Josh Hartnett for “Wicker Park”

There was a time when Josh Hartnett was on the road to superstardom thanks to Pearl Harbor, but these days, this most reluctant of Hollywood stars prefers to take on films that are small but interesting, from Wicker Park, which opens Friday, to the upcoming Mozart and the Whale, about which he is passionate, as he told Paul Fischer.

Question: Are you happy with the title Wicker Park?

Answer: Very happy.

Question: Was it a battle?

Answer: I don’t know how much of a fight it was. We just said, “Are you kidding?” And they said no. and we said, “Well, you should be.” And they said okay.

Question: Why were you so passionate about this project?

Answer: I really wanted to work with Paul McGuigan and I liked the original movie. I was passionate about it because the movie was all about passion. I don’t know, I just felt like I could understand. I thought it was a cool, different kind of movie that hadn’t been made like this in a long time. I just thought it was cool.

Question: How different was your interpretation of the character from the original?

Answer: Well, there’s not a lot of interpretation involved in the character because he’s mostly a reactive character. So, you just kind of go in there emotionally and just let yourself loose.

Question: How challenging is it to play a reactive character?

Answer: It is challenging. It’s challenging to stay on point all the time and try and make sure that you’re in the right place all the time, especially on any given day. In a certain location, we’d have all the big scenes to do in one location, different times in his life. Yeah, it was a challenge in that way. Time constraints were a challenge. But it wasn’t like- – I just finished this movie called Mozart and the Whale and it wasn’t like playing an autistic man. That was a huge challenge in a different rite.

Question: The guy is antisocial though. How did you find something sympathetic about this character?

Answer: I found him sympathetic in my reading of it so I just played him the way that I heard it, or read it.

Question: How many times have you been asked about obsessive love today?

Answer: Hmm, 7,542 in the last two days. But it’s good.

Question: And have you experienced obsessive love?

Answer: Yeah, I have. But never to this extent. I think what the movie is about is this fine line between love and obsession. I think that love, true love or whatever they call it, is just requited obsession. If you look at what you do when you’re first in love with someone then it’s always pretty ridiculous and it is a little bit obsessive. I think everybody experiences some of that in their life, but not to the extent of the Alex character.

Question: What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done to get somebody’s attention?

Answer: I haven’t done that much that’s too embarrassing while I’ve been sober. Come on, you do more embarrassing things when you’re drunk and let’s face it, when you’re meeting people a lot of the time, you end up meeting people in situations where everybody is well lubricated. You know what I mean. Don’t take that the wrong way. I don’t know, nothing in particular.

Question: Are you a bad drunk?

Answer: No, I have fun. I think I’m too good a drunk to tell you the truth. People like me better when I’m drunk. That’s not good.

Question: This guy needs to learn to take risks. Is that any parallel to you?

Answer: I’ll take risks, but I’ve never stalked anyone. I believe in- – the thing about this movie is in a way, he 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, didn’t want to spend any more time with you. So he’d wasted everything in his life just to hear that. But I don’t know if I would drop my pride enough to do that.

Question: But you take risks in your career?

Answer: Absolutely.

Question: Do you see a balance in your career?

Answer: I just want to do things my way really, which is really hard to do when you’re doing the common fare in the big studio movies. It’s like you’re kind of a spoke in the wheel at that point. It just didn’t mesh with my style of doing things so I just took a step back and decided to not do those type of movies anymore, turned a few down and just let people know that I was looking for other types of things, like Mozart.

Question: Talk about Mozart?

Answer: Playing a man with autism is a difficult challenge, but playing anybody who is going to represent in a way the average person’s idea of what people with this specific disorder or whatever might have is a hue challenge because you don’t want to- – it has to be right on. You can’t be over the top. I just always ask this woman psychologist who we had with us every day, was just “Am I diagnoseable? Am I in the right spot?” And aside from that, just trying to create the character in the midst of this love story. This is a true story about him meeting his wife. It’s a big responsibility.

Question: Was that more of a draining role?

Answer: It gave so much back, I don’t know how to explain it. when you’re feeling challenged, I don’t know if you guys ever had a deadline or something you had to meet on a story that you really were involved in, you really didn’t want to let it end, and you were working 20 hours a day just to finish it in time, yeah, it’s draining but at the same time, it’s so rewarding that you don’t feel like you missed that time when it’s over.

Question: Did it change your perception of things in general?

Answer: I think every movie I do gives me a new perspective on different things.

Question: What do you play in Sin City?

Answer: I play a kind of unnamed character. I’m only in it for two- – the reason I got into it is because Robert Rodriguez needed to get the rights from Frank Miller. Frank had felt like he had been duped before. He didn’t want to give the rights away to his baby, Sin City. I had worked with Robert before and I told him at the time, anytime he ever wanted me to do anything, I’d be up for it and I was about to go shoot Mozart. He was like, “Well, just come down here for a couple days, we’ll shot a scene and show Frank that we’re going to do this right.” So I went down there and then Frank gave him the rights after that and then Robert called me back after I got done with Mozart and said, “Can you come down and just do one more scene for the end of the movie.” So I’m just in the beginning and the end.

Question: Is it a scene from the comics?

Answer: Mm-hmm. He’s a much bigger character not in this story. They call him any number of things, from The Ladykiller to. in the script, we call him The Man. So it’s kind of like take what you will from that.

Question: Working with Robert again?

Answer: I’ve worked with him twice now.

Question: Now it’s technology?

Answer: Yeah, but he’s still doing the same- – he’s still working with the same crew, he’s still working in Austin, he’s still doing it exactly the way he wants to do it all the time.

Question: Like you?

Answer: I guess, but I don’t have a studio where I live and I don’t have a whole bundle of people working for me at all times. He’s doing it his way and I appreciate that. I like him for it.

Question: Have you been approached for Superman again?

Answer: I was approached a couple of times for it. I’m not going to do it.

Question: They tried again?

Answer: They tried to get me a couple of times and it just wasn’t for me.

Question: That hold no interest to you, a big franchise?

Answer: Depending on what it was. If it was a franchise that I thought- – if the character was up my alley, I’d do it, but there aren’t that many characters the big studios have been making that have been intriguing to me.

Question: Are you surprised to be a mainstream star?

Answer: I don’t know. I guess I try not to look at it as am I a movie star or anything. It’s such a quick cycle that has a half life of about 10 minutes. And I’m not beholden to it. Just as long as I can keep making movies that I want to make, I’ll be happy.

Question: Any books you would like to buy and star in?

Answer: Unfortunately, there are people that snap up books before they’re even printed and every book that I’ve gone, “My God, somebody should make this into a movie,” somebody already is. Unfortunately, sometimes it’ll sit in development for years and years and years.

Question: Any specific ones?

Answer: I love that book Perfume. Ever read that?

Question: Tom Twyker is doing that?

Answer: Well, it was going to be Julian Schnabel for a while directing it and I went up to his studio and tried to coerce him into casting me. It’s definitely not a role that- – [UNINTELLIGIBLE] is not a role that people would really consider me for usually, so I just wanted to see if I could get my foot in the door. That was a couple years ago. And then the movie went to this guy who did Run Lola Run. Who knows where it’s going to go from here, but I’ve got other things that I gotta do. We’re doing Rum Diaries which is a Hunter Thompson book. That’s one that I really wanted to do and luckily got involved with it at the right time. And Black Dahlia, same thing, another book I really wanted to be a part of. And we’re doing that too. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

Question: Do you want to direct?

Answer: Yeah, I think I would like to be able to control a movie at some point and make it the exact way that I see it. But I don’t know if I have the technical understanding yet to. I think I’d have to take a little bit of time and get to know the film cameras and lighting and things like that, so it’s not just this actor wearing a director’s hat but really a director.

Question: Has commercial success been an obstacle?

Answer: It was never the commercial success, because unfortunately that is what you’re judged by in this business and in all walks. Like even independent films, they need to get their financing from somewhere. But for other reasons such as people didn’t know that I could play different types of role because for whatever reason, nobody saw Virgin Suicides or O or anything like that. So people just assumed that I was just kind of Danny from Pearl Harbor, a good guy who was always trying to do the right thing. People had a lot of assumptions. I don’t know, it’s a challenge. Everybody has their challenges to get over. Actors like- – 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. Unfortunately, your physical self is the thing that is projected on screen, 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.

Question: What is life like at home in Minnesota?

Answer: It’s good. I live in Minnesota and New York so I’m always traveling. I’m always on the move at this point in my life. I figure later on I’ll be settling down. For a while, when I took a year off- – when I took nine months off to get Mozart and the Whale together, it was kind of stressful because I was worried that nobody would put the money up for it for Mozart and I kind of put all my eggs in that basket. And if it didn’t work out, it would be a lot of wasted time, but that’s the kind of risk that I guess I like to take. Actors have this all the time where they’re worried about whether they’ll ever work again. Fortunately for me, I have a whole lot of stuff in my life that I like to do and I guess I just don’t think about it as much. But when there is something I really want to do and I’m really passionate about, it’s nerve wracking waiting for it to happen.

Question: Does living outside LA give you a different perspective on it?

Answer: Sure, I think so. I mean, I’m not so caught up in the daily process of self congratulations that we have out here. I don’t read Daily Variety. I’m not up on who’s making how much money on what project. You can get caught in that trap of- – I think you do get– almost everybody who has spent enough time out here gets caught up in that trap of I want to be the biggest, I want to be making the most, I want to be the most respected. And by respect I mean that it’s the same sort of game that sports players play with each other. It’s like I’m number one right now. Like Alex Rodriguez makes the most and I don’t even know if he does anymore but it’s like they’re always trying to one up each other. You think that if you are the best actor, you deserve the most or if you are the biggest star, you deserve the most. That race just isn’t important to me. I just want to make good films on my own wherever I can. Yeah, it’s been the healthiest thing for me to get away from all this.

Question: Do you need that balance of city and small town life?

Answer: Small town meaning two and a half million people. It’s not that small. Minneapolis and the Twin Cities are like a smaller metropolitan area compared to New York and LA but it’s not that small. It’s a very culturally attuned place. I like that. It’s got a lot of arts and a lot of music and a lot of theater. It’s a cool little artistic place.

Question: How does Wicker Park differentiate itself from the French version?

Answer: I don’t know. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to- – after I saw it and I knew I liked the French version, I didn’t watch it again so I tried not to pay any attention to what the similarities would be because I wanted this one to stand on its own. I don’t know, I haven’t seen it since. I know that there are certain things like the visuals, and the characters, I think we act quite a bit differently, the ending is different. I don’t know, but you don’t want to give too much away.

Question: What’s next?

Answer: Lucky Slevin, that’s what it’s called. We can’t talk about who’s in it yet, can we? Because they haven’t officially signed on yet, but it’s a pretty amazing cast and great script.

Question: When do you start Black Dahlia and Rum Diaries?

Answer: Probably next year. Black Dahlia’s going to come first, right after Lucky Slevin, and then Rum Diaries is going to come after that, shooting in San Juan.