Haley Joel Osment discusses the challenges of making an impact with only a handful of scenes.
Haley Joel Osment has been popping up all over the place in 2017. After a series of brutally hilarious Comedy Bang! Bang! appearances, and scene-stealing performances in Silicon Valley and Future Man, the actor has been chipping away at our preconceived notions of his one-time child star status. His new film, Almost Friends, partners him with another actor looking to redefine himself in adulthood, Freddie Highmore. Playing BFFs, Osment’s Ben must rip Highmore’s Charlie from the welcoming poison of contentment. Do we all deserve the dreams of our youth? Did we ever even have a dream to begin wiht? Almost Friends is that necessary kind of coming-of-age story that acts as a guide to all those that find it too easy to wallow in the comfortably known. It stands amongst a vibrant sub-genre, hoping to catch your eye while you’re scrolling through your endless Amazon channels.
We spoke to Osment over the phone just days after Almost Friends landed on VOD. We talk about the need to find yourself in your entertainment, the challenges of standing out in an ensemble loaded with talent, and how to move on once the show is over.
Your character in Almost Friends is basically the wingman to Freddie Highmore’s romantic. How did you build that chemistry between the two of you?
Freddie’s an easy guy to get to know, and it was fun because he has this community of friends from his hometown, and the six or seven of us all got to hang out in Mobile, where we shot it for a little bit before we started rolling. Yeah, it wasn’t too hard to slip into that relationship dynamic between the two of them and to be the character. You just try in various ways to get Freddie to get his character to come out of his shell.
You only have a few scenes to make an impression in the film.
Yeah, I think when you do have a character that only shows up a couple times throughout the movie it’s sort of got to be every time he’s on screen he needs to be taking advantage of the opportunity to reveal something about the relationship that these two characters have. They’ve known each other for a really long time so it was just trying to put that history into every frame they had together, and the way that he’s comfortable talking to Freddie, and then sort of comfortable maybe saying things to him that not everybody would feel close enough to him to say.
These quarter-life crisis stories, they’re relatively new to the subgenre of the coming of age film. It’s a Millennial problem. They feel more and more relevant, and I had my various transitions. We all have them. These films become a necessity for our own growth.
Oh yeah, and I think that the increased prevalence of them in movies reflects a real thing in the world right now when people get done with college and move into the first phase of their life, and because of the way the economy is right now and various other things, people still don’t feel like they quite have a handle on what they’re going to be doing with their lives. I think the age that people get married is getting older if they do get married at all, so it just recreates this room for this weird and sort of new period for people in their 20s who feel like they should be getting on track to somewhere, but maybe quite haven’t accomplished that yet. I think Freddie’s character is going through that.
Is there a film that you found to be necessary to your own personal growth as you were growing up?
It’s hard to choose just one. I love watching movies and so many are, they feel like a part of you now. I’m trying to think of one where I identified with the characters in a way that I felt like I had some reflection on my own life, and it’s hard to find them ’cause … I’m not sure. Most of the movies that are my favorites are ones that there aren’t really a lot of characters that I identified directly with, other than in some universal human way. But in making movies like this … I did a movie called Home of the Giants my senior year of high school that was sort of about people transitioning out of that period of time, and Secondhand Lions before that was sort of about spilling into teenagerdom and stuff like that. I’ve been lucky to have actually been in some movies where the character’s personal growth kind of mirrored what was going on in my life at the time.
Goldberg, he burst forth onto the scene with Don McKay, and he has certainly a unique voice, but it stems from people like Cameron Crowe, and I know he’s mentioned Kicking and Screaming as a reference to the creation of Almost Friends. What did you see in him? What did he want to get from you?
Talking on the phone with him was what led me to do it. I enjoyed the script and was excited to work with Freddie and everybody, but hearing his plan for the movie and hearing out how deeply he had thought out all these … There is a lot of characters in this movie and a lot of interlocking relationships, and he had just thought them through so well and was truly going to do a character-driven film, which you don’t always get. To an actor, it seems like every film should be that way, that it should always be about the characters. I was talking to my friend the other day. He did a pitch with some studio who told him that “This is a little too character driven.” So it’s not always, you get people who are willing to focus on the characters the same was that Jake did.
I can’t remember if this came up when we were talking, but Breaking the Waves, that sort of has that feeling. There are obviously some differences in the characters, but it’s that still sort of guys feeling like they’re going around the same track over and over again, and trying to figure out how to break out of the earlier period of their life.
I think what’s tricky about your character is that he has to be this catalyst for Freddie’s character. He has to provoke him and push him into living his life. I think that can be a dangerous character to attempt because you can come off rather negatively.
Right. And he has to be careful not to overdo it or I think that Freddie’s character would react negatively, but I think he’s pretty excited about the prospect of him having a relationship with Odeya Rush, and he’s the guy who’s going to be there to say like, “Aw it doesn’t matter if she has a boyfriend.” Like, go for it.
I love the bit about “she makes shitty coffee.” You’re basically his hype-man. I seriously need a hype man in my life.
It’s a character that you’ve played before. That’s you in Tusk. I love that freaky weird movie.
I am kind of in that one, yeah.
So you mentioned you had a little bit of time for getting to know each other, from rehearsals. Did that carry over to the set?
It was pretty intimate, you know. There’s a lot of stuff where it was just me and Freddie driving around in the Prius with a follow car and everything. So it wasn’t too difficult to get them, you know, to imagine that we were really in that situation when we were doing that. And then we had just a couple times, like the party scene on the roof where we kind of had this apartment building rooftop complex to ourselves. So just the way that we were in kind of a small town in Mobile and we were all staying at the same hotel, we kind of had that feeling that we had, you know, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine that these were people who had grown up together and the surroundings sort of made it easier to get into those characters.
There’s a lot of energy in that car.
Absolutely, yeah. And when, you know, like you said, you only have a couple scenes to make these relationships believable, it’s really. In a way, the pressure’s on to make sure that you make the most of every minute that you get on screen.
When you look back at how you felt about this screenplay when you first got it, and how you felt about it after your first conversation with Jake, and the ending result, did your relationship with the story adapt as the process went along?
I think so. You know, it always does. It’s funny to think about how you have one image in your mind of how things are on the page. And then you know you get to actually go there and see it in real life. It’s always a good thing when it’s a script that you like but the end results end up being even better than you imagine at the beginning because it involves the impact of all these people that you hadn’t quite met yet when you read it.
And you filmed it a little while ago, correct?
Yeah, August 2015, I think we were done there.
You’ve had a lot of distance from the film, you know, a few years now. Have you had an opportunity to watch it with a crowd or revisit it in any fashion since you made it?
I’ve seen it, but I wasn’t unfortunately able to go down to, I think it was the Newport Film Festival where it premiered. But I think Rita or Christie McNab was there and said that the crowd response was really good. So, yeah, it’s crazy. It really doesn’t seem like it was two years ago that we shot it. But time really flies in this industry when you go from project to project, and you’re like, “Oh, wow.” And it’s weird because, you know, I’ve seen a couple of those people since we shot it, but you know, you develop these sort of temporary relationships for a month or two shooting this movie, and then you all sort of go your separate ways. So, it’s wild how those things go.
I mean, what’s your process when you get done with a project. I mean, do you just simply move on? Does it live with you? Do you revisit it?
Yeah, I mean, it’s easier now. It’s a lot easier to keep in touch with people than it was, I guess when I was growing up. With phones and everything now, and I’m in New York a bit of the time and L.A. a bit of the time. And I, you know, it’s good when you develop relationships on a movie to try and reconnect with people from time to time. But in other ways, I was just hanging out with some people from Alpha House last weekend, this show I did on Amazon. God, it’s been a year since we all had dinner and it really doesn’t seem that way. I guess it’s a tough industry in how it keeps cycling you around to different things. You know, the faces and places are changing all the time.
But what about the films themselves, the projects themselves. How do you, when you’re done, does it sit on your shelf? Do you remove yourself from it? Do you revisit your own work?
I tend to move on from it. And the weird thing is, is that I can memorize lines pretty quickly, and as soon as the movie is done I forget everything. Like, it’s just the process of freeing up space for the next one. But you know, I keep the scripts around and then, you know, if I’m available for when it shows at the film festival when it comes out in theaters, I’ll watch it. But generally, I tend not to reflect too much on a film right when it’s finished. Just so that there’s room for the next project.
It’s gotta be crazy to film something several years ago that now you’re on the press tour for it again, talking to guys like me. And having to recall that film.
It’s wild, yeah. And it’s, you know, with independent films sometimes it can be a really big gap. With most films, it’s usually at least a year and often times it’s two, three years after you shot it when it gets seen. So yeah, it’s pretty crazy.