Josh Hartnett is fantasizing, just for a moment.
The fantasy doesn’t involve women. One of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors, linked in the gossip columns to Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Giselle Bundchen and others, the 29-year-old Hartnett doesn’t need to live in a fantasy world, there.
Resurrecting the Champ
Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Teri Hatcher, Kathryn Morris, Dakota Goyo, Alan Alda, Rachel Nichols, David Paymer, Harry J. Lennix
(Yari Film Group; US theatrical: 24 Aug 2007 (General release); 2007)
He doesn’t even need to dream about the sort of career he would like. A leading man with coal-black eyes and smoldering voice, he has steadily climbed the ladder to stardom over the past decade, getting bigger roles in bigger movies - “Sin City,” “Black Hawk Down,” “The Black Dahlia” and “Pearl Harbor.” As we speak, he’s waiting to get on a plane to shoot “I Come With the Rain” in China.
But he has his dreams, and most of them involve a movie about music.
“I would love to play a rock star,” he said. “If somebody said it was time to make The Iggy Pop Story, I’d be there.”
Maybe that’s why Hartnett, who has the Alaskan vampire movie “30 Days of Night” due out this fall and who pairs up with Samuel L. Jackson for his latest, “Resurrecting the Champ,” opening Friday, has been clinging to this idea of making a movie about legendary jazz man and drug abuser Chet Baker. Stardom is one thing. Musical bio-pics mean awards, credibility and prestige pictures.
“There’s a lot of people interested in making the film, but we haven’t signed a director, haven’t finished the script,” he said of “The Prince of Cool,” his dream Chet Baker project. “It’ll get made. Just a question of time.
“I’d heard his music, you know, `My Funny Valentine.’ But his story got my interest ... His career, what he went through, is so incredible and so dark that to tell his story honestly would blow people’s minds, I think.”
Baker was a trumpeter at the height of 1950s cool jazz. Like Charlie “Bird” Parker, he had it all, and hard-living threatened to take it away. Unlike Parker, Baker played, and did time in prison, and suffered, and made it almost to age 60, dying in 1988.
“He was severely beaten, which wrecked his teeth and lips and his embouchure (the lip- and facial-muscle formation required to play a wind instrument),” Harnett marveled.
And when the end came, it was sudden and unexpected, unusual in such tales. Baker fell out of a window.
“It is wild to think of how much he squeezed into in his life,” Hartnett said.
The same could be said for Hartnett, leaving out the more dangerous excesses. Twenty-plus films into a career barely 10 years old, he has risen from adolescent horror-film roles to sharing the screen and holding his own opposite Jackson, a co-star who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. “Resurrecting the Champ” may be a “next level” sort of role for Hartnett.
“Josh Harnett convincingly shows the stoop of a proud man carrying the weight of a legendary father on his back” in the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter critic, in an early review.
In “Champ,” Harnett plays a young newspaper reporter, the son of a legendary sportscaster dad, who stumbles across a human-interest story that could make his career. “The Champ” (Jackson) is a worn out, homeless, drunken ex-heavyweight with a great tale to tell. But it’s only after the story has printed and the reporter’s fame grows that he starts to question what the Champ told him. It was a chance for Hartnett to see journalism from the other side.
“Having done this for a decade now, I’ve talked with a lot of journalists,” he said. “But I’d never really dissected their goals, their ambitions, or, well, your goals. I’d never given any thought to how a story like the one we tell in the movie comes to be, where the facts aren’t all checked. It ends up being this semi-fictional piece of writing when it’s supposed to be perfectly accurate.
“What I like about the film is how it talks so much about journalistic integrity and the responsibilities journalists have to keep to the facts. If you don’t check those facts, it can lead to disaster. The media these days is so saturated with opinion that it feels important to show how facts are lost along the way. It was interesting to see how competitive and how timely you have to be. And that need for speed can make the story disintegrate.”
Hartnett laughed. For a guy from Minneapolis whose circle of friends is mostly artists and musicians, being on the receiving end of inaccurate reporting made him want to play this ethically challenged reporter even more.
“The tabloids, they get nothing right - 98 percent of what they write about me is wrong,” he said, laughing at this famous name or that one attached to his. “You’re in a movie with somebody, you’re suddenly a couple. You eat dinner with a co-star, and it gets worse.
“And those are written by reporters taking short-cuts, trying to get ahead. It’s a temptation I can see from the other side, now.”
Not that he excuses inaccuracy. He wants people to get it right, be it a detail of who he is dating, or the movie that truly is his dream project. But now he knows just how hard that is.
“I went down the rabbit hole with this guy,” Hartnett says of his Champ character. “I think I get it.
“I’m into jazz. I hang with my friends. I go camping. But it makes for a better story than if you’re off camping somewhere. You see a bear-trap, some people jump straight to the conclusion, `Bear.’
“But that’s why they call it `gossip.’ It’s not necessarily real. It can be pure fantasy.”