Back in 2001, a 22-year-old Josh Hartnett suddenly found himself being heralded as Hollywood's Next Big Thing. But as he recently told The Guardian, "being huge was never something I aspired to."
Still, after his performances in "The Virgin Suicides," "Black Hawk Down" and "Pearl Harbor," the industry seemed to have other plans for the rising star — a point Vanity Fair made quite clear in its July 2001 cover story, "The Making of Josh Hartnett."
"Oh, that was an awful piece," Josh told The Guardian. "Was there even a quote from me in it, or was it just everyone talking about how hot I was? People got a chip on their shoulder about me after that. They genuinely thought I'd been thrust on them. It was a very weird time."
Now 42 and living in Surrey, England, with his wife, British actress Tamsin Egerton, and their two kids, the "Target Number One" star feels confident about having stepped back from the "huge" movie star persona he was being groomed for at the time.
He's also still trying to wrap his head around how the Hollywood machine managed to simultaneously prop him up as a massive star and question whether he deserved that status.
"It was a set-up-to-fail moment," he says after being reminded Jerry Bruckheimer compared him to Tom Cruise in the same Vanity Fair piece, which promised "Pearl Harbor" would "virtually overnight make an international movie star out of a comparative unknown," that unknown being Josh.
"It's just that it happened at a time when I wasn't that famous, and it seemed to already be asking whether I should be or not," he continued. "I felt like: 'Oh my God! I'm not the tallest poppy yet — don't cut me down!'"
It didn't help that Josh was asked to play Superman and wanted to make the character, as he put it, a "fear-based" superhero who's "become afraid of himself and his own power."
He ended up "walking away" from the offer, The Guardian notes.
After that, Josh said, Hollywood types "looked at me as someone who had bitten the hand that fed me," an assumption he now says was off-base.
"It wasn't that. I wasn't doing it to be recalcitrant or a rebel. People wanted to create a brand around me that was going to be accessible and well-liked, but I didn't respond to the idea of playing the same character over and over, so I branched out. In the process, I burned my bridges at the studios because I wasn't participating."
In addition to his 2020 crime drama, "Target Number One," Josh recently appeared in the TV series, "Paradise Lost" and "Penny Dreadful." He also has three films due out next year, including James Franco's "The Long Home" and Guy Ritchie's "Wrath of Man."
Looking back to where he began, alongside Kirsten Dunst in "The Virgin Suicides," he admits, "It's a little bit heartbreaking to see all that time has passed…. I was a child. I was 19. 'The Virgin Suicides' felt like a group of friends all pulling together. I think I'm still looking for that experience whenever I make a film."
As for that Vanity Fair piece? "It was actually an interesting look at the nature of fame," Josh muses. "If only it wasn't about me."