Josh Hartnett 40 Days and 40 Nights, Black Hawk Down

Josh Hartnett 40 Days and 40 Nights, Black Hawk Down


EXCLUSIVE Josh Hartnett/40 Days and 40 Nights, Black Hawk Down Interview by Paul Fischer in New York.

In a relatively short time, Josh Hartnett has emerged as one of Hollywood's bright young actors. From the likes of war-set blockbusters 'Pearl Harbor' and the current 'Black Hawk Down', through to 'O', Hartnett's diversity is well founded. Now audiences will see him in a different light in the sexy upcoming comedy '40 Days and 40 Nights', in which he plays a sex-focused young man who decides to give up sex in order to purify himself, until love begins to put a damper on things. PAUL FISCHER caught up with Hartnett in New York.

Wearing a traditional knitted ski cap, Josh Hartnett lacks the trappings of your conventional Hollywood type. Intelligent, a voracious reader, he refuses to abide by Hollywood conformity preferring to live in America's more genial Midwest, Minneapolis to be exact, which he still calls home. "I like the fact that it's where my friends and family live and my girlfriend and I have a place there. The landscape and the place itself are beautiful."

For Hartnett, Minneapolis "is a smaller kind of town with 2-1/2 million people in the area, as opposed to here in New York where there are, what, 25 million?" It also keeps him grounded. "I think that you can lose yourself just as easily in Minneapolis as you can anywhere else. But I think that having my friends and family around keeps me aware of where I stand in the world and what really is important. I also think that my personal relationships are stronger there than anywhere else."

At age 24, Hartnett already has an impressive track record, exemplified by the successes of 'Pearl Harbor', and more recently, 'Black Hawk Down', the antithesis of the former. Reflecting on the film's extraordinary success post-September 11, Hartnett calls the film "a very important film to make", because of its refusal not to glorify war.

"Ridley [Scott] took a story that had a chance to be a real flag-waving experience and capitalize on the kind of patriotic excitement of the U.S. right now, and he didn't do that. He stuck to the story and stuck with the facts. This is a story told from one perspective, but that's the way it always was." As to why Americans have flocked in droves to see a film defined by a barrage of unparalleled intensity, Hartnett argues that "it is because it's honest and sometimes every once in a while there's a phenomenon here and people want to see what's going on. We made the film when people, when the media policy in the U.S. was kind to stick to home, and just deal with local issues and if something happened across the world yesterday involving bloodshed and 18 Americans got killed, then we'd show them for a couple of days and then no one will think about it for a long time.

When I read the book, I learned an awful, awful lot and when I saw the script I said: hell, if this script gets people to read the book and gets people to think, well maybe there's more going on out there than what I see on CNN. People have to find it for themselves. It was great to be part of a film that's going to get people to think about one particular event that has a lot of very resonant issues in this day and age," Hartnett explains passionately.

Yet, Hartnett adds, he has no idea why the film's been so successful. "I can't speak for everybody. I just feel that, after the film was over my mom turned to me and she said at the premiere: 'I can't believe I didn't know more about that.'"

Hartnett says that making 'Black Hawk Down' was quite the education, "being in a poverty stricken part of Morocco and talking to the guys that were actually there in Somalia, and seeing that we were just making a film. And we couldn't really complain. I mean, you can't complain when you're in a situation like that, where you're seeing just complete poverty every day. The places we were shooting had to pass for wartime Mogadishu, so it had to look like hell. And it did. And the people there were living in this squalor. You can't readily say, 'oh my trailer's not big enough' or, like, 'this isn't fresh-squeezed orange juice'. I mean, you don't complain. And to tell you the truth, after 5 months of being there, you wanted to complain. You felt like, we didn't know originally what we'd signed up for." Yet, the actor says, " it felt like a good experience for me, as a person, because now I feel like I'm very grateful for all the crap that we have around. We've got it so easy; we don't even realize it. But I'm not a politician. Fuck it, I'm an actor. All I know is that being in that situation just kind of made me feel that daily life is sometimes not all that important."

So it was a release from that environment that led Josh to the very contemporary comedy '40 Days and 40 Nights', as big a contrast as is imaginable. Here he plays Matt Sullivan whose last big relationship ended in disaster and ever since, his heart's been aching and his commitment's been lacking. Then came Lent, that time of year when everybody gives something up. That's when Matt, a guy who's never been able to finish anything, decides to go where no man's gone before and make a vow: No sex for 40 straight days and that extends to no touching, kissing, foreplay, fooling around or even self-gratification.

At first he has everything under control, until the woman of his dreams (Shannyn Sossamon) walks into his life. Now, with everyone betting he won't finish what he started, he's just trying to hold on, and hoping she's willing to hold out. It was important for Hartnett to do this film, he says, "because it seemed like it would be challenging, which it was, and that is something that I always want to do: challenge myself." In the case of '40 Days', the challenge was doing comedy. "It's hard man, just hard to make people laugh." In this movie, he does a lot of daring stuff in the name of comedy, some might say, that Josh does his best to embarrass himself. "I just have to look at it like this: I'm playing a character that does some stupid things. But, I've done embarrassing things before and I've done embarrassing things about life." But the private actor won't divulge details. "That's the thing about life, it's private."

One can argue that one of the film's themes is abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. Hartnett laughs. "I think that abstinence does some wicked things to some good people, but I don't know if it makes the heart grow fonder. But, I think that it's something that if you believe that it's going to make you stronger, then it will. But it's like any personal challenge, you know; all mental I think."

The conversation with Hartnett turns strangely philosophical when we discuss if there is anything that he would give up for a period of time. "I guess sometimes every once in a while I'll try not to engage in a lot of conversations with people, try not to talk too much and try to see things from an opposite perspective in order to gain some real understanding of the situation. After all, when you're in the middle of it and the attention is all on you, you lose perspective and I guess that's probably the only way I get to try and achieve that." What about giving up acting? "I've been taking a long break right now and it's been going alright. But I do get a little bit nervous about not putting out anything; you know what I mean? Like, soaking it all in but not putting it out, because there are a lot of things to say. So I try to write, and I was trying to paint for a while, but I haven't done that enough lately to keep on top of it and do the things I want to do. Acting is pretty much the only thing I've, like, that I'm in shape for, you know what I mean?"

Writing, such as "journalism; I'd like to interview, guys like you." he says smilingly. Hartnett bases his writing on his favourite author, J.D. Salinger, who Hartnett says takes small facets of life and makes them epic. Josh recently re-read 'Catcher in the Rye' ["because I had read a script that was similar to it"] but recalls being especially struck by one of Salinger's short stories, 'Laughing Man' in the author's Nine Stories collection.

"This kid takes these bus rides with a bunch of other kids to a ball park, and they play baseball. And they've got this guy who drives them and they all call him the Chief, and they're all called Comanches, [back when that wasn't politically correct.] Salinger makes that bus ride seem epic, because it is for this kid. He knows how to write for kids. He knows how to write from an intelligent child's perspective. He knows how to say the things that a child would like to say, if the child had the vocabulary to say it. I see in that bus ride as much drama and life as in any situation in all of literature. I find that just fascinating." That's what Hartnett like about writing, "in that you can explore anything, any little detail, as thoroughly as you feel necessary. Sometimes it's entertaining, and sometimes it's not."

Hartnett would rather be exploring that creative side to himself, but of late, "I've been writing jack squat, but rather doing interviews, first for 'Black Hawk', and now for '40 Day's, and it's just so constant." Clearly, for this actor, this part of the process remains his least favourite "but you have a responsibility to sell your movies so what can you do?"

Hartnett longs to return to his Midwest tranquillity and girlfriend, and on the subject of romance, Hartnett admits to being "more of a romantic than a cynic" but also a realist, he hastens to add. "I used to be a really, really kind of, very romantic guy. I'm not talking romantic like flowers and chocolates but someone who sees the world through rose-colored glasses. I think that I used to have more of a romantic view of the world, and then I saw some things that I think people should see, and the world seemed a little bit more real. You can still have a romantic view but it's harder for me to ignore what's going on in reality." However, this atypical of young Hollywood stars is, he says, "just trying to get through the days like everybody else and like anybody else. I'm screwin' up left and right."

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