Smarting over a string of box-office flops including Hollywood Homicide and Wicker Park and tired of being chased around L.A. by paparazzi, Josh Hartnett recently put his career on hold and retreated to his hometown of Minneapolis, MN.
Now, two years later, the Pearl Harbor actor has re-emerged with a handful of projects in various stages of production. First up is Lucky Number Slevin, a crime thriller about a man who finds himself inexplicably targeted by a handful of thugs (Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis).
Later this year, the 27-year-old Hartnett will appear in Brian DePalma's Black Dahlia opposite girlfriend Scarlett Johansson. He's also set to star in Resurrecting The Champ, a boxing flick with Samuel L. Jackson, and The Prince Of Cool, a biopic about jazz singer Chet Baker.
Over breakfast in New York, Hartnett talks about his unusual Slevin wardrobe, working with Oscar winners and learning to swat away those nosy shutterbugs.
Q: It's been two years since you've starred in a film. What have you been doing with yourself in Minnesota?
A: For a lot of the time, I didn't really want to leave my house. Anyone who's been in the business for awhile knows the feeling. You have to navigate a lot of things. I wouldn't say that sitting at home and just throwing away my entire public life was the best way of dealing with it but I was young.
Q: So, all of the attention got to you?
A: Yes. It's a horrible thing to be stalked all day by a guy with a camera who is taking literally every moment of your life and putting it into a magazine. Finally, I just sort of had to stand up for myself. Now, when people are around and really bothering me, I tell them, `I'm trying to live my life and if you're going to be in my face for the entire day there's going to be a problem.'
Q: Are you back in Hollywood for good now?
A: Well, I live in New York. But, yeah, I'm going to stick with [acting] and not quit it. Absolutely.
Q: You spend the first third of Lucky Number Slevin running around in a towel. What was the toughest part of that scenario?
A: The challenge was not to get freaked out and go start working out and trying to get all buff. I did The Black Dahlia afterwards and I did go to the gym for four or five hours a day for that movie. But when I did Slevin, I made a really conscious choice not to be ripped because I thought that it would be distracting. I wanted my character to be kind of schlubby.
Q: Why was that?
A: I wanted him to be soft and unobtrusive. We made a real effort to make me seem like he was absolutely no threat to anyone.
Q: Were you worried about people seeing the movie and thinking that you'd let yourself go?
A: Nah, because they'll see me in Black Dahlia in five or six months.
Q: Did you think of doing all your Slevin interviews in a towel?
A: Good one. You're the first person to ask me that today.
Q: How intimidating was it to co-star in a film with Oscar winners like Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman?
A: I was definitely intimidated, but I wasn't worried. I just didn't want to become the black hole at the center of the film. I wanted to be able to hold up my end. Morgan and Sir Ben were the easiest people to work with. They don't have anything to prove to you or to anyone else on the set. So it just makes for a lot less drama.
Q: You've held a gun in a lot of your movies. Are you comfortable playing a tough guy?
A: There is something powerful about holding a gun, but I don't like it. I was actually in a situation recently where I was sort of afraid for myself because this guy was kind of losing his mind a little bit and he had his hand in his pocket and I just thought for a second, "What if he had a gun?" He was like 10 feet away from me and he was kind of yelling at me. It's too easy to kill someone with a gun.
Q: You're a vegetarian. Are you opposed to people using guns to hunt?
A: Hunting for sport is a sad thing. I wish that there were no guns around. Look at the murder rates in Japan or England where guns aren't readily available. It makes you realize that [criminal activity] really does have a lot to do with whether guns are just sitting around.
Q: The dialogue in Slevin is rat-a-tat fast. How did you get your mouth around all of those crazy lines?
A: I watched His Gal Friday. That's a great movie, by the way. I actually liked the nature of the dialogue in Slevin. A lot of acting these days is so much about subtext. As a young actor who wasn't trained all that much, I spend a lot of time trying to understand the whole Lee Strasberg/Stella Adler school of acting where everything has to be from the inside out. But this was easier. I was more focused on what I was saying instead of what I was feeling.
Q: So, you forgot that you were acting?
A: Exactly. As Sir Ben says, "If you're an emotional, empathetic human being, which is what an actor should be, then all of the right emotions will run through you no matter what you're doing."
Q: There's a lot of Internet rumors about you and Scarlett possibly breaking up. Care to comment?
A: Really? Well, there are new rumors everyday. I don't talk about my private life for this exact reason because there is always a new rumor and most of the time they're false. I read things about myself all the time that aren't true.
Q: Do you ever have to call up your folks and set the rumors straight?
A: No. They're fine. They don't even read that stuff. Actually, my mom probably collects it. But she doesn't tell me if she does.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun