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‘Silicon Valley’ Star Haley Joel Osment on His Career Pivot, TJ Miller’s ‘Sad’ Exit

”Luckily, this isn’t like ‘Game of Thrones,'“ Osment tells TheWrap about his future on the HBO comedy

Haley Joel Osment plays a fun-loving character on “Silicon Valley” — and the actor himself is having a pretty good time these days, too.

The former child star, now 29, is still perhaps best known for early-career roles in “The Sixth Sense” and “A.I.” But he’s quickly earning buzz for his turn as positive-to-a-fault VR expert Keenan Feldspar on Season 4 of the HBO ensemble comedy.

“I had a blast,” the actor told TheWrap about shooting his part on “Silicon Valley.”

So how did he end up with a comedy career, despite not having a background in improv? “It’s just sort of a result of it being a great time for comedy right now,” Osment said, crediting his parts on the IFC projects “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and “The Spoils of Babylon” for setting him on this new path.

Osment also discussed whether he’ll return to “Silicon Valley” next season, his reaction to T.J. Miller leaving the show and why exactly he has that giant beard.

TheWrap: How was Keenan Feldspar first described to you?
Haley Joel Osment:
He’s someone who became wealthy really quickly, in contrast to Richard [Hendricks] and the rest of the guys, who have been struggling for several years. Keenan just struck it rich immediately — it seems sort of unfair. He’s a guy who likes to feel good all the time and is super positive and everything, but people like that can sometimes be oblivious to the consequences of their behavior, too.

Is your character inspired by any real people in the tech world?
I don’t think anybody in particular. When [real-life Silicon Valley companies] have these conventions and all of this saving-the-world, glossy, very positive, holistic way of talking about things — we were watching some of those ads. But the great things about these characters they create [on the show] is that it’s informed by the real-life people in Silicon Valley, but they also have their own individualities.

Somebody like Gavin Belson [Matt Ross], there’s a little bit of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk behind it, but he’s also completely his own character, so I just tried to follow that design with my guy, too. And the most influential thing about him that I sorta ran with that they put in the character is, he just likes to feel good all the time. Just very pure pursuit of just feeling good, even if that means he has to fly around the world to kite surf for a month to get his head in the right place.

What is it like on set as the new guy?
It’s really fun being a part of a show like this where they’ve been working as a team for going on five years now — I knew Thomas [Middleditch] a little bit beforehand, and Kumail [Nanjiani] I’d met before. But they were just very welcoming. It’s a very playful atmosphere, and there’s a lot of laughs in front of the camera and behind the scenes, too — just sitting around between shots is a really fun place to be. The directors for my episodes were Jamie Babbit and Mike Judge, who were both really cool, and you can learn a lot watching them work on the show.

Did you know while shooting your episodes that T.J. Miller would be leaving?
No, I did not — found out when everybody else did. So I’ll be sad to see him go. I feel lucky that in my episodes, we had a lot of scenes together, so I got to at least have a little time with him before he left. But he’s an awesome guy and was really nice to me, and I was glad I got to be there for his last episode.

Were you surprised he’s leaving?
Yeah, I was surprised, but it’s good that they seem to have made the decision mutually. He created this iconic character on the show. As an audience member, just someone who’s a fan of the show ever since it came out, I’m glad we got the season that we could get.

Will you be back next season? It almost feels like Keenan could help fill a void that Erlich leaves.
That character [Erlich] definitely could never be replaced. I’m not sure what Keenan’s story is going to be going forward — I haven’t heard about Season 5 yet, but I hope there’s a future for him. Luckily, this isn’t like “Game of Thrones,” so you don’t have to worry about people getting killed off en masse at the end of every season. Usually, you see these characters bouncing around in one way, shape or form, so I certainly hope so.

How did you decide on the look of the character, with the beard and Hawaiian shirts?
I was growing out the beard and the hair all summer for this show I’m doing on Amazon called “Oasis.” It just came out — I play a weed farmer and botanist in the future. And I didn’t know whether Mike Judge would want me to shave it. When I showed up for the table read, he was like, “No, this is perfect.”

I don’t have a whole lot in common with this character, except being from California, I do have a weakness for wearing Rainbows [sandals] a lot of the time, even in the snow in New York. The Hawaiian shirts and the hoodies — the costume fitting was actually pretty extensive because the costumer had a couple dozen different crazy vintage Hawaiian shirts, and we were just mixing and matching, trying to find the funniest combinations.

You’ve become quite the comedic actor of late. Was that a deliberate career move, or did it just sort of happen?
It’s just sort of a result of it being a great time for comedy right now. I’m not an improviser, even though I’m a big fan of it, but doing “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and working on IFC for that and for the “Spoils of Babylon” series, it sort of started off this run of comedies, I guess. I’m on another show for Hulu called “Future Man.” I’m a bit more of a villain in “Future Man” — but playing the antagonist and playing these outlandish characters has been a lot of fun.

“Silicon Valley” airs its Season 4 finale on Sunday on HBO.

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