Josh Hartnett: Working Man

Josh Hartnett has three films hitting the big screen almost all at once-- O, The Virgin Suicides and Here on Earth. Obviously it isn't just teen girls who love him.


If you're over 18, you could have easily missed the Josh Hartnett bullet train up until now. It was certainly easy to miss him in the short-lived TV series "Cracker," If you saw him in the inexplicably successful Halloween H20:20 Years Later, you were probably only mildly impressed. You might have noticed his cool-dope-geek intelligence amid the teenage wasteland The Faculty, but then again, considering the overall scattershot style of the film, you might not have. In short, with a dead TV show and a few post- Scream genre flicks to judge from, you can he excused for thinking Hartnett was unlikely to distinguish himself from a couple dozen other actors to whom teens pay inordinate amounts of attention for reasons all their own.

But for two full years now, while you over-18 types have been paying no attention, Hartnett has been vaulting from one high-profile project to another like an Olympic gymnast. Sofia Coppola spotted him in "Cracker" and somehow determined he was right for her adaptation of the odd seriocomic novel The Virgin Suicides. Talented indie director Tim Blake Nelson saw through the Kevin Williamson tarnish and cast him as the lago character in O, a modernized Othello. And Warren Beatty, a wiz at casting, obviously saw something in Hartnett he didn't see in the dozens of other, better known actors he'd considered for the role of his son in the much-delayed Town & Country. To Hollywood, if not to us, Hartnett's origins in sarcastic horror are now well beside the point. A serious love story, Here on Earth, starring Leelee Sobieski, is the fourth film he'll be starring in within the space of a year.

All this and the six-foot-three, strapping Minnesota guy has female fans who don't like so much as worship him. Having now started in about as many movies as Warren Beatty's made since he was born, Hartnett is this year's golden boy with fans of alt ages. Where did the fever start? "I have no idea," says the 21-year-old actor, whose official mode of discourse is self-stylishly cryptic. "It's a mystery to me. I don't ask, I'd rather not know."

Well, no matter. With teen movies no longer his mainstay (and lucky that is for him, considering his approach to life on the set; "I get pretty bored pretty quickly"), he's on a roll. And the way he tells it, the whole thing has been a steeplechase. On a break from shooting The Faculty in Austin, he got The Virgin Suicides, and he flew straight to Toronto for it within a week of finishing in Austin. "When I was done with The Virgin Suicides, my car was still down in Austin, so I had to go get it right away. Three days later, I'm driving up north to Minnesota and I call home and my mom tells me I got a call from my agent saying Warren Beatty wants to meet me. I broke the sound barrier-- no speeding tickets, thank God, I'm at the end of my rope when it conies to them--and I immediately got on a plane and met Warren. He asked if I could start in three days." After five months on the famously quarrelsome shoot for Town & Country ("That movie took forever," he growls), he got a short break and then dove right into O. "Then I went straight to Here on Earth, which was great, because it was in Minnesota, so I got to be home for the summer."

Already shooting Blow Dry with Rachael Leigh Cook, Hartnett claims to be at a loss as to why all this is going down. The word in Hollywood though is that he's "good in the room"--i.e. terrific at auditions. What about his way with casting directors? "I always thought I was crap at auditioning," he replies. "Casting directors love me? Really? Thank God somebody does!"

Having done a high-speed survey of Hollywood filmmaking talent, Hartnett has kind words for some of his directors. Of first-time, second-generation helmer Sofia Coppola, he says, for example, "She's very young, but she's got a handle on it all. And not just because she grew up on sets. She's a photographer and she also has her own clothing line, so when she came on the set, she wasn't daunted by it--she's been running her own companies for years now. She's got her father's film savvy, and she's sweet, too, which makes it all a lot easier." And his director on The Faculty, idiosyncratic filmhead Robert Rodriguez, seems to have particularly interested him: "It was great being around him because he's kind of created his own genre of living almost. He built himself a castle in Austin and he lives a really interesting, eccentric lifestyle. It was great being around somebody who went for what he wanted because he wanted it, not because of blind ambition or whatever. Made me want to pursue other things..."

Like directing? "Maybe," Whether Hartnett sticks with just acting or adds in directing, it all makes for a continuation of the high-velocity nomadic existence he seems well on his way to mastering: "I haven't lived at home since I was 17, and I haven't had the lime to settle anywhere else. I haven't really bought anything. It's not about buying things for me, not yet, I did get a car, an Audi--I was under pressure from my parents to get a new car. I had an old piece-of-crap Jeep that would break down every 10 minutes, and they asked me, Please, could I save their hearts a little trouble and get something that would work? Its a good car. Haven't seen it in months."


Michael Atkinson interviewed Emmanuelle Seigner for the Dec./Jan. issue of Movieline.