Sunday, October 21, 2007

Spending '30 Days of Night' With Josh Hartnett

A starring role in the WWII melodrama “Pearl Harbor” put Josh Hartnett at the forefront of the emerging twenty-something actors of the time, though it was not the most indicative work of an actor who preferred the murky waters of dark indie drama. His breakout role in the horror hit “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” (1998) jettisoned him to teen heartthrob status, but Hartnett was able to break from the post-adolescent pigeonholing that might have resulted from “The Virgin Suicides” (1999) and the multiple appearances on People magazine’s “Hottest” lists....

Full Biography

A starring role in the WWII melodrama “Pearl Harbor” put Josh Hartnett at the forefront of the emerging twenty-something actors of the time, though it was not the most indicative work of an actor who preferred the murky waters of dark indie drama. His breakout role in the horror hit “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” (1998) jettisoned him to teen heartthrob status, but Hartnett was able to break from the post-adolescent pigeonholing that might have resulted from “The Virgin Suicides” (1999) and the multiple appearances on People magazine’s “Hottest” lists. He went on to build a solid reputation with his strong, understated Midwestern presence in films like “Lucky Number Slevin” (2006) and “The Black Dahlia” (2006).
Josh Hartnett was born on July 21, 1978, and raised in St. Paul, MN. He played soccer and football in high school; not thinking much about acting until he was sidelined with a knee injury. He looked to the school’s drama program for an alternative extracurricular activity and found himself cast in “Huck Finn.” Hartnett had always enjoyed watching classic films like “On the Waterfront” (1954) with his father, but now he became interested in acting on a whole new level by getting involved with regional theater productions with the Steppingstone Theater and the Youth Performance Company in Minneapolis. He even worked at a video store. It was enough of a dedicated background to woo the drama department at the State University of New York in Purchase, where Hartnett began as a student in 1996. In an interview, Hartnett claimed that irreconcilable differences with the school’s administration were to blame for his departure after only one year. The move did not seem to hinder the upward trajectory that the boyishly handsome, quietly imposing figure was clearly heading on.

From the very start, Hartnett seemed less concerned with fame and the Hollywood lifestyle than with following his interest in a challenging variety of material. And the offers came quickly. Months after leaving school he was cast as the troubled son of a crime stopper in a remake of the British series "Cracker" (ABC, 1997-99). But he first turned a lot of heads with his big screen debut in "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” (1998), playing the son of Jamie Lee Curtis' tormented Laurie Strode. The newcomer was on a roll, next being asked to join the ensemble cast of Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson’s sci-fi teen thriller "The Faculty" (1998). Hartnett played the roguish cool kid and resident smart aleck of a group of high school students warding off an alien. The popular film and its promotional tie-in campaign with Tommy Hilfiger – including print ads featuring Hartnett – launched the actor reluctantly into teen heartthrob status. An engaging turn as teenage lothario Trip Fontaine in Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides" (1999) introduced Hartnett’s surprisingly sturdy handle on art house fare, which he exercised in several independent shorts before snagging the lead in the 2001 blockbuster “Pearl Harbor.” Everything was about to change.

Hartnett still was not sure if he was mentally prepared for the new level of fame his co-lead role was likely to bring when he signed on to play a US Air Force pilot caught in a love triangle in Michael Bays’ sweeping period piece. At press time, "Pearl Harbor" was likened to Jim Cameron’s "Titanic" (1997) in sheer size, scope and historical context, but even if it did not mirror its predecessor's monumental success, it did put Hartnett at the top of the hunk heap. In fact, he gave his co-star, well-established heartthrob Ben Affleck a run for his money onscreen.

In contrast to the gauzy, romantic edges of Bay’s film, Hartnett next appeared in “Black Hawk Down” (2001), Ridley Scott’s harrowing look at the botched United States humanitarian mission to Somalia. The film was well-received by critics and Hartnett proved he could hold his own alongside a seasoned ensemble cast including Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Sam Shepard. The respected film might have left Hartnett wishing that “40 Days and 40 Nights” (2002) – the romantic comedy about a guy who gives up sex for lent that was shot in 1999 – but not released as a follow up. Fortunately, the unfortunate timing did little to take away from Hartnett’s growing dramatic reputation – with his loyal ‘tween fans probably preferring this film – allowing him to continue his focus on more consistently darker onscreen themes.

Hartnett spent a year or so out of the spotlight before pairing with Harrison Ford in the buddy cop flop "Hollywood Homicide” (2003). After struggling to carry the erotic thriller "Wicker Park" (2004), Rodriguez and Miller recruited Hartnett again for a brief but memorable turn as a suave, chameleon-like assassin in "Sin City" (2005). All those years spent watching old movies with his dad came in handy for Hartnett’s ensuing run of film noirs. The mistaken identity thriller “Lucky Number Slevin” (2006) was praised by critics and earned a Best Film honor at the Milan Film Festival. It also primed Hartnett for a lead in Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia” (2006), a richly-textured noir about two hard-edged cops investigating the brutal murder of would-be actress. The highly anticipated remake made a strong debut at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival but ultimately did not win over critics or audiences stateside.

Hartnett’s starring role as a journalist who unwittingly discovers a presumed dead former boxing champ in “Resurrecting the Champ” (2007) barely made a blip on the radar in the summer of big-budget blockbusters, but there was plenty of hype for his fall release – “30 Days of Night” (2007) — a stylized thriller about a flock of vampires descending upon an Alaskan town during the one dark month of winter.

Absolute, bleak and relentless, the bitterly cold night descends without permission upon the town of Barrow, Alaska, ravaging all signs of hope in its path--much like the blood-sucking vampires who stop by, without invitation, for a frosty, month-long carnage feast. Only one thing can stop them: the light. But little does Sheriff Eben know that his gun is about as helpless as is his plan to outsmart the cunning eating machines.

Thoughtfully laconic, Josh Hartnett’s emboldened Sheriff Eben is a finely cast pluck. He's who horror-thirsty audiences want to see in the role of a flustered, soft-on-the-eye good guy, with a few bad solutions for a problem much larger than he can surmount: the living dead! Harnett’s wholesome, toned-down hipster flavor strikes the right balance of vulnerability and strength to play a fragmented hero, such that you’re constantly wincing and cheering and cheering and wincing--just what you’re supposed to do while watching the blood get slurped out of desperado screaming citizens, wishing they had gone south for the season.

Melissa George and Josh Hartnett star in 30 Days of Night caught up with Hartnett to talk about his romantic, paternal Sheriff Eben, who had to battle super-strength forces and viciously ghoulish encounters in order to save his town--and fellow, tough mamita, sheriff-wife (Melissa George)--from being an appetizing platter of vampire frozen food!

HW: Are you a fan of the genre?
Josh Hartnett: Yeah, yeah! I grew up watching vampire movies and I don’t think there’s been a really interesting look at the vampire genre in a long time. The biggest reason I wanted to do the film was mostly because of David Slade’s vision. He came up to where I’m from, Minnesota, and laid out what he wanted the movie to be like and it seemed completely different from anything I’ve ever heard of before, kind of visceral and dark but also artistic.

HW: Rumor has it there was an issue with you wanting to have a beard for the whole shoot...
JH: They wanted me clean-shaven at the beginning of the film and it would’ve been a lot easier if I could have grown as much as I can grow, and then add pieces as we went along…I mean, it is Alaska, it is cold there--and I thought the guy should have a beard. There were just people who didn’t believe it was a good idea for me to start the movie with a beard. [Wryly smiles] I actually sent [the producers] a letter including a list of very successful people who had beards; and I tried to explain how much I wanted it, by who had made how much and where I would fit in that progression. [Laughs] It didn’t work!

Danny Huston stars in 30 Days of Night
HW: How is it to be on a production where you’re shooting nights, non-stop?
JH: It depends how well organized it is, really. This film was really well-organized, so we shot for nights--for what a 100 weeks? And then days for the rest so we didn’t have a bunch of going back and forth. Yeah, of course, it messes with, you but it’s a movie about vampires, so you kinda get a sense of what it’d be like [to be one]. It’s method acting!

HW: This was based on a novel?
JH: I read the novel before, but when I read the script David Slade also gave me the graphic novel as well. So, I re-read it and looked at the script and saw what I thought he wanted to do with it. I did one other graphic novel adaptation, Sin City, so I kind of understood that this was something that was supposed to be half-fantasy and half-reality.

HW: The bitter climate, the oppressive dark, reuniting with your wife--so many issues happening at once!
JH: It’s fun to have multi-layers of turmoil. The idea of being trapped in this horrible situation--you kind of want to feel like everybody is alone. If everybody has someone to latch onto, there’s even conflict between young Jake and myself, and the conflict enriches the whole feeling of isolation and impending doom. I think it was a good choice, honestly.

Melissa George, Rachel Maitland-Smith star in 30 Days of Night
HW: What was it like working with Melissa George, who plays your estranged wife?
JH: I like Melissa a lot. We had a great time. [Matter-of-factly] We showed up, and we started rehearsing. We spent a couple of weeks before shooting getting to know each other. Melissa is a really sweet, really intelligent, ambitious, cool actress. I think she’ll go really far. And, she’s obviously incredibly beautiful!

HW: In real-life, what’s your biggest fear?
JH: Sharks. That’s a fact. I’m not lying.

HW: Can you talk about your rehearsal process, and what you appreciated most about it?
JH: Absolutely, what I really appreciated about David was that we did all this back story. We worked on all of these scenes that may not have made it into the film--that we knew, at the time, that they probably wouldn’t make it into the film. Because we had extra time to shoot the film, we wanted to make sure there was a real life there, and that these guys [Barrow's terrified citizens] actually "lived" together. I think that it worked. I think there are relationships that aren’t really highlighted in the film that exist below the surface [in a] kind of way. The subtlety is the key to going back and watching a film again.

HW: What would you consider the pivotal turning point for your character, Sheriff Eben?
JH: [*Spoiler alert!] I think the pinnacle point in the movie was when he had to cut off Carter’s head. Ah-ha. Hmm. Never thought I’d be saying that sentence. I think up until that point, he’s surviving and trying to find a solution to all this--and after that, it’s no holds barred. It’s not about finding a solution and it’s pure survival.

Ben Foster stars in 30 Days of Night
HW: Ben Foster clearly dug his heels into this role. Can you talk about his vibe on the set?
JW: Ben is a very capable and committed actor. He would do things to himself that nobody should do to themselves in order to feel pain, anguish and anger. He’s a very interesting actor.

HW: Was it difficult to film the scenes out of sequence order, given the physical range your character has to stretch to protect the town?
JH: Yeah, it’s always difficult to make all the pieces match up but that’s the puzzle; that is being an actor in film!

HW: On thinking about Alaska, do you feel that climate impacts a community, having grown up in Minnesota’s coldness?
Absolutely. There’s an enormous amount of creative people who come out of my home town because we literally spend six months of the year sitting inside having nothing to do but imagine. A lot of really great musicians come out of Minnesota, too, because there’s just so much time to practice. We had a couple of true geniuses like Bob Dylan and Prince and then there’s a bunch of other people who are quite good as well. I come from an artistic family and I think the climate ultimately affects everything. If you have nothing but beaches around you you’re probably going to surf. You’re probably going to have a great tan. It’s going to effect the way you look and the way you act. Period.

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