Josh Hartnett is tired, at the end of a long day doing press to support his latest film Resurrecting the Champ, coupled with jet lag. But 8 years after our first interview at the Sundance Film Festival, the actor handles the pressure of continuous success by taking the kinds of risks that few Hollywood stars attempt, arguing that it’s his passion for acting that has kept him in the game.
“Well, this is what I love to do, find new films, new projects that I haven’t done before, and unfortunately there are limited genres and limited types of films, but I don’t like to repeat myself if possible.” In fact Hartnett had just literally arrived from Hong Kong where he had been working on a film called I Come with the Rain, “which is completely different, completely out there, and I’m just going to continue trying to juggle between the bigger movies that may be more action oriented, and the smaller movies that are more character driven.”
In the latter category, Hartnett stars as an ambitious journalist in the critically lauded Resurrecting the Champ. He says that were a lot of things that appealed to him about making the movie. “First off, it’s a movie about real people, that I think has a lot of complexity in that the character’s flawed, but it’s not this big, huge, superficial flaw. He is actually unable to see his own flaws, which I think is the case with a lot of people, and he struggles and I appreciate that. It’s the kind of role that really requires your acting talents, and there are a lot of movies that don’t really require that, so I just felt like it was a chance for me to really spread my wings,” explains Hartnett.
In the film Hartnett plays an up-and-coming sports reporter who rescues a homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) only to discover that he is, in fact, a boxing legend believed to have passed away. What begins as an opportunity to resurrect Champ’s story and escape the shadow of his father’s success becomes a personal journey as the ambitious reporter reexamines his own life and his relationship with his family. “It’s always fun when you find a film that has a character that is complex on the page, because it makes your job easier. Also the people involved were people that I wanted to work with, and the themes of the story were interesting to me, it being about fathers and sons, about journalistic integrity, and about integrity as a man.”
Hartnett says that in preparing to play this reporter, he spent “a little bit of time with reporters from The New York Times, and then went to people from The Calgary Herald, which was the sufficient amount of research, as far as just getting to know that world. Also I’ve been around here for the last ten years as well, have known them, and I have a couple of friends who are journalists, so I have this understanding of the world just through life experience, but to be able to spend a little bit of time with people who are in the sports world was good research. Also, I taught myself to type with the Mavis Beacon typing program, which was fun,” he adds laughingly.
Hartnett pauses when asked whether immersing himself into a world of journalists gave him a fresh perspective on the profession. “It highlighted for me the struggles of being a journalist, the fact that you’re constantly under deadline, forced to compete with these other types of media like the internet, or television, and to be able to come up with a story that’s actually compelling enough that people will want to pick up the paper and read it without skewing into sensationalism or changing the facts a little bit, which is what my character has a big problem with. He doesn’t want to look too closely at this story, doesn’t have time, but he also really doesn’t want to, because he thinks he’s found this amazing piece that will make him a journalistic star. He’s right, but unfortunately it wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be, and because he doesn’t do all of his research, he ends up in a really tight spot. That talks about what it means to want to become a star, knowing that you have the talent, but also needing to compete with people that don’t really have to pay attention to facts like bloggers and gossip columnists. You need to make something that’s actually going to be exciting for people to read, but then also having to have integrity, and just use the facts. It’s a tough place to be in.”
In order for Hartnett to remain grounded and avoid being fodder for gossip columnists, in part, the actor continues to spend most of his time based in Minnesota, entrenched in his midwestern environment. Balancing his Midwestern roots and the realities of his success have proved challenging. “I think that I carry a unique perspective because of that, but I think that reality is all perspective based. I think that my reality is so much different than a lot of people’s reality, because in this business you end up living out here, and going through what you go through out here, but I move back and forth between Minnesota and New York, and I love New York as well, and New York is a crazy town. I love to travel and I’m all over the place. The one reason why I really haven’t moved out here, is because it’s constantly about the business. Whenever I’m out here, I feel like I would run out of stories to tell because it would all be about the business all the time, and when you’re so focused on work, it’s hard to really gain any perspective and take a break, and when I’m done with work, I want to be able to go back to a place where my friends are.” Friends, he says, who are diverse and removed from the business of Hollywood. “My friends are writers, painters, and musicians, and they work as teachers and things like that. We can talk about different things, instead of having to always talk about business.”
The actor reflects on how much he has changed since he went to Sundance, a relative unknown, with Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. “I think that I’ve grown up quite a bit, and the difference between 19 and 29 is immense.” The actor laughs when asked if he expected to be in the position he currently finds himself, looking back at those early days. “I was an arrogant little guy,” Hartnett recalls, laughingly. “I expected to have at least conquered two or three businesses by this point, but I honestly, never really knew if I would be able to maintain a career in this business because it’s so fickle. I’m really happy with where I’ve been able to go, which is at this point, I feel like I’m back in a place that I was at in the very beginning of my career, but with a little bit more clout, a little bit more leverage, which is working with good directors on good projects. I don’t think many people are making interesting choices the way that I’m allowed to make, and I’m just focused on trying to find the most unique material that comes across my desk, go and make that film, and I feel extremely blessed to have that opportunity.” Right now, Hartnett is passionate about working on I Come with the Rain “that’s just mind blowing.”
Directed by Tran Anh Hung, who made acclaimed films such as Cyclo and The Scent of Green Papaya, “this is his fourth film. He’s been writing it for six years and it’s two thirds in English, one third in Cantonese, takes place mostly in Hong Kong, a little bit in the Philippines, and a tiny bit here in Los Angeles. This guy is, in my opinion, just a film genius, and I’m having such a great time working on this film, and living out there.” He also loved working in New Zealand on the vampire horror flick, 30 Days of Night. “I had a great time in New Zealand and I almost bought a house there,” Hartnett recalls.
Surprisingly, Hartnett relished the opportunity starring in a vampire film. “I’ve always loved vampire films, honestly. That’s something that I grew up on, had a fascination with, and so when this came across my desk, I took it very seriously, because I had wanted to make one. I don’t really have a plan for the future. I just read what’s out there, and then decide what’s best, and with these people involved, I knew it was going to be something different. David Slade I think is an incredibly talented director. Sam Raimi’s obviously proven in this field, and we got some amazing actors in addition.” But Hartnett says there’s more to this film than just vampires. “If there was nothing for me to play in the movie, I wouldn’t have done it, no matter what. I had to find a character that was interesting to play, and I think that the movie shows that, I’m really psyched about it, actually.”
Hartnett says that these days, he is at his most creative as long “as I don’t tap myself out or get too tired. Then I’ll be hopefully making more interesting choices as it goes on. I’m finding more and more confidence as I get older, and learning new techniques.”