Back in the early noughties Hollywood heartthrob Josh Hartnett looked set to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio.
He starred in not just one, but two 2001 mega box office epics – Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor – was offered the role of Superman and was voted the Sexiest Vegetarian Alive, 2003.
Since then almost every single article about him has been about why the Leo thing didn’t happen. Which might rightly nark him, but the 42-year-old says it was happily all his own doing.
‘At that age it is very easy to become someone else’s tool or someone else’s puppet,’ he recalls from the set in a pre-lockdown-mark-two in France.
‘I was very aware of the choices I was making and I wanted them to be my choices.’ He has no regrets about (repeatedly) turning down both Superman and Batman, even if he admits that ‘at the time it didn’t seem like the sort of decision I would be talking about 15 years later.’
‘There were a lot of powers that be that wanted me to pursue those films, but I have always been interested in stories about people and I didn’t want to be boxed into that superhero type. Back then a lot of actors had to fight really hard to get their career back after they played those characters.
Instead the Minnesota-born actor has ploughed a committed, independent furrow. His latest indie is Target Number One, an involving ‘based on true events’ thriller about a petty drug dealer who is framed by police and sentenced to 100 years in a Thai prison.
Hartnett plays real life Canadian journalist Victor Malarek, who is trying to free him. ‘He is very charismatic and heroic,’ Hartnett says of Malarek. ‘When it comes to corruption or abuse of power, he will throw himself in the way of the metaphorical bullets to save the people he is trying to write about.’
To prepare for the role, Hartnett met Malarek (who didn’t know who he was) and spent three years swotting up on his work.
‘I like to prepare a lot,’ he admits ‘but I don’t go full Daniel Day Lewis – I am not immersed through the entire production as the character.’
These days Hartnett certainly can’t afford that luxury. The 6ft 3 actor has three small (yet, presumably, tall) children with his partner, the 5ft 10 British actress Tamsin Egerton (Camelot, St Trinian’s), who kept him ‘very busy’ during lockdown.
‘When they don’t have any other stimulus and you have to account for every moment of the day, that is a lot!’
Teaching his daughter ukulele proved a hit. Even so, Hartnett managed time for reflection.
‘I went through a few different permutations and had all sorts of epiphanies. The biggest impact is that I recognised that I want to be a bit slower. I don’t want to be on a plane every five minutes. It has reconfirmed my belief that that I want to spend a much time at home as possible.’
Home is currently Surrey, where they moved to be near Tamsin’s parents. It also proved handy for work, given he’s just wrapped on the latest Guy Ritchie film, originally titled Cash Truck. Is he becoming an adoptive Brit?
‘You have to tell me! It’s not for me to decide that. But I love being in the UK and our kids have British accents, which is adorable.’ The ultimate test is, can he make a proper cup of tea?
‘I think I can… I believe I can,’ he laughs ‘I used to get a lot complaints, but I haven’t had any recently.’
And if this tough year has taught us anything, it’s that a good mug of tea in the hand is surely worth any amount of Golden Globes in the bush.
Josh on the 20th anniversary of The Virgin Suicides
‘Oh man, I was 19 when I made that. I haven’t seen it for a long time. I will have to get my glasses and cane to walk over to my VHS and get the grandkids to help me turn the TV on!
‘Seriously, I am not a big fan of going back and watching my own stuff. It doesn’t do me any good. But a few months ago I did a big online interview with Sofia [Coppola, the director], Kirsten [Dunst, co-star] and some of the other girls when we were all still in quarantine and we were able to catch up on the things that happened to us at that time.
‘It was one of the best experiences of my career. It was a small production with not much money involved, so there was not a lot of room for mistakes, but I saw an autonomous director working in their element, encouraging a lot of creativity and change in the moment.
‘It was the reason why I became addicted to doing independent films.’
Josh’s low-key career choices
Josh achieves his Romeo+Juliet / 10 Things I Hate About You moment as a teen Iago in this high-school retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello
The Black Dahlia
Co-starring Scarlett Johansson, this stylish, if convoluted, neo-noir was dubbed Hartnett’s ‘comeback’ movie when it appeared in 2006
Achieved ‘peak hotness’, according to one reviewer, as a sharpshooting wolf man in this sensational TV horror series set in Victorian times
I Come With The Rain
A sucker for an atmospheric neo-noir, Hartnett plays an ex-cop haunted by a grisly serial killer in this obscure effort by Vietnamese auteur Tran Anh Hung
Scores his highest ever rating (98 per cent fresh) on Rotten Tomatoes, playing a hunky TEFL-teacher in Tokyo in this weird culture-shock comedy
Target Number One is out now on demand.
Credit: Original article published here.