” fame could come back to haunt him as Potter. ”The huge disadvantage of casting a known entity like Haley is that he comes with all the baggage of his prior movies,” says EW staff writer Jeff Jensen. ”Considering you already have to compete with the image of the character that’s in every fan’s head, that can be a real hurdle.”

And don’t forget that both 12-year-old Osment and the 14-year-old Muniz are a little too old to play the 11-year-old Potter. Though the age difference may not matter so much now, it’s sure to be a problem if the entire series (Rowling plans to write seven Potter books) gets the movie treatment. ”As we get into sequels three and four, the problem gets exponentially worse,” says Jensen.

Fortunately, finding a talented unknown may not be as tough as it might seem. ”With only a few movies under his belt, Haley Joel Osment is already 10 times the actor Bruce Willis will ever be,” says Hopkins, who notes most of the orphans he cast in ”Cider House” were acting newbies. ”Finding that natural ‘it’ thing can be easier with kids than adults, who can be more self-conscious.”

And it bodes well that director Chris Columbus was able to mine comic gold from Macaulay Culkin and other kid actors in ”Home Alone” and ”Mrs. Doubtfire.” But even if the future Harry Potter turns out to be a stiff on screen, all hope isn’t lost. ”You’d be shocked to what degree a performance can be saved by clever editing,” says Hopkins.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 152 minutes
  • Chris Columbus