Josh Hartnett shot to fame in 2001 with the much-hyped and roundly panned epic Pearl Harbor, and you get the sense he’s been trying to make up for it ever since, shying away from big-budget blockbusters (he turned down the role of Superman) and opting for edgier, indie projects.
Now, as he prepares to tread the boards in a new stage adaptation of Rain Man, the Oscar-winning movie about an autistic savant and his wheeler-dealer brother, Hartnett is doing his best to stay focused on rehearsals and stay out of the tabloids…
What’s the attraction of doing a play in the West End?
You get to spend six months living in London, which is a city I love. There’s
so much great stuff to do. It’s kind of like a sister city to New York, where I live. There are a lot of similarities…but, of course, not as many Americans.
What’s the most touristy thing you’ve ever done in London?
I’m not really a tourist attraction kind of guy. I’ve been to Borough Market a couple of times – is that touristy?
Do you ever take the Tube?
Yeah, sure. Not as much as I take the subway in New York but that’s just because I don’t know it as well. I don’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere.
Last time we saw you in the capital was at Live 8 in 2005. You were rocking out to Pink Floyd. Are you a bit of a hippie at heart?
Well, my parents are hippies, so I must have a bit of hippie in me. I listen to a lot of different music, but Pink Floyd uniting for one show, you can’t miss that.
Were you a bit of a stoner during your teenage years?
When I was 17, I moved to New York and I guess you could say those were pretty wild times. Up until the age of 16 I was very focused on sport – I played a lot of football. Then I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and had to stop playing. Then I got into theatre and painting, so I started to have, let’s say, more of a bohemian lifestyle.
You once said of life in LA: ‘Flitting from club to club and girl to girl is no way to live.’ Was that a description of your own life?
Um, I’ve dabbled in that lifestyle but I’ve never been a total club rat. I’ve never been attracted to the bling of clubs. Girl to girl? That’s an interesting question. I was in long-term relationships all my life until a couple of years ago and now I’m just, um, single. So, until I find the next real girlfriend I guess I’m in and out of relationships.
It seems like every month you’re romantically linked to someone new – Rihanna, Nadine Coyle, Kirsten Dunst and Gisele, to name but a few. Are any of those stories true?
Some of them might be. Some are completely false. But I don’t really comment on my personal life because I feel like any comment at all is opening up a whole can of worms. I’d just rather not talk about who I’m dating.
Did your experience of going out with Scarlett Johansson – and the intense press attention you got – make you question the wisdom of dating another famous person?
Everyone I’ve ever dated has been a great person in their own right, but obviously media attention on couples in the industry is going to be exponentially larger. So, for someone like me who tries to stay under the radar, it might not be the best idea.
Do you think taking 18 months off from acting, as you did a few years ago, set your career back?
Not really, although I took a break at the time when I was probably most wanted by the industry. Pearl Harbor came out, then the next week I finished shooting Black Hawk Down, and then I didn’t work for a year and a half. It was a really weird time. I was presenting awards at the Oscars and yet I wasn’t part of the industry at all.
Looking back, was Pearl Harbor a positive move for your career?
Well, it was positive for my Hollywood career. It helped me a lot. Sure, there was a backlash as far as the critics and the media were concerned, but I don’t regret anything I’ve done. If you caught me on a different day I might say I regret certain things, but I really like where I’m at right now. Life is pretty good.
This is an edited version of the full interview, which appears in the November 2008 issue of Marie Claire.
Rain Man is at The Apollo Theatre, London W1, now.