Josh Hartnett Takes the Wheel with "Slevin," "Dahlia"

by | April 7, 2006 | Comments

Josh Hartnett is still in his twenties, but he’s already taken a sabbatical from the Hollywood rat race; now he’s come back refocused, with the neo-noir comedy "Lucky Number Slevin," and a batch of promising projects on his slate. RT’s Jen Yamato speaks with Hartnett about "Slevin," "The Black Dahlia," his career, and more.

"Lucky Number Slevin," which opens today, reunites Josh Hartnett with his "Wicker Park" director Paul McGuigan. While that movie suffered at the hands of critics, Hartnett’s second collaboration with McGuigan on "Slevin" gave the pair another chance to better fulfill their artistic visions.

"Paul’s a really great director," begins Hartnett. "It was fun to work with him the first time, but we felt there were things that we wanted to do with "Wicker Park" that we weren’t allowed to do because there were a lot of people involved, so we decided to try it again on something we could really control. We got the most amazing group of actors to be in the film, and made it the way we thought it should be made."

That "amazing" group includes veteran actors Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley, who between them share eight Oscar nominations and two wins. The effect of uniting these powerhouse actors was not lost on "Slevin"’s star.

Hartnett shares the screen with Morgan Freeman in "Slevin"

"My favorite scene to be a part of was the scene with Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman together, just because I got to work with two legends," Hartnett said. "Once you work with people like [Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley], and they come back and want to work with you again, then you know that you’re not terrible."

"People tear you apart every day and you need people to pat you on the back occasionally," he continued. "Those guys were amazing to work with — you just grow when you work with great people."

Growing is something that the 27-year-old actor is intent on. Hartnett took a few years off following "Wicker Park" to regroup a career he feared would be pigeon-holed into the same type of bland, pretty boy roles he was being offered.

"I get really annoyed with the ‘system’ in Hollywood, because it’s so based on hype — and I guess I was lucky enough to be at the center of that hype, but I felt like people were trying to push me into a box that I didn’t think I belonged in," he explained.

Hartnett in "Slevin"

Hartnett spent his two year break back home in Minnesota, sifting through scripts, looking for characters that could hold his interest. His turn in "Slevin" resulted when old friend Paul McGuigin took the helm.

"I read the script six or seven years ago, so I knew [screenwriter Jason Smilovic] from then," Hartnett shared. "When he first started to get the movie going, with a different director, I wasn’t that interested. But when Paul called and said he really wanted to make it his next movie, I said ‘Sign me up.’"

The next role Hartnett chose to take on was one in Brian de Palma‘s upcoming noir-thriller, "The Black Dahlia." Set in 1940s Los Angeles, "Dahlia" is based on real events and follows two officers investigating the murder of an actress, from a novel by crime novelist James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential").

"I’m definitely drawn to film noir, in that the characters are compromised — they’re complicated characters, not your average hero role," said Hartnett. "I believe everybody’s more complicated than they let on, and when you tell surface stories it’s kind of a disservice."

Hartnett said he believes "Dahlia" director De Palma is well suited to the project.

"De Palma’s great, he’s a very smart guy, and we get along; we’re kind of kindred spirits," he said. "He’s done so many really interesting films in the past, and this is right up his alley — this time period is perfect for him."

Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson in "The Black Dahlia"

Another well-known filmmaking figure that Hartnett has chosen to work with is Rod Lurie, who will direct him in the upcoming drama, "Resurrecting the Champ." In this adaptation of a series of articles by L.A. Times writer J.R. Moehringer, Hartnett will star as a sportswriter who believes he’s re-discovered a forgotten boxing champ, to be played by Samuel L. Jackson.

"["Resurrecting the Champ"] has a mysterious quality to it because it’s a true story, but this guy, this boxer, is kind of an unknown; he’s living on the streets of L.A. This all happened in 1991, and it’s a really interesting story," he promised.

His role in "Champ" is not only a marker of Hartnett’s more interesting career choices; it’s also another venture for the actor into the world of producing. As with "Lucky Number Slevin," Hartnett will act as executive producer on "Champ," giving him more artistic control over his performance. He also plans to produce an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson‘s "The Rum Diaries," a project that’s been rumored to star Hartnett and fellow Thompson pals Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, which he said might happen in the next few years.

"About six years ago I met Hunter [Thompson] and he liked me," said Hartnett, "and I’ve always thought he was an amazing writer."

"He allowed us to take the rights to make The Rum Diaries. We hung out over the course of a few years until he died last year, and kind of developed an idea of what it was going to be. It’s still being written, and we’ll make it sometime in the near future."

Until that project moves forward, Hartnett is keeping busy with even more starring roles: "The Prince of Cool," a biopic of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, and the already in-the-can indie autism romance "Mozart and the Whale" (which was recut against the wishes of many people involved, including Hartnett). Hartnett’s also considering returning to his theater roots, after a long absence.

Hartnett in Peter Naess‘ "Mozart and the Whale"

"I almost did [return] last fall. There were a couple of plays I was looking at, both in London, but I decided to take some time to hang out in New York and get ready for the next movie," he shared.

"I want to go back to theater. Actually, I’m a little afraid of going back on stage; I haven’t done theater in years. But I think that’s what will make me want to go do it soon. I’m a big fan of facing your fears, because even if you fall flat you still had the courage to do it."