Don't worry about 13-year-old A.I. star Haley Joel Osment becoming another Macaulay Culkin — a child star mired in controversy with parents picking over his remains.
Haley's father, Eugene Osment, told me at Tuesday night's premiere of A.I. Artificial Intelligence that there are no comparisons between their situation and Macaulay Culkin's. "For one thing, I'm happily married to my wife. We have a strong family."
Eugene, who was once an acting teacher and is Haley's coach, told me that Haley is still getting adult presents from studios eager to include him in their next film. "We got perfume, liquor and this watch," he said, showing off a Tag Heuer chronograph that would hang like a weight from a child's wrist. "Luckily," he joked, "Haley is not interested in jewelry."
I asked Eugene — who's a nice guy from Alabama, polished but not slick — how Haley dealt with the adult material in A.I. Certainly the most wrenching scenes have to do with his character, David, being abandoned by his parents. Haley will almost definitely be nominated for an Oscar for this performance — his second Oscar nomination before the age of 14!
"It's just acting, first of all, and we talk about that. Also, Steven [Spielberg] filmed the movie chronologically, so Haley could build a relationship with Frances O'Connor, who plays his mother."
Haley's next movie release is a voice-over in an actual kids' movie, called The Country Bears. Then he's taking a break. His dad assured me that when he's home, Haley "does his schoolwork, goes to other kids' houses to play, all the normal things."
I did meet Haley again, but it's sort of my position not to officially interview kids. He was a very polite kid, though, dressed in an all-black tuxedo/black necktie, and very much more interested in talking to kids his own age. He sat through A.I. with his dad, right in front of me, and they seemed to chat about various scenes as the movie progressed. Pretty nice, all the way around.
At the premiere for Spielberg's new movie Tuesday night, you got the feeling that A.I. could be short for Ai-yay-yay and not just artificial intelligence.
Spielberg, for example, had no time to talk to print press — or for that matter Time Warner head Gerald Levin or Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall. He was just in and out. Poof!
Spielberg skipped the pre-party for the movie, and skipped the press line too. He swung into the Ziegfeld Theatre minutes before the screening, made a brief speech and zoomed out of the theater. His publicist was so rude that Spielberg's entourage almost knocked over writers for The New York Times and the Daily News as he exited. And that was it: no interviews, no time.
The reason, as delivered by the publicists who were not busy clearing bodies out of the way: "He has to get right back to Washington, D.C., to continue shooting his movie Minority Report. He's on a tight schedule."
So tight that he couldn't shake a few hands with the people who are supposed to help sell his $90 million masterwork. Yikes! This certainly made it possible for Spielberg to skirt certain questions I think everyone would like to ask him about this controversial, beautifully made film.
Meantime, the stars from the movie — Haley Joel Osment, Sam Robards, Frances O'Connor, and Jude Law, as well as special effects director Stan Winston — managed to sit through the movie, talk with everyone and enjoy the evening.
Also present were Time Warner co-chief operating officer Richard Parsons, Warner Bros. President Lorenzo Bonaventura and Sam Robards' mom, the legendary Lauren Bacall. As far as I know, Spielberg didn't even take the time to speak with Levin, who attended the pre-party with Bonaventura.
Bacall — whom Spielberg also missed — worked the press line and the crowd like a pro, elegant as always and beaming with pride about her son's elevation to a lead role. "He's worked so hard," she told me. "I hope he'll talk to me now!" She was joking.
Robards — also the son of the late Jason Robards — indeed told me it's been a 20-year climb. Among his many standout performances: Fandango, a great early Kevin Costner movie. Next up: "I'm acting in a very early Arthur Miller play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. We've heard he may come to rehearsals."
My favorite quote of the night came from a longtime former Warner Bros. staffer, now retired, about the extraordinary gentlemen Levin and Parsons: "They're real people and the last of them. Right before the robots come in and take over."
So well said it hurts.
Rapper Eminem — not on my personal list of favorite celebrities — is about to start shooting a movie about his life. Somehow he's managed to get award-winning director Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys, L.A. Confidential) to take on this thing called the Untitled Detroit Project. In the movie he plays a rapper named Jimmy who's "on his way up."
But get this: Eminem — real name Marshall Mathers — will depict his mother, Debbie Mathers, and one of her boyfriends in the movie. Debbie Mathers in the past has sued her son over his disgusting portrayal of her in his "songs." She won a $25,000 settlement from him in court, and recently tried to get that upgraded by the same court but failed. Who can blame her?
In the movie, Debbie's character is named Stephanie. Here is her description: "Late 30s, early 40s, white. Jimmy's mom. Sexy. Jealous. Fragile just trying to keep it all together. Can't believe she is the mother of two. Can't believe this is her life. Can't handle it. Irresponsible. More of a friend than a parent. Needs validation from a man to feel good about herself. Wants every man to want her. Even flirts with her son."
If that's not enough, Stephanie/Debbie's boyfriend is named Greg. He's "Late 20s, white. Sleeping with Jimmy's mom. Good-looking in an ex-jock sort of way. A former high school bully, now lame. Covers his disability with even more bulls--t and bravado. Empty inside. Stuck in place."
I don't know if "now lame" means he's actually lame — as in limping because of an injury —or just no longer cool. I guess we'll find out soon enough. The question is, when do the lawsuits start?
Ten years ago in Entertainment Weekly I cited a then-new young actress on CBS’s The Guiding Light as one of the year's up-and-comers. Her name was Beth Ehlers, and she had 'it,' whatever that is. A few weeks ago I channel-surfed into this otherwise nutty show and found Ehlers, who must be about 30 now, still there and still showing how to underplay crazy material in a medium that's all about scene-chewing and melodrama. How nice to see I was right. All predictions should work out so well. Someone get that girl into some classy primetime TV!
See Roger Friedman on Fox News Channel's Entertainment Coast to Coast Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Check local listings.