Haley Joel Osment’s spirits are high for ‘Clara’s Ghost’

Haley Joel Osment’s spirits are high for ‘Clara’s Ghost’
Photo: Orion Classics
Chris Elliott and Haley Joel Osment in "Clara's Ghost"

Although he’s uttered the iconic line “I see dead people” in his Oscar-nominated role from the 1999 classic thriller “The Sixth Sense,” Haley Joel Osment is more than happy to hand over the burden of seeing spirits in his latest film “Clara’s Ghost.”

New in select theaters and on Video On-Demand, “Clara’s Ghost” takes place over one night, where a family of self-absorbed TV actors drunkenly deal with their struggles in the business while the matriarch of the family becomes troubled by the appearance of a woman who died in the house before they owned it. Comedy great Chris Elliott plays the family patriarch, Ted Reynolds, opposite his real-life wife Paula Niedert Elliot — the mom Clara — who is seeing ghosts; while their real-life daughters Abby Elliott and Bridey Elliott (who also wrote and directed the film) play their former child star daughters. Osment plays Joe, the next-door handyman and close friend of the family.

While Osment has no doubt accumulated a wealth of experience over the years — he started acting at age 4 and made his big-screen debut in the role of young Forrest opposite Tom Hanks in 1994’s “Forrest Gump” — the acclaimed actor admitted in a phone conversation Wednesday from Los Angeles that he’s never quite encountered an acting opportunity as unique as playing opposite the entire Elliott family in “Clara’s Ghost.”

“I think it’s the sign a well-adjusted family that they could play an alternate universe version of themselves — and in a place where they grew up,” Osment said, laughing. “When it comes to working with a family as a unit who know each other so well, the way that my character is designed, being an outsider who they’re performing for, it was like being like an alternate universe of real-life.”

Although Osment’s character is an outsider in “Clara’s Ghost,” the highs and lows that the Reynolds sisters talk about experiencing as former child stars was something that the actor said he definitely could relate to. If anything, as much as the Elliott family lampoons the pitfalls of show business in “Clara’s Ghost,” Osment agreed that the film does portray a certain truth in that actors’ lives don’t solely comprise of red carpets and awards shows.

“That’s why people who are in (show business) for the long haul get comfortable with knowing that there are going to be ups and downs, and not every film that you do is going to be a giant hit and everything,” Osment, 30, said. “That knowledge makes it easy to enjoy it when something is a big success. Taking this film to Sundance last year — and I’m going again this year with another film I’m doing — things like that, just getting a chance to show that you’ve completed is really gratifying. You really need to enjoy the time when things are good.”

While “Clara’s Ghost” is at its heart a comedy (yet one that takes a wickedly chilling turn in its third act), the film also has an uneasy supernatural vibe that will definitely keep viewers on the edges of their seats throughout its duration. And while “Clara’s Ghost” delves deep into the world of the supernatural, “The Sixth Sense” icon admitted that he didn’t take on the role because his fascination with spirits, evil or otherwise.

“Disappointingly, for a lot of people, given my association with a well-known film about ghosts, I have never really had any experiences like that,” Osment said, laughing. “I don’t tend to get creeped out by that stuff. That said, this house (that we filmed in) is old. I think it was built in the 1830s or something. Anywhere you go in it, you know that there’s so much history in the place. And even though there’s not some sort of spiritual manifestation there, it weighs on your mind. In some places — and America is relatively young in comparison to places like Europe — there hundreds upon hundreds if not thousands of places where some good things that have gone on and some bad things that leave, at least in your mind, some sort of feeling.”

Osment, who is a big fan of the independent film world, will next star in the indie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Vile and Evil,” which stars Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in the chronicle of the true-life serial killer. The film will debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which is set for Jan. 24 through Feb. 3.

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