One of the few good films M. Night Shyamalan has made in his long and tedious career, The Sixth Sense tells the bizarre tale of a child psychologist who encounters a strange little boy. As he slowly discovers, this boy has the otherworldly ability to transcend the barriers of human mortality and communicate with people who have died.
On the 20th anniversary of his biggest success, Shyamalan reflected: “The Sixth Sense was the movie that didn’t have the legacy to deal with. It didn’t have my name to deal with. So, it would be interesting if The Sixth Sense was the third movie or the fourth movie and how that would’ve changed the audience’s relationship to the film.”
Adding, “Could you even watch the movie? Or would you from the first moment in the movie go, ‘Oh, I know what’s happening.’ It’s a really interesting thing. That movie created a relationship with my name and then the name itself now has a framing for all the rest of its cousins. It’s the one movie that got to live without my name.”
Although Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment were finally cast as the child psychologist and his patient, many others were initially considered for the part. Michael Cera was also among the child actors being screened for the role that Osment eventually nabbed, and he went into the audition without knowing what the film was about.
In an interview, Cera revealed: “I auditioned for The Sixth Sense, which I didn’t know was about seeing dead people. They didn’t mention that in the breakdown. After seeing the movie, and remembering the scene they had me read… It was the scene with the penny. Bruce Willis is saying, ‘I can’t be your doctor anymore,’ and Haley Joel Osment starts crying and slides the penny over to him.”
Cera claimed that this lack of knowledge contributed to his failure, insisting that he would have done the audition differently had he known: “It’s a very emotional scene. And I did not do it that way. I did it upbeat. I said ‘Some magic’s real’ very optimistically. There is this strange sense of competition among child actors. There were a few kids, I knew if I saw them at the audition, they were going to get the part.”
It is surreal to even think about a young Michael Cera playing that creepy role which would surely make for an interesting viewing experience. Ultimately, it all worked out as both Willis and Osment received widespread acclaim with an Academy Award nomination for Osment as well.