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October 2007
An Interview with Josh Hartnett

An Interview with Josh Hartnett

By Brad Balfour

October 15, 2007

Josh Harnett Survives 30 Days of Night

Much like Eben Oleson, the character he plays in "30 Days of Night," 29 year-old actor Josh Hartnett reacts to a tough challenge in a way that starts out obviously but somehow develops with enough of an original twist. As the Sheriff of Barrow, Alaska--half of the
husband-and-wife team that fights to save the remnants of the 152 people attacked by a band of bloody-thirsty vampires--there are enough ripped open throats to test anyone's policing skills. Nonetheless, Eben finds a surprising solution to combating these undead,
superstrong badasses that gives the role of vampire killer a fresh spin in this film based on a remarkable graphic novel.

During a month of darkness, these vampires descend on the town and go on an uninterrupted orgy of destruction that's meant to decimate its population in order to leave no survivors behind who can tell of the vamp-attack; then these ancient blood drinkers want to find the next unsuspecting place to rip apart. Hartnett, with actress Melissa George as estranged wife Stella, not only becomes transformed into a serious crisis manager who saves the few survivors left but also grapples with reviving his deteriorating marriage.

From Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hartnett has recently hit his stride tackling such multi-layered roles as the young sport writer in "Resurrecting the Champ" and the seemingly hapless Slevin in "Lucky Number Slevin." Though earmarked for poster boy stardom Hartnett has defied expectations and sought out rolls that can both carry film and challenge him creatively.

Are you fond of this genre?

Josh Hartnett: I grew up watching vampire movies and don't think that there's been an interesting look at the vampire genre in a long time. But the real reason I wanted to do the film was because of director David Slade's vision. He came [to me] and laid out [his vision of] what the movie wanted to be like. And it seemed completely different from anything that I'd ever heard of before. Visceral and dark but something that's also artistic. He always wanted to use very little score, but to have the score rattling and weird. Brian Rice is an amazing composer. He's always done art film, independent films up until now.

David comes from the independent film world. And producer Sam Raimi [the "Spiderman" director has made several legendary horror/action films like "The Evil Dead"] has a real tongue-in-cheek approach to horror which makes this one obviously different, so if you're going to trust anybody as far as the genre of horror goes... I think he's read the novel from cover to cover. I just thought it was going to be an interesting project, and there were some great actors who came on too--Ben Foster, Danny Huston, Melissa George--all great people to work with.

How familiar were you with the graphic novel prior to doing this film and how did you prepare for this character?

JH: I had a friend who is a graphic novel and comic book freak. He gave me this and five other graphic novels a few years ago. This was one of his favorites. So I read it before, but  when I got the script David Slade [his indie debut was "Hard Candy"] gave me the graphic novel as well. I re-read it, looked at the script and kind of saw what I thought he wanted to do with it.

I've been in one other graphic novel adaptation, "Sin City," so, I understood this was supposed to be half-fantasy, half-reality and I liked the fact that the characters in this film were real characters with real problems. You could kind of relate to them and follow their [journey]. If you find yourself relating to them, you can follow the realm of the supernatural. This is obviously not your typical everyday story.

Did you and David discuss this secret vampire society?

JH: Well the vampire tradition is kind of ingrained in all of us. I was about eight or 10 years old when I saw my first vampire movie. I went up to my buddy, he was three doors up. We watched "Salem's Lot." He was allowed to watch these movies, and I was definitely not, so we'd sneak off and watch them together and I'd have to make to the two-door journey back home. I'd have to haul ass terrified back to my bedroom. I think that I don't really know, because I have my own version of what the history of the mythology of vampires is, I kind of developed my own theory.

What's that?

JH: Vampires know a lot more poetry than we do [laughs]? If you could live forever, what would you get into? Apparently its a sort of Baroque, 17th century lifestyle with a lot of candles. Honestly, it wasn't that important to me what the mythology of the vampires than what [graphic novel/screenwriter] Steve Niles and [artist] Ben Templesmith wanted to do with their novel. It's kind of a throw-back toward a "Nosferatu" style vampire. Less courtesy, and less tall black collars, more visceral and feral.

The vampires in this film are fully aware of the mythology that the humans know, so it’s kind of a double-layered mythology. What did you think about that?

JH: It's like doing a movie about spies in the modern age. You can't disregard the fact that there's internet and people travel a lot more, and you have to be multi-lingual. Just look how they've changed "James Bond" to suit the times, so you have got to change the "vampire" to suit the times. They have to know what's going in modern culture, otherwise it seems kind of fakey.

In a graphic novel, the images are there so there's not a lot of subtlety to creating your own, is that one of your greatest challenges, to add in those little details?

JH: Absolutely. What I really appreciated about working with David is that we did all this back story, we worked on these scenes that may not have ended in the film, and because we had extra time to shoot the film, we wanted to make sure that there was real life there. Like these guys actually live together. I think that it worked. I think that there are a lot of relationships that aren't really highlighted in the film. It should always be that way, a below-the-surface sort of way in film. Subtlety is the key of going back and watching a film.

What do you think about the decision to have your character Eben and Stella separated, which is not in the graphic novel but in the movie, do you think that added a different dimension to the relationship?

JH: Yea, because I think that when characters are in turmoil, it's fun to have multi-layers of turmoil. I can't compare this to any other movie, but I would think that...if everything was  hunky-dory at home, and you've got these vampires chasing you, there's always solace in the idea of being trapped in this horrible situation, you want to feel like everybody is alone. If everybody has somebody to really latch onto...there's even conflict between young Jake and myself. And the conflict enriches the whole feeling of isolation and the feeling of impending doom. They have a lot more to get over. I think it was a good choice, honestly.

This was shot almost exclusively at night. Did that mess with your bio-rhythms? If so, how long did it take you to get back to normal rhythms?

JH: I'm still not back man. I was obviously late today. It depends on how well-organized a film is. This film was very well organized. So we shot for nights for 100 weeks and days for the rest. We didn't have much time to go back and forth. In this last movie I worked on, "I Come with the Rain" in Hong Kong, it was a day and a night and a night and a day... it was just terribly organized. We were all going crazy. It messes with you but at the same time, this movie is about vampires and you get a sense of what it must be like. Method acting in a sense.

Coming from Minnesota, do you think that the climate really affects the mood of the people?

JH: I think there are an inordinate amount of creative people that come from my hometown because we literally spend six months out of the year inside with nothing to do but...imagine. Really great musicians come from Minnesota because there's just so much time to practice. We have a  couple of true geniuses like Bob Dylan and Prince and other artists as well. And I come from an artistic family so I think climate ultimately affects everything. If you have nothing but beaches around you, you'll probably surf and have a great tan. It's going to affect the way you look and the way you act. Period.

Did you spend a lot of time for rehearsing, getting to know your fellow cast members, and being in a hermetic environment?

JH: We actually talked a lot about what it would be like isolated and what it would be like in this "Mutiny on the Bounty" sort of isolation and then sort of "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" insanity that may occur. But I think that, there was more in the script about that, when men turn on men, fearing for their lives. It got a little too esoteric for a vampire film. But it was a really interesting script; the way people sort threw each other in front of the bus.

Actor Ben Foster ["Alpha Dog," "3:10 To Yuma"] really digs in deep as an actor; did you do the same with your character--really dug deep and make a transformation--and what was the pivotal point for that?

JH: Ben is a very capable and committed actor and he would do things to himself that nobody should do to themselves in order to feel pain, anguish and anger. It was fun to work with Ben; he's a good guy. A very interesting actor

I think the pivotal point in the movie is when he cuts off Carter's head. Up until that point, he's surviving and trying to find a solution to all this, after that it's no-holds barred and let's kill them all. It's more nihilistic; it's not about finding a solution, it's more about pure survival.

Seems like you all had a good time. Who had the best time on set?

JH: I hope me. I don't know. I think that Melissa had the best time.

A film like this is a survival film, and we see the progression from beginning toward end. Is it hard for you to get into the mindset as it progresses in each scene?

JH: We had the fake beard to tell me where I was in the timeline of he piece. It was always difficult to make the pieces match up, but that's the puzzle of being an actor in film. You also have editors and directors to help you out too. But in a film like  this, there are so many key points that are physical, you know exactly where you stand pretty much the whole time.

Wasn't there was some turmoil over you having the beard?

JH Well the turmoil of the beard was that they wanted me to be clean-shaven at the beginning of the film. It would have been a lot easier had I been able to grow as much as I can grow, which is kind of pathetic. And then add pieces as we move further along. It is Alaska, and it is cold there, so I thought the guy should have a beard. But, people just didn't believe that it was a good idea to start the movie with my character having a beard. I tried to point out that... I actually sent a letter to somebody [involved with the film] about very successful people in film that had beards [laughs]. And I tried to explain how much I wanted a beard by pointing out who had how much and where I would fit in that progression. It didn't work.

In the film you had to make the ultimate sacrifice, did you ever have to do something like that in real life?

JH: I'm still here so, no.

What was it like filming so far away from home?

JH: New Zealand is a beautiful country. I actually wanted to buy a plot of land there but I got outbid. It was on the West Coast of the North Island which is kind of a surfer's paradise. Volcanic black rocks, black sand beaches, tumultuous wind, and what's amazing about New Zealand is that it has all the topography and geography as the U.S. but it's packed in the size of a country [about equal in area to] California.

You could drive along the South Island, deserts, mountains, lake regions, going along the coast where it's kind of tropical. Also New Zealand has two tectonic plates that are underneath New Zealand, so one island came off of one and one came off the other made of completely different dirt and different type of rock. If you go from one island to the other it's pretty interesting.

Were there any alternate scenes or endings shot?

JH: No alternate endings, but there are scenes that didn't make it in the film. There were multiple scenes where my character started to lose it a little bit because of all the pressures with his axe, and I think that the story did suffer with me not going a little more insane. But its okay. It works because really the idea was to see this character to go out there and get pulled back by a traumatic event but is it necessary in the grand scheme of things? When there's all this action going on? Probably not. I have another movie to do all that in. I lose my shit in "I Come with the Rain."

What's that movie about?

JH: "I Come with the Rain" is a movie I shot in Hong Kong  with Ahn Hung Tran. He's amazing, a Vietnamese director. It's a visual kind of poetic piece.

There were once rumors of you playing Superman. Now that you're doing the Justice League movie, do you think you'll do Superman for that film?

JH: I doubt it, I saw the tights for it [laughs]. I'm only getting older. I'm probably going to do this movie called "End Zone." It's a very interesting project. I love Don DeLillo as a novelist and I think that the script he wrote [based on his story of games, including college football and nuclear warfare, set in Texas] is fantastic and hilarious.

Do you still want to produce your own movies—you were working on a biopic on jazz musician Chet Baker?

JH: The Chet Baker project is kind of on hold; we had a script that wasn't kinetic enough, and was for the wrong audience. Not that many people have followed Chet Baker's career. We thought that it would have to be this commanding story [about his life] that everyone would want to see, if we could only get it on the page. We had multiple people who wanted to work on the film, so I felt like I would take a step back. We'll see what happens.

I produced this movie called "August" which is Austin Chick's sophomore effort [he directed "XX/XY"]. We have some amazing actors in it like Rip Torn and David Bowie. They haven't worked together since "The Man Who Fell to Earth." And there's a lot of other interesting people in it. It was a very solid script about real people in an extraordinary situation. We shot it really cheap here in New York, but it looks quite good. It's good to be able to do a film at home, I live here now.

"30 Days of Night" begs for a sequel. Were you talking about sequels?

JH: I have a very short attention span so if I don't move to something completely different, I tend to get pretty stale.

In real life, what's you're biggest fear?

JH: Sharks, that's a fact.




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