August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

When casting agents spotted Haley Joel Osment, then 5, in the playroom of a Southern California furniture store and offered him a Pizza Hut commercial (which then led to a role as Forrest Jr. in Forrest Gump), Haley’s father, also an actor, wasn’t sure he wanted to play stage dad. “But all my friends were urging me to get him into it,” says Michael Eugene Osment, 34, who has had small roles in several films, “because at age 3 he’s saying words like ‘paleontologist.’

That kind of gravitas was critical to the part of Cole Sear, a child tormented by ghosts in the surprise hit The Sixth Sense. Its star Bruce Willis ranks Haley “with some of the best adult actors I’ve ever worked with.” Right back at ya, says Osment, 11: “I thought, cool, Bruce Willis. Then I met him, and he was so professional.”

Luckily, Haley’s a cheerier kid than Cole—although he works hard these days (he also costarred in The Jeff Foxworthy Show and tried to sue God on Ally McBeal). At home in Glendale, Calif., with Dad, mom Theresa, 30, a teacher, and sister Emily, 7, who also acts, Haley likes to shoot hoops and loves animals, particularly his mutt Sukie. While filming he has an on-set tutor. “I want to go to Yale to study drama,” he says. “[And] I want to be one of those people who swims with the dolphins.”

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