(2 of 2)
The Sixth Sense, the story of a boy with the ability to see the souls of dead people, wasn't a conventional thriller. It was reserved and meticulous, making its surprise ending that much more electrifying. "Any story is more powerful if you can relate to it in your own life," says Shyamalan. "In The Sixth Sense my approach was, Don't light the hallways with blue scary lights. Nobody's hallway looks like that, so it's not going to affect people. Make it look like your hallway when the lights go down. Now put someone walking through it when they're not supposed to be there. Now it'll bother you when you go home."
Shyamalan wrote Unbreakable, the story of a man who survives a horrific train wreck and the stranger he encounters afterward, with two actors in mind: Willis (as the survivor) and Jackson (as the stranger). He was drawn to Willis for his Everyman quality and to Jackson for his incantatory elocution. Jackson returns the compliment. "[Shyamalan] knows how to use language," says the actor. "He gives characters an opportunity to express themselves. They tell you how they feel about certain things, how they feel about certain people, how they feel about themselves. But he also doesn't do it in such a way that when you get to page 10, you know what's going to be on page 110. He has some twist in there or some irony."
No matter how Unbreakable does at the box office, Shyamalan has become a Hollywood player. Spielberg and George Lucas have had discussions with him about writing the next installment of the Indiana Jones series. "Just to be a part of that team, to be a fourth wheel along with Harrison [Ford], would be a very cool thing," says Shyamalan.
As a director, Shyamalan feels his multicultural background gives him an advantage: "Decisions I make in my filmmaking are for a global audience. The domestic box office is an important thing, but it's just as important for me that the worldwide audience is enjoying the movie, as in The Sixth Sense. I picture my uncles and aunts and people abroad watching my movies."
Family matters are close to his heart. He and his wife Bhavna, who is studying to earn a Ph.D. in child psychology, have two children, ages 1 and 4. Shyamalan says he lives in the Philadelphia area because it puts distance between his work and Hollywood and keeps his perspective fresh. He also shoots his movies in the area so that he can be with his family. "I'm there to take the kids to school and put them to bed 330 days out of the year," he says. "This life can get so overwhelming. You have to protect your family as much as you can. Nobody else is going to do it for you." Clearly, the director of The Sixth Sense has plenty of common sense as well.