After making an early splash in films like Halloween: H20, The Faculty and The Virgin Suicides, Josh Hartnett settled into a respectable career balancing actor-friendly films like O and The Black Dahlia with bigger movies like Black Hawk Down and 30 Days of Night. His latest feature, Bunraku, is a dazzlingly inventive new action adventure from first time director Guy Moshe. Hartnett took some time to talk with CraveOnline about his role as a mysterious drifter in the strange new fantasy, his love of boxing and whether he prefers filming big budget spectaculars or rough-and-tumble indie films.
CraveOnline: “Boon-RAH-ku.” Am I pronouncing that right?
Josh Hartnett: That’s it, yeah.
CraveOnline: Awesome. I’m off to a good start. You know, I’ve seen a lot of hyper-stylized movies that play off of genre archetypes before, but I’ve never quite seen anything like Bunraku. Is that how you were pitched the project? Were you shown all the unusual production design or were you just shown the script?
Josh Hartnett: Yeah, no, the production design and the style kind of came first. Guy Moshe, the director, asked me not to read the script until he’d had a conversation with me and explained what he was going for with the styling, and also his points of reference for the film. We shot this over three years ago, so it’s been a process getting it to the screen, and it’s not a huge budget film so Guy had limited resources to work with. And he understood that from the beginning, and he still thought that he could pull it off. He was incredibly ambitious, and he still is. And I respected that about him, so I was sold more on Guy’s potential than I was on the script itself.
CraveOnline: Did you like the script?
Josh Hartnett: I did. You know, it reminded me of Star Wars or Hidden Fortress. You know, little guys fighting the evil [overlords]… I thought it was a classic story. That being said, the dialogue’s not “classic” in any way. The characters, the archetypes, [and] where they were drawn from were different from your average script. I just found it to be a unique ride.
CraveOnline: I dug the movie, I’ve got to say. I was a big, big fan.
Josh Hartnett: Great!
CraveOnline: I didn’t know what to expect from watching the trailer. It seemed like it could just be all style, no substance, but the style was so unique. There’s this great shot I wanted to ask you about, where you character punches his way through a police station. But it plays out like a level from that old NES game Kung Fu Master, all side-scrolling.
Josh Hartnett: Yeah! Yeah!
CraveOnline: First off, was that you in the shot? Because the camera is so far away…
Josh Hartnett: Of course!
CraveOnline: Okay! Good!
Josh Hartnett: We didn’t have the money for face-replacement or anything!
CraveOnline: Fair enough! Were you able to pull that off in one take, or was there “movie magic” involved in that?
Josh Hartnett: Oh no, that’s one take. We had a… No! Actually, that’s two takes. It’s two levels per take. […] But we only had like two hours to shoot that, so everything was hyper choreographed. We could have done the whole thing in one, no problem, [but] we could only build two levels [on the] set. So we’d just go back up to the top, then go back down. It was a lot of fun to shoot that, because everybody had to be incredibly in tune. And it was one of the last things we did, so all of us and the stunt cast were all very close. We could just look at each other know if in some way we’re going to f*** up, and if we’re going to f*** up [we could redo the take]. I think it works pretty seamlessly in the end.
CraveOnline: It is. It was really very cool. How many takes of that did you do? Was there one where it screwed up right at the end and everyone was shouting at you?
Josh Hartnett: We didn’t have time for that. This film was shot on such a tight budget for what Guy pulled off… Four or five sets were running simultaneously. There were always [different] crews working in different places. So we would shoot part of a sequence, and then we would run to another place and shoot more stuff while they set up a different shot, and then we’d go back and we’d go back and finish the other sequence. There was no down time between shots, so we didn’t have time to screw up. When the challenges were bad, we just had to live up to it or the movie was going to fail. That was it.
CraveOnline: Do you like that kind of run and gun style of filmmaking? You’ve worked on bigger movies, and I imagine you had… Well, let me put it this way: was Black Hawk Down that hectic?
Josh Hartnett: No, Black Hawk Down was quite leisurely. Yeah, I haven’t done… You know, for the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of independent films. I find that when you’re on set and everybody’s making the decisions right there, and if something needs to be changed it can be changed immediately, as opposed taking a couple of days to [run it by] the studio, you can get a lot more accomplished a lot more quickly. And I like that. I like to be able to just keep moving, because what’s the point? Because being on a film set – I’m sure you’ve been on a lot of film sets – it’s fun, but after a while you want to just get it done and go home, have a little vacation. Let’s shoot it while we’re here. It was a lot of fun. This film was kind of ideal because we never stopped filming. We just filmed straight through. We filmed six days a week, and we were filming up to eighteen hours a day, and we were constantly in the gym while we were filming. Because I’m not like a physical dynamo; I can’t do that stuff on a daily basis. I had to like work out to keep fit. [Laughs] So it was just all work all the time, and I got to know those guys really well and we had a good time. It was just great.
CraveOnline: I’m glad you brought up the physical stuff. You seem to find yourself in a fair number of boxing related movies, or at least where you seem to do a fair amount of boxing. Were you into that before your first…? I guess Black Dahlia would be the first movie of that kind for you.
Josh Hartnett: You know, it was my first boxing movie and my first time in the ring. And I, yeah, I got in the ring and I became immediately obsessed and I started watching a lot of boxing films of full fights, I started to kind of over train. I kind of hurt myself training a couple of times. I just found it so interesting. […] Really, the dynamics of fighting and how the best fighters are so intelligent, the way they pick apart their opponents, it’s like… The only thing I’ve ever found that’s similar, in a one-on-one way, is tennis. But that’s obviously not as close quarters. But I really enjoyed it. So yeah, after I did Black Dahlia I read Resurrecting the Champ, [and] I wanted to be involved in it. I liked the boxing world at this point. But this film had nothing to do with boxing for me. I was just interested in what a bizarre world Guy was trying to pull off.
CraveOnline: But you were in a lot of fight scenes, and I noticed that your style was so different from Gatz’s… You seemed to be able to kill people by punching them in the face.
Josh Hartnett: I guess that’s what we’re trying to say. This guy throws such strong punches that he can… Guy [Moshe] had to come up with a supplement for guns. There are no guns in this world, so what is it that [The Drifter] can do? […] I like the way that he’s just a brawler. It was kind of fun.
CraveOnline: On the internet, the ever-so-reliable internet, it’s been said that you were offered the role of Superman several times but you’ve turned it down. Is that true at all?
Josh Hartnett: I’ve been offered a lot of things that I’ve decided not to do. You know, I was growing up when Superman [came along]. I was 21 when I shot Pearl Harbor, and I had a lot of opportunities but I more wanted to figure out who I was as a man first, to figure out where I really wanted to go with my life. I wanted to grow up a bit more and figure out what mattered to me. So I did a lot of stuff, but I did things that were really interesting to me and my development.