Josh Hartnett made his cinematic debut in 1998's Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. He rounded out the decade by making a strong name for himself in The Faculty and Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. Then, his career took off.
In the early 2000s, the Minnesota-born thespian appeared in Michael Bay's big-budget summer blockbuster Pearl Harbor. He fought another theatrical war the same year, this time in Ridley Scott's Academy Award-winning Black Hawk Down. Hartnett did a good job of mixing up his movie roles with star-making turns in romantic comedies like 40 Days and 40 Nights and gritty crime thrillers like Frank Miller's Sin City.
At the time, Hartnett was not just a good actor, but also a matinee idol with a boy-next-door quality and sexy star appeal. In 2002, Teen People called Hartnett “the hottest new movie star on earth." Yet, just a few years into the 2000s, Hartnett's career cooled off. It turns out that the Midwestern boy was not all that interested in becoming the next Brad Pitt. He even battled over whether or not to take the role in Pearl Harbor in the first place. Hartnett worried about what the trajectory of his career would become if he appeared in a blockbuster of that magnitude.
Hartnett reportedly turned down other big movie roles that would have padded his bank account and further added to his star power. Hartnett could have been the next Superman or Spider-Man, or even Batman. Instead of bathing in the spotlight, the actor took a break from show business and returned to Minnesota.
“I think it can be an unhealthy environment,” Hartnett said of Hollywood. "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.”
When Hartnett did work in the mid-2000s, he took on roles in lower-budget and independent films. In 2014, the world got another chance to see Hartnett in a big-scale production when he appeared on Showtime's critically acclaimed series Penny Dreadful.
Penny Dreadful wrapped after three seasons, and Hartnett now concentrates on working in several different facets of filmmaking. "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," he says. "I still love the 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.”