The interview offer was impossibly curious. The premiere of Kevin Smith’s new film Tusk at the Toronto International Film Festival meant an opportunity to catch up with either Smith, star Justin Long or co-star Haley Joel Osment. I’ve had a couple of thoroughly enjoyable phone interviews with Smith, who treats these encounters like one of his podcasts, meaning you say “hello” and simply get out of his way, because the man is the definition of a talker. You don’t have the luxury of asking questions; if you’re lucky, you get to sneak in a topic, stand back, and let the man expound. And while I have nothing against Long, especially after catching his weirdly wound up performance in Tusk, as Wallace Bryton, a button-pushing podcaster in search of a quirky interview in Canada that turns into a bizarre fight for survival and an identity crisis of sorts after hooking up with a creepy old coot named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who promises outlandish stories and delivers something far closer to The Human Centipede serial hijinks, I suppose I was in search of a different narrative angle.
So that left Osment.
And as I walked into the suite for our one-on-one chat, I couldn’t resist staring deeply into his face, probing his now adult features, complete with the heft and contours of life and living on his own, outside the confines of studio productions like The Sixth Sense and Secondhand Lions. I see the little boy who was so familiar to us, but who seemed to have disappeared at the height of fame. A smart move actually, when you consider that he wasn’t going to be that little boy forever. He was likely going to morph into an awkward teenager with a squeaky voice and gangly limbs darting out all over the place. Better that we not see that character.
It would be like watching Boyhood, except having far more footage of each year, enough to erase the poetic ellipses that we were forced to fill in on our own. The character would end up too well-defined, too full of imperfections that would taint our perceptions of who we imagined “Haley Joel Osment” to be.
Plus, who would have dreamed that Osment would make his way back to us through a Kevin Smith film like Tusk.
“They just sent the script to my agent/manager and I read it cold,” he began, “because there was a big pre-history with it. People who know the podcast and heard him (Smith), on the air, come up with the idea and saying, ‘Wow, I hope someone makes this movie. I could make this movie.” But I didn’t know any of that when I read the script. I was just laughing a lot reading through it and emailed back that I was interested in doing the project before I was even finished with the script. I didn’t even talk to Kevin until I arrived on-set. They were already shooting. I was late to the project. I knew he had a reputation for being really easygoing and really fun to work with and that was certainly true.
“What was interesting though is that he makes it really comfortable for his actors and in a non-demanding way, (he) adds lots of dialogue as the film goes along. So by the second day of filming, he was like ‘hey, I just wrote fifteen to twenty pages of new dialogue. You don’t have to learn it, don’t worry about it.’ But you want to learn it, so it adds this kind of urgency throughout the day. And unlike a monologue where you can just fumble your way through it, a lot of the new dialogue was me and Justin Long going back and forth during the podcast, so memorizing that was definitely a challenge.”
With this new process laid out, I asked him about making the transition from his earlier larger-scaled studio projects to something as informal and as tight (in terms of the shooting schedule) as Tusk.
“Well, back then, doing studio films, the shoots are a lot longer. So a lot of the films I’ve done recently, the indie films and everything, like this film was a fifteen-day shoot, while on The Sixth Sense and Secondhand Lions, you’d shoot for three months. You have a lot fewer scenes to get through during the day. I like having both experiences under my belt. And as someone who wants to get involved, hopefully with making my own projects someday, it is interesting doing these little indie films and working in some theater (in college), you get used to working at a good pace. The luxury of time you have on studio films is nice, but you can get things done a lot faster than you would think, when you’re looking at it on paper.”
While still caught up in the visual recollection game of retrieving the little boy from the young man before me, I struggled to reconcile that, as he point out during one of his responses, Osment has been involved with film for twenty years. If I closed my eyes though and just focused on listening to him, it was obvious that Osment not only has the industry fused into his DNA, but he’s taken full-advantage of the exposure to experimental theater techniques from his college days and fashioned himself into a unique hybrid, perfectly suited to the changing dynamics of the current system. (tt stern-enzi)