There was a time, about 15 years ago, when twentysomething Josh Hartnett was within reach of super fame, of living the kind of life where he could choose any role, any project with any A-lister he wanted. Photographers trailed him with cameras, he had a few hits behind him and he was being offered the title role in a new Superman movie.
Then he turned it all down.
“I decided to have a life. To put that first,” Hartnett told Mr Porter magazine in a new interview. “That was always my goal. I didn’t want to be that person, and I’m never going to be that person.”
He gave an example of why he didn’t want mainstream stardom.
“There was a time I was considered quite a commodity in the business and I wanted my character to chew gum in a scene,” he explained. “It was run up so many flagpoles and it was the subject of conversation for days and in the end, they decided just no. They had an idea of what they thought they could sell with me in it, or what the persona is that people wanted to see from me. And it didn’t involve chewing gum.”
Hartnett, now 42, has continued to pop up in projects in the years since, but they’re much lower-profile than, say, Pearl Harbor or Sin City. He’s able to spend his off hours at home in London with partner Tamsin Egerton — her family lives nearby — and their three young children, including his youngest son, whose birth at the end of 2019 they’d kept quiet until now. He took “a lot of time off to be a dad, first and foremost,” just before the pandemic. With this different approach to his career, Hartnett can concentrate on them, rather than how much his movie is making at the box office.
“The guys who are on top are terrified that someone’s coming up behind them. If that’s your real ambition, to be on top all the time, you’re going to spend your whole life looking over your shoulder,” Hartnett said. “I never wanted that. I want to do good work with people I like and spend my free time with people I care about.”
Hartnett said people thought he was “crazy” for not attaining as much success as possible, but he never regretted his decisions, especially to opt out of putting on a familiar superhero’s cape, even if it reportedly would have meant millions of dollars for several films.
“At the time, it was so obvious to me to turn it down. I was being offered movies by the very top directors. And Superman was a risk,” he said. “Yes, there was a lot of money involved, but I didn’t think that was the be all and end all. It’s become increasingly clear to me that money only takes you so far. I’ve seen a lot of people drown in their money.”
Hartnett would rather spend time with his family, even though he admitted that keeping his kids occupied during the pandemic has been exhausting.
“I don’t know what the possibilities of my life could have been had I chosen different routes, but I will say that in giving in to the allure of Hollywood entirely, I know that I would not have a happy life,” he said. “I feel very strongly about that.”
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