Josh Hartnett: Independent Heartthrob
If you don't see that many paparazzi pics of hot number Josh Hartnett it's because he avoids the Hollywood scene and hangs out in his native Minnesota between movies. Not that fond of the tinseltown game, the cute young actor is soft-spoken and shyly friendly during interviews and, when we sat down with him in Beverly Hills' 4 Seasons hotel this week, he was willing to talk about his decision to make some important indie films rather than hop on the big budget popcorn movie merry-go-round after Pearl Harbor and his cop comedy Hollywood Homicide.
Now starring as the romantic lead in the romance drama Wicker Park, Josh spilled plenty to us about his costars, who later went on to co-star in Troy, Diane Kruger (she's the one whose "face launched a thousand ships") and Rose Byrne (the temple priestess who gets it on with Brad Pitt). Josh was forthcoming with his opinions about love, obsession and relationships, how he doesn't play the Hollywood game, his new projects, watching actresses go nutz over Coldplay and, listen up girls... what he wants in a woman.
Picture weekend scruffy; gray cap with ratty brim, gray tee, gray jeans, a new growth of facial hair, little goatee, his glasses dangling from the neck of his t-shirt. Josh does have that unibrow look which he refuses to have plucked after a painful earlier experience. Pull up a chair...
TeenHollywood: Why did you decide to do such a highly emotional story?
Josh: I thought it would be fun. This is more where I was at. The comedy thing was a huge challenge for me. I'm not a comedic kind of guy so this is going back to what I went to school for, which is the emotional side of acting and digging from within. I was sick of all the big budget kind of crap that was coming out. I wanted to do something a bit different and something that I felt for personally. I'm moving in that direction. I'm not doing anything big budget for a while. I'm doing 4 independent films back to back right now.
TeenHollywood: Did you see the French movie this is based on (L'Appartement)?
Josh: Absolutely. That was a lot of the reason I wanted to do this. I liked that movie a lot. It's a good film. It has a cool energy. It's a different type of film. I haven't seen a movie like that made in the U.S. for a long time. I wanted, hopefully, to bring a new flavor back into the movie theaters.
TeenHollywood: Wicker Park is about obsessive love. What is the craziest thing you've done for love? Have you been obsessed like your character?
Josh: I've done a lot of crazy things for love. If you ever look back at letters you've written or videotapes you've made for someone you were in love with it's repulsive! You think what an idiot I was. That's the great thing about it. That's the fun of it. Love is ever changing. I admire Matt (his character) because giving up everything for love takes a lot of guts. It's the most important thing because relationships change constantly. When you've seen enough movies or done enough traveling they lose their luster, but relationships never get old. I think that's what life is all about. I think love and obsession are walking pretty much the same line. If love is what we call true love, it's just when obsession is requited. So, yeah. I think I've been there.
TeenHollywood: Have you ever walked away from a relationship and realized it was a mistake?
Josh: I try to be very careful about walking away. If we are really keeping each other from leading a good life, then yes, but otherwise I don't think there is a good reason to walk away. I've been in situations where I'm with someone who is a terrific human being, but they are unable to show it because they are so jealous of the women I am working with. It can ruin a relationship to be long distance to begin with, then seeing their significant other in the arms of someone like Diane Kruger or Rose Byrne, it's difficult to set that aside and say it's just work. You are off on location with this person for many months and you think what might happen and it destroys you. I don't want to that happen to anybody I really love.
TeenHollywood: What qualities does a woman need to have to date or be with you?
Josh: If I'm lucky enough that they like me, I like a woman who is true to herself, is what she is with no qualms. A person who is strong enough to be who they are. That's the most important thing to me. You meet a lot of actresses in life. Like I don't think Diane and Rose are actresses in life, I think they are just good actresses on screen. They get all that out on the screen. They seem to be really normal. They have real personalities of their own and they stick to them. They like who they are. That confidence is incredibly attractive to me.
TeenHollywood: Do you find it hard to find people like that in Hollywood?
Josh: I don't live here and I don't spend much time here. I've taken multiple big steps back away from the business in the last few years. After I finished Blackhawk Down I took 13 months off and didn't do anything. I got my life back together. I got my head back on my shoulders. I think that's very important.
TeenHollywood: So what do you do all isolated in Minnesota?
Josh: I pay attention to my art. I like to paint, and make music and act. I also like movies, good movies, but they are few and far between. It's difficult to get a good one together. I work on what I'm working on. I don't pay attention to what else is going on in Hollywood.
TeenHollywood: Do you get recognized less in Minnesota?
Josh: No, but people give me a break because they know I am from there and I live there. They try to make it comfortable for me. I know a lot of people there and it's home.
TeenHollywood: You mentioned music who are some of your favorites?
Josh: I listen to a lot of Jazz and I went to the Newport Jazz festival with my two brothers who play jazz and my father. We got to see Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade play in a band together. I listen to a lot of Coltrane and Mingus. Mingus is my favorite right now, and obviously Miles Davis because he was a genius. I listen to a lot of punk, The Ramones, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, and Modest Mouse. I listen to rap too, like Mos Def and The Roots. I like good music. I listen to Beethoven's 9th all the time.
TeenHollywood: Do you play an instrument?
Josh: I try, but I'm terrible. I play a bit of guitar and my little brother is teaching me piano right now. He is a musical genius. My father, who played music all his life, says he is the best natural musician he has ever worked with. My father played with Al Green. Joe (Josh's brother) is a monster. He taught himself 8 different interests in 2 years. He got himself accepted to Berkeley School of music based on a tape when he was 14, but they realized he was 4 years too young. He's a genius.
TeenHollywood: How did you prepare for the Wicker Park role?
Josh: I didn't have a lot of time. I was shooting Hollywood Homicide at the time so they rushed to get that one out and this one took a little bit longer. I had about three days to really work on the character which really didn't, which really pisses me off because I like to have a lot of time. Now, I'm about to start another one and I'm going to take a lot of time getting into him next.
TeenHollywood: Is the facial hair for the movie?
Josh: We'll see. I'm just testing it out.
TeenHollywood: Any funny stories from the set of "Wicker"?
Josh: You know Coldplay is in the movie and we went to one of their concerts. I went with Diane (Kruger) and Rose (Byrne) and a couple of the people on the set and I've never seen two beautiful girls fall all over themselves as much. They had to lift their jaws up off the floor and put their tongues back in their mouths. When he (Chris Martin) came out on the stage – actually Kirsten Dunst was there too. They went nuts.
TeenHollywood: Don't girls do that around you?
Josh: Not these two (Diane and Rose). They didn't seem nervous at all. The thing that was cool about working with Diane was we had some immediate chemistry and we didn't really meet each other until right before we started filming. She auditioned on a tape and I didn't get a chance to really meet her in person but I'd met Rose because she came in and auditioned in L.A. Rose and I got along swimmingly from the beginning too. Just good, solid friendships were formed on that cast.
TeenHollywood: In real life you are the object of obsession. How do you handle that?
Josh: I don't know. I try not to think of it as any obsession over me. It's obsession over the place that I hold right now and the celebrity obsession that a lot of people seem to have. For me, I don't really take it that personally I guess.
TeenHollywood: Why do people put celebrities on a pedestal?
Josh: I think it's because you get to know them a little bit in their work and they're involved in romantic or exciting or historical events. They seem to be living fabulous lives and you seem to get a piece of them when you watch one of their movies and it's just a proximity without really getting a piece of them. We just have a celebrity-obsessed culture. We used to idolize our royalty or politicians, people still do but it's a common factor I guess. Everybody knows the same person.
TeenHollywood: Diane and Rose ended up on Troy together...weird.
Josh: Yeah. They are so different, but they play so well off each other. They've done two movies together now, but we cast them first. They did this movie then went right into Troy after that. They both auditioned for Troy while they were making this movie and they both got it. That's great for their careers. We were going to release this movie last winter, but the music wasn't finished yet and it's not really a summer film so we had to wait for the fall.
TeenHollywood: We know you and Diane hit it off. How about Rose?
Josh: She's awesome. She was the first person cast after me. She's an incredible actress. The only way I knew she was Australian was through her Bio. She came in with an American accent and held it through the last day of shooting. On the last day, she let it go and everyone who didn't know she was Australian on the crew just flipped out!
TeenHollywood: Some of this was shot in Chicago (where Wicker Park really is). Do you have any Chicago memories?
Josh: Yeah. My buddies and I used to go down and watch baseball games down there every once in a while, go to Wrigley Field to watch the Twins beat up on the White Sox. I've been there quite a few times. I went down there (from Minnesota) when I auditioned for the school that I went to. I was barely 17 years old. It was one of the first times that I got to travel on my own. That was a blast. The Wicker Park area is this unchanging village-esque area. I like it a lot. It's different in that a lot of this was shot in Montreal but it's got a very cool vibe. But this movie isn't really about the area. It's about four people.
TeenHollywood: What does this movie say about love?
Josh: Love and obsession are really closely linked.
TeenHollywood: How do you define the difference?
Josh: (grins) Well, if somebody is loving you back, that's love and if I'm obsessing over somebody, that's obsession.
TeenHollywood. Some internet story said you saved some girl in Malibu. True?
Josh: I do spend a little time out there. I've gone hiking out there but I've never rescued anybody. I almost needed rescuing. I almost got bit by a little pygmy rattlesnake.
TeenHollywood: Did you go into this career knowing you would be such an object of fan madness?
Josh: It's just part of the job. If I resented it, I would be stupid. I think, at first it was kind of frightening but I had to find a way to deal with it, to come to terms with reality. It's a part of our business.
TeenHollywood: Have you had a strange fan encounter?
Josh: I have had some strange encounters. I find the adoration or anger that's pushed in my direction a little odd because it doesn't have anything to do with my personal life. You find that people have a very strong reaction to what you do on screen and sometimes can't differentiate between your screen persona and who you are in real life. I find that a little bit frightening.
TeenHollywood: Who do you really look up to?
Josh: My dad gives me some of the best advice. I have some very intelligent friends and we give each other great advice. There are a lot of people I admire. I read a lot of scripts, which actually broaden my world.
TeenHollywood: You look pretty buff. Where do sports fit into your life?
Josh: I'm boxing now for this movie called Black Dalia. I was boxing every day for about five months and then the movie got pushed back so I decided to go drink and eat a lot and get over it for a second. I'm doing this movie called Lucky Slevin in between. It's about these two New York gangs who live across from each other. They used to be partners, but now they are enemies and no one has left after 20 years. This young guy gets involved in it they think he owes them each money, but it's a case of mistaken identity. I was supposed to shoot Black Dalia this summer. I played hockey for a couple of months once and it didn't quite take. I played basketball and, when I got a little bit older, I swam.
TeenHollywood: Are you a boxing fan?
Josh: I am now. I really didn't understand what the allure was before. I thought it was kind of cool to see someone who could box but I never really got into it and then, when I started to get in the ring and realize was a chess match it is, it's amazing to watch now. I really like Bernard Hopkins. I think he's the best boxer going now.
TeenHollywood: What teams do you follow? Still your home Minnesota teams?
Josh: Yeah. I'm excited about the Lakers falling apart. It's gonna be great. T-wolves could be really good this year. I heard some grumblings about a big trade coming up.
TeenHollywood: Do you have your own obsessions in life?
Josh: Yeah. Food and sleep. I'm kidding. Well, food, yeah, actually. Food is quite an obsession. But, at a certain point love is the biggest thing. Your relationships are ever changing and they're always interesting. They always keep you entertained and keep you thinking. Food, once you've had enough good meals, it just becomes food but it's still tasty and scrumptious.
TeenHollywood: Talk about your upcoming projects. What is Mozart and the Whale?
Josh: It's a movie about an autistic man and it's a true story about him finding his wife. He was a very famous autistic. He has Asperger's (syndrome) and he speaks around the country and has helped organize a lot of groups because people with Asperger's and autism always feel like outsiders so for them to have all these friends that they meet with is a good deal. It was a script that, when I read it I thought maybe I had Asperger's because I felt such a relationship to the character's plights. It's just a genuinely beautiful film. This guy is so incredible. He's one of the funniest, smartest guys I know. They say Einstein had Aspergers. They say Mozart has Aspergers. All these true geniuses in our lives and history have had this disorder and, unfortunately, there haven't been movies from this perspective. The only one was Rainman in English and there were a couple of French movies like Betty Blue but this is the first one from the perspective of an autistic person in English.
TeenHollywood: What else are you doing?
Josh: I'm doing something based on a Hunter Thompson book called "The Rum Diary". I'm getting to work with Sam Jackson and Benicio Del Toro and Nick Nolte, Johnny Depp, Ben Kingsley. I couldn't ask for a better position to be in. I'm being paid for doing things I love. I'm not doing huge movies, but that was never my intention in the first place and I finally realized that.
TeenHollywood: When you were doing things like Pearl Harbor did you feel like your career was spinning out of control?
Josh: I didn't realize it would be such a monster. When you start to be seen as a commodity then the pressure to keep that up is just insane. I don't blame any of these young actors who go along and play these heartthrob roles all the time. I know many of them and they are good people. It's hard to convince the people around you that you don't want to do that anymore. They all thought it was going to put their kids through college.
TeenHollywood: Can you talk about your proudest moment as an actor and an athlete?
Josh: I know I'm continuing to grow and, as time goes on, I think I'm only going to get better. I'm just finding myself as a actor now and I think that "Mozart" was my best. Hopefully "Slevin" will be better and hopefully Black Dalia will be better than that and I'll just keep going. As an athlete, any time I can beat anybody in a one-on-one basketball game, I feel like I just conquered the world.
TeenHollywood: Who was the last person you beat?
Josh: Nobody famous. I like to beat up on my friends. I got to go to a basketball training camp when I was getting ready for "O" so I got pretty good working with trainers and came back and surprised my friends but now I'm boxing so much that I can't shoot anymore because muscles change and different things become easier and a lot of things become harder. Your timing is thrown off for basketball. I was trying to play tennis. I'd never played before and it was so awkward.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.