By Melinda Loewenstein | Posted Dec. 11, 2013, 11 a.m. via Backstage Daily
Haley Joel Osment isn’t seeing dead people anymore (although he might return to that soon as he’s currently shooting the Kevin Smith horror film “Tusk”). Osment’s recent work returns him to his roots in television comedy (“Thunder Alley,” “The Jeff Foxworthy Show,” and “Murphy Brown”), while embracing the new distribution and marketing models that are available.
Osment plays Shelby Mellman, a small town reporter following Matt Malloy’s Senator Louis Laffer as he runs for re-election, in Amazon Studios’ first original series, “Alpha House,”starring John Goodman. Osment says the distribution method didn’t matter much to him—it was the writing and the idea that he connected with. “For the actors it’s just one more new opportunity, because it means more pilots are produced every spring… when we worked on it, it felt very much like a pilot for any other television show. Although at times it seemed like it had a much larger budget than you might expect [for] something like this.”
Build from what you have.
When Osment auditioned for Shelby on “Alpha House,” he only had one scene to read and there was no indication of the young, ambitious reporter’s motives for following Senator Laffer. “You just have to go with your instincts and leave a little bit of room for spontaneity and improvisation, which I think can be useful there,” he says. Besides researching regional reporters, Osment says one thing that helped him prepare the character was the wardrobe. “His wardrobe—dressing him in a Western flared sports coat—was something that sort of gave me direction about who Shelby was.”
Although he shot a scene for the pilot where he was in with the press pool, it was cut once the pilot got a season order, allowing Shelby to remain in the shadows until episode three. When he finally appears, it’s still unclear what his motives are toward the Senator, but Osment shares that “his intentions and purposes become clear about midway through season.” Osment liked that even though Trudeau had the whole season planned out, he remained open to what the actors would bring to the table.
Embrace new opportunities.
It’s been a great year for Osment, who likes to do as different of characters as possible. “So this year was exciting for that reason, because a lot of these characters I haven’t really done on camera before.” Although he played some memorable characters as a child, Osment says “I think the roles are definitely better for someone in their mid-20s than the things that were bouncing around when I was a teenager.” He’s also excited to embrace the way the industry has changed with shows like “Alpha House” being produced by online distributors and the use of social media in promoting these shows. His IFC mini-series “The Spoils of Babylon” is tied to Funny or Die for promotion. When he got the call from Will Ferrell, Osment was thrilled. “The cast on that is ridiculous…[and] most of my scenes are with Kristen Wiig and Tobey Maguire, which was terrific fun.” Playing Winston, a young man with questionable parentage, who is a megalomaniac who can’t get enough power has also been fun. “I think a lot of actors will tell you that playing a villain can be more fun than playing the straight and narrow good guy,” he says.
Keep it clever.
Until this year, much of Osment’s work had been focused on drama, but the actor is excited to be doing more comedy again, even if it can be more challenging. “Comedy can be harder because if you aren’t making the audience laugh, they’re going to turn on you quicker. They’ll go along with mediocre drama more than they’ll go along with mediocre comedy,” he says.
Never underestimate the value of education.
Despite having a successful acting career through his teens, Osment never considered not continuing his education. When he started looking for schools he wasn’t sure if he would focus on an acting or film related track, but after visiting NYU, he knew that’s where he wanted to go. “I went to the experimental theater wing at NYU, so it was a lot of things that were just completely different from acting in film.” He says the program provided training in choreography, self-scripting, and directing, among other things. “There’s this whole spectrum of theatrical technique that was useful for film, but was not exclusively for on-screen acting, so I felt like it was valuable training.”
After taking a break for school, Osment is diving right back into acting, making the transition from child actor to adult actor. While the transition may present some challenges, Osment says overall it’s just given him the opportunity to play more roles. “If you work as a kid, people have this fixed image of you as a young person and that takes some time to change, but as a performer it’s a cool thing to have a career stretching back into your childhood because it just sort of gives you more of a variety of roles to play.”
Be an expert at memorization.
Osment hasn’t really done a horror film since “The Sixth Sense” and his character in Kevin Smith’s “Tusk” is very different. “Kevin’s movies are a lot of dialogue… and he’s someone who will come on to the set with like 10 to 16 pages of new dialogue when he gets inspired, so that was like a cool kind of challenge to do that. We had this massive amount of text to be dealing with.” Luckily for Osment, memorization has never been a problem. “One of the cool things about getting to audition for things on short notice is that it teaches you to memorize efficiently. So I’ve never been afraid of getting text down quickly.” One tip Osment would offer actors? “It sounds like a simple thing, but it’s surprising how many people you encounter that leave [memorization] ‘til the last day. For some actors that actually works, a classic example being Brando, but for me I’ve always enjoyed having the text down.”