Back in the early 2000s, Josh Hartnett’s handsome face was stuck up in teenagers’ lockers, his movie posters were plastered across their bedroom walls, and his name was scrawled in love hearts on the backs of girls’ hands. Today, however, those same fangirls might well have difficulty remembering who Josh Hartnett is, since the actor seemingly turned his back on Hollywood over 15 years ago. So now it’s time to find out the true reason for Hartnett’s speedy exit from show biz.
In 2002 Hartnett, with his chiseled features and boyish charm, was hot property in Hollywood. Indeed, at just age 23, he was one of the movie industry’s most popular leading men. And yet just a year previously, he had still been relatively unknown – before his roles in Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down catapulted him into the spotlight, that is.
These days, though, it’s pretty rare to see Hartnett’s name on a film poster. In fact, his departure from Tinseltown might well have left countless fans scratching their heads, asking, “Where the hell did Josh Hartnett go?” It seems strange, after all, for such a big Hollywood star to leave everything behind. But as it turns out, the actor had his reasons for doing so.
Hartnett was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1978 and grew up with his three younger siblings, Jessica, Jake and Joe. Then, in the summer of 1996, he graduated from South High School in Minneapolis. And he subsequently went on to SUNY Purchase, a performance arts school in the Big Apple, to pursue acting.
After Purchase, then, Hartnett landed a few small parts, including the role of Michael Fitzgerald in Cracker, a short-lived crime series that aired in 1997. The young actor also performed in a number of commercials and low-key theater productions. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he would finally make it onto the big screen.
That’s right, in 1998 Hartnett appeared in horror movie Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and sci-fi flick The Faculty. The actor’s big break, however, came in 2001 with Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. The movie sees Hartnett star as First Lieutenant Danny Walker alongside big Hollywood names such as Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Alec Baldwin.
And Pearl Harbor proved to be a huge box office hit despite being savaged by critics. The war movie grossed close to $450 million, in fact, and even scooped up an Oscar. However, it was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture – although this didn’t appear to diminish Hartnett’s rising popularity.
Following the release of Pearl Harbor, you see, Hartnett had seemingly become a superstar and heartthrob overnight. He was the subject of constant media attention and received several accolades from tabloid publications. For instance, in 1999 Teen People magazine featured the actor in their “21 Hottest Stars Under 21” list.
Teen People also selected Hartnett as one of their “25 Hottest Stars Under 25” in 2002, and in the same year he was included in People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” He also made it to number three on former British publication Bliss’ “Sexiest Males” list in 2003. In the early 2000s, then, Hartnett was being singled out as some serious eye candy.
But while media attention may be an ego boost for some people, for Hartnett, such flattery seemingly had the opposite effect. In fact, the actor started to draw away from the Hollywood spotlight altogether. And one way in which Hartnett’s fans noticed this was that he began turning down projects that had the potential to send his career into the stratosphere. What’s more, some of the on-screen roles to which Hartnett said “no” would have arguably been the stuff of other actors’ dreams.
Among some of the offers that Hartnett reportedly passed up are the title roles in 2002’s Spider-Man, 2005’s Batman Begins and the following year’s Superman Returns. For some, it might have seemed a no-brainer for Hartnett to accept such high-profile parts, and yet the actor surprised everyone by repeatedly rejecting roles that could have immortalized him in Hollywood.
At the time, though, Hartnett felt that he had good reasons for declining the roles. Speaking to Playboy magazine in 2015 about why he didn’t take the part of Batman, he explained, “I was so focused on not being pigeonholed and so scared of being considered only one thing as an actor.” So, it seems that Hartnett just didn’t want to be defined by a particular character so early on in his career.
However, Hartnett has also admitted that he has made some mistakes. “I’ve definitely said no to some of the wrong people,” he conceded in the Playboy interview. “I learned my lesson when [writer-director] Christopher Nolan and I talked about Batman. I decided it wasn’t for me. Then he didn’t want to put me in The Prestige.”
And yet although Christian Bale went on to enjoy great success in the iconic role of Batman, there’s no resentment on Hartnett’s part. “Watching Christian Bale go on to do so many other things has been just awesome,” Hartnett said. “I know now that I wouldn’t turn something down just because it’s a superhero role.”
But refusing to accept potentially life-changing roles had wider repercussions for Hartnett too. It surely came as no surprise when his agents began leaving him, for instance. “There was a lot of infighting between my manager and agents, trying to figure out who to put the blame on,” Hartnett explained in a 2014 interview with former magazine Details. “It got to the point where none of us were able to work together.”
Ultimately, then, Hartnett decided to pack it all in and move back to his hometown in Minnesota – while still in his early 20s. But why would the Hollywood heartthrob run for the hills just as his career was really taking off? Well, it seems that while he was in Minnesota, he decided to reconnect with the life that he’d left behind in order to find fame.
Speaking of his time there, Hartnett told Details, “So I went back to Minnesota and got back together with my old friends – ended up getting back together with my high-school girlfriend for a while – and I didn’t do any filming for 18 months. I’m still finding my way through all that.”
And after Hartnett rekindled his romance with his teenage flame, Ellen Fenster, the couple bought a $2.5 million house together in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, though, even away from the pressures of Hollywood, the relationship didn’t stand the test of time, and the pair broke up early in 2004.
And time out of the spotlight was seemingly also what Hartnett needed to rediscover another of his old loves: making movies. “I’ve re-found or re-started my love for filmmaking,” he proudly announced to HuffPost in October 2017. “I’m doing a lot more writing and a lot more short-film and music-video directing that at some point will turn into directing a feature, if I’m lucky.”
What’s more, Hartnett got stuck into working with new and emerging directors such as Alexandra McGuiness and Atsuko Hirayanagi. And since leaving Hollywood, Hartnett hasn’t been short of acting work either – although little of it has emerged into the mainstream. Busy with small independent films, Hartnett very rarely makes the headlines today as he once did.
In fact, it was back in 2014 that Hartnett returned to our screens. After a break from big roles, he appeared as Ethan Chandler in the horror series Penny Dreadful. And while his performance received widespread praise, that wasn’t the only kind of attention with which he was faced. People were suddenly asking what he’d been up to for all those years and why he’d left Hollywood in the first place.
And Hartnett revealed that it had been the intensity of his fame that had caused him to leave the spotlight. “I was on the cover of every magazine. I couldn’t really go anywhere,” he explained to Details in 2014. “I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I was alone.” So, he’d felt compelled to take a break from a lifestyle that had left him feeling overwhelmed.
Having entered the film industry at such a tender age, Hartnett had apparently been drawn in by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. “I started doing what I did as an actor very young,” he told HuffPost in October 2017. “I was 18 when I landed my first role, and it was only based on someone else’s perception of me. At the time, I had no money, so I thought, ‘Oh, this is pretty great. I can be an actor and make money; this is absurd.’”
“And then I worked for a long time – almost five years straight – and didn’t really take any breaks and just did movie after movie after movie,” Hartnett continued. “And that was, for me, an amazing journey. [But I was] sort of being taken along for the ride – it didn’t feel like I was totally in control of my own destiny.”
But Hollywood doesn’t suit everyone, as Hartnett told HuffPost. “I think it can be an unhealthy environment,” he said. “To get so consumed with chasing a goal that doesn’t necessarily have to define you is a fool’s errand, and I wanted to have a healthy perspective on it – not only a healthy perspective on the fame itself, but the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of surface values.”
However, after Hartnett had rejected mainstream Hollywood culture and his agents had left his side, roles didn’t exactly land in his lap – especially the kinds of parts he’d once turned down. And the actor admits that it took him time to readjust to these different circumstances.
“I still get offered films and TV roles, luckily,” Hartnett said. “But years ago, if I saw a role I wanted, there was a good chance I could grab it. When I see a role now, I’ve got to fight for it. It’s not bad. It’s actually more rewarding. [It’s] depressing when something doesn’t go your way but only for a minute.”
But nonetheless, leaving the mainstream bubble of Hollywood still looks to be one of the best decisions that Hartnett has ever made. “I wanted to find out what I wanted to do with my life and have had a lot more experiences that are outside of the [movie] industry that have been fantastic,” he explained to HuffPost in 2017.
But now, it seems that Hartnett’s passions for filmmaking and writing have led his career full circle – back into the business he once tried to run away from. “I still love the [movie] industry, and I’m sort of active in it but also keep it at arm’s length at times, too, because it can be overwhelming,” he admitted. So, just how active is the star now?
Well, in 2017 Hartnett embarked upon an ambitious movie project. Called 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain, the film depicts the real life of Eric LeMarque – a former hockey player who competed in the Olympics – who managed to survive alone on a mountain for more than a week following a vicious storm.
And the project really got Hartnett’s creative juices flowing. You see, while he had previously portrayed real-life characters in Hollywood blockbusters, 6 Below gave him the opportunity to do so as the sole focus of the movie, in a similar way that James Franco had done in 2010’s 127 Hours. And Hartnett seemingly enjoyed how much the film tested him too.
“The main reason I wanted to take on the role was the challenge of it, to see what I was made of,” he said. “I think it’s difficult to hold an audience’s attention with only one character, and I was looking forward to that challenge from the beginning.” And Hartnett intended to push himself and his talents to the limit.
For one thing, LeMarque was certainly a complex character to portray. A strong-willed and ambitious individual, he was also tortured by psychological issues, including problems with addiction. But for Hartnett, this was integral to the plot.
“He had been lost and self-destructive and simultaneously blaming himself and looking for an excuse not to for as long as he could remember,” Hartnett explained to HuffPost. “This is the story of him waking up, essentially, and finally finding himself and getting to know himself in a very dramatic way.”
But part of the challenge for Hartnett was that he himself has never experienced the sort of trauma that LeMarque had endured while he was stranded alone for all those days. “I couldn’t imagine the catharsis that Eric went through on the mountain in this sort of fashion,” he admitted. “For me, it was just that my entire adult life has been a journey of self-discovery in some way, and I think it’s like that for most people.”
And while Hartnett now endures a great deal less media attention than he once did, the star is still quizzed from time to time about his love life and his reputation as a great romancer. “If you’re a ladies’ man, that’s what you do with your life, always chasing,” he replied. “That’s never been the case with me. I’ve always just wanted a relationship. Otherwise there’s nothing. The scene can eat you up. It’s eaten up enough of my life already.” That outlook hasn’t stopped Hartnett from pursuing love in Hollywood, though.
In fact, Scarlett Johansson is just one of many famous actresses whom Hartnett has dated. The pair met in 2006 when they worked together on thriller The Black Dahlia. But Hartnett revealed that entering into relationships with fellow celebrities can cause you problems – especially if those romances don’t work out. “You can make a lot of enemies in the [movie] business that way,” he admitted to Elle magazine in 2014. With regards to dating co-stars, Hartnett added, “You develop a fantasy about them. It doesn’t always work out, does it?”
But that being said, Hartnett has found love with a fellow actor. Indeed, he appears to be very happy with his girlfriend, Tamsin Egerton, whom he has been with since 2012. The British actress is best known for her roles in the 2007 and 2009 St Trinian’s movies and in 2011 TV drama Camelot. And the pair have started a family together too.
Hartnett and Egerton have two children together, in fact. Egerton gave birth to their daughter in 2015 when Hartnett was 37 before the arrival of their second child in August 2017. “It changes everything,” Hartnett said of parenthood on Good Morning Britain.
So, since leaving the Hollywood mainstream, it appears that Hartnett has pursued more left-field interests and ended up in a place better suited to him. The actor seemingly enjoys the perks of fame without constantly being harassed, and now he has a wonderful family as well. Who knows, then, where Hartnett would be today if he hadn’t made the life-altering decision to take a break from the spotlight all those years ago?