"People didn’t know that I could play different types of roles because, for whatever reason, nobody saw [The] Virgin Suicides or O," says actor Josh Hartnett. "So [they] just assumed that I was just Danny from Pearl Harbor — a good guy who was always trying to do the right thing."
Little did some of these fans and critics know that Hartnett was just warming up.
Josh Hartnett first appeared on the big screen playing Jamie Lee Curtis’s teenage son in Halloween: H20, a juicy part which also served as a launching pad to stardom for the young actor. His turn in the horror sequel was followed by a headlining part in the 1998 scream-fest The Faculty, a seductive role in Sofia Coppola’s low-budget The Virgin Suicides as well as major parts in 2000’s "Othello" remake, O, and Michael Bay’s epic World War II drama Pearl Harbor.
Even though his resume seems varied, Hartnett — who can currently be seen in this month’s suspense-filled drama Wicker Park — says he was beginning to get typecast.
Hartnett also has to deal with his genetically blessed, strong-jawed good looks, which can be a double-edged sword. "Everybody has their challenges to get over," he explains. "A lot of actors would say, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s so hard for me to get the right roles because I’m so good looking.’ It’s difficult to break out of your mold no matter what you look like."
He continues, "Unfortunately, your physical self is the thing that is projected onscreen. So if you look like Hilda, the Witch of the East, you’ve got to overcome that. You’ve just got to be able to overcome your physical self to be an actor, no matter what."
Hartnett’s resume continued to grow post Pearl Harbor, notably with a meaty role in Ridley Scott’s riveting battle drama Black Hawk Down. On the heels of this film — which really made audiences sit up and take notice — Hartnett continued to expand his range, taking roles in comedies 40 Days and 40 Nights and Hollywood Homicide, the latter of which he costarred opposite Harrison Ford.
Winston Churchill once said, "When you’re going through hell, keep going." And in a town where you’re only as good as your last picture, Hartnett continues to do just that with his latest role as Matthew, a young investment banker, in MGM’s Wicker Park. The film, which is based on the acclaimed French drama L’ Appartement, is told with an American twist.
Set in the titular neighborhood of Chicago, Wicker Park trails the story of Matthew, who has learned to get on with his life after being left in the lurch two years earlier by his girlfriend, Lisa (Diane Kruger), who has mysteriously disappeared.
As the story holds, Matt is immersed in an investment deal that will make him a big wheel in the world of blue chip exchanges, which is seemingly everything he’s ever wanted. And while everything appears to be going smoothly, Matt’s memory of Lisa is jogged by a familiar glimpse out of the corner of his eye. It is only now that Matt realizes that, contrary to what he previously thought, his ardor for Lisa hasn’t cooled in the least. In fact, he needs some closure.
As Matthew attempts to revisit the past, he’s forced to sort out a labyrinthine trail of twists and time shifts that unfold before him as the truth seems to remain elusively beyond his grasp. What comes across in the end is that love, requited or not, can cause us to do crazy things.
"I think what the movie is about is this fine line between love and obsession. I think that love — true love — is just requited obsession," says Hartnett, who admits to having felt similar emotions for someone in his own life, but "never to this extent." "If you look at what you do when you’re first in love with someone, it’s always pretty ridiculous and a little bit obsessive."
Hartnett continues, "The thing about this movie is [that] Matt makes the bold decision to go after this girl. In a way it’s courageous because she could just turn around and say, ‘The reason I left is because I just didn’t like you’ — I don’t know if I would drop my pride enough to do that," he says with a chuckle.
Hartnett’s laid-back demeanor and candid answers to stock questions belie the assumption that he might live close to the Hollywood action. Although his job frequently brings him to Los Angeles, the actor actually commutes from out of state.
"I live in Minnesota and New York so I’m always traveling," says Hartnett. "Minneapolis and the Twin Cities are like a smaller metropolitan area compared to New York and L.A. but it’s not that small. I’m always on the move. I figure that later on, I’ll be settling down.
"I’m not so caught up in the daily process of self congratulations that we have out here [in L.A.]," expounds Hartnett unapologetically. "I’m not up on who’s making how much money on what project. You can get caught in that trap — almost everybody who has spent enough time out here [already has]."
So, instead of just saying "show me the money" when the phones start ringing, Hartnett sticks to his non-Hollywood philosophy, continuing to refine his thespian palette by working with an ever-widening array of rising and established industry talent.
"It was never [about] the commercial success because, unfortunately, that is what you’re judged by in this business, and in all walks [of life]," he says about the outlook that has kept him grounded over the years.
"I guess I try not to look at it as if I am a movie star," reveals Hartnett. "As long as I can keep making movies that I want to make, I’ll be happy."
Wicker Park releases in theaters Sept. 3.