October 31, 2007
Hartnett Gives Horror Fans Their Fix in a Halloween Thriller
Josh Hartnett has a theory when it comes to vampires. "They know a lot more poetry than we do! If you could live forever, what would you get into? Apparently, it's a sort of Baroque, 17th century lifestyle with a lot of candles," he jokingly theorized.
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Even so, it wasn't their literary abilities that pivoted the night creatures to the Number One slot opening weekend via 30 Days of Night. The screen adaptation of Steve Niles' graphic-novel series pumps new blood into the long dormant genre, giving horror fans a blunt, visceral fix. The movie is out in local theaters.
Hartnett knows the feeling. It scared the daylights out of him as a kid. He recalled, "I was about eight or nine when I saw my first vampire movie. I went over to my buddy's three doors away. We watched Salem's Lot. His parents allowed him to watch those types of movies. Mine didn't, so I'd sneak off. But I remember that two door journey back home. I'd have to haul ass, terrified, back to my bedroom."
The last trait Hartnett displays on screen is cowardliness. In 30 Days of Night, the veteran of such movies as Pearl Harbor, The Black Dahlia, and Black Hawk Down portrays Sheriff Eben Oleson in the northernmost section of Alaska, that becomes cloaked in darkness at the height of the winter season.
Heralding impeding doom is a string of unnerving incidences like stolen cell phones burnt to a crisp, and sled dogs found slaughtered in their kennels. By the time a scruffy, cantankerous prisoner warns that "they're coming," it's safe to assume that a band of bloodthirsty fiends are plotting their next meal.
It might not seem like a logical choice for Hartnett, but he had his reasons. "I wanted to do the film because of director David Slade's vision. He came to me and laid out what he wanted the movie to be like. It seemed completely different from anything that I'd ever heard of before – visceral and dark, but also something that's artistic. He always wanted to use very little musical score, but to have the score rattling and weird. Brian Rice is an amazing composer.
"And producer Sam Raimi has a real tongue-in-cheek approach to horror which makes this one obviously different. Plus, there were some great actors who came aboard like Ben Foster, Danny Huston and Melissa George," the 29-year-old actor explained.
His previous involvement with another graphic novel, Sin City, helped establish his mind set. "This was supposed to be half-fantasy, half-reality and the characters were real characters with real problems so you could relate and follow their journey into the realm of the supernatural."
Long and laborious, Hartnett spent 10 weeks on location in New Zealand, shooting primarily at night. He recalled, "We were all going crazy. I'm still not back. 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, the isolation. I guess it's method acting in a sense."
A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Hartnett strongly believes that climate definitely affects how people think. He offered an example: "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, a couple of true geniuses like Bob Dylan and Prince. It you have nothing but beaches around you, you'll probably surf and have a great time, but it's going to affect the way you look and the way you act. Period."
Hartnett speaks from experience. After a high school football accident sidelined him, he turned to the theater and eventually enrolled at SUNY Purchase. By April 1997, he was bound for California, landing the role of Michael Fitzgerald on the short-lived TV series "Cracker." The exposure was sufficient to get him cast as Jamie Lee Curtis' son in Halloween: H20, which commandeered the box office around this same time nine years ago.
Discounting rumors that he'll play Superman, Hartnett quipped, "I doubt it. I saw the tights for it! I'm only getting older. Instead, I'm probably going to do this movie called End Zone. I love Don DeLillo as a novelist and I think that the script he wrote is fantastic and hilarious."
In the meantime, he'll return with I Come with the Rain, a movie shot in Hong Kong with Vietnamese director Ahn Hung Tran, along with producing Austin Chick's sophomore effort titled August. He elaborated, "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. 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 since I live here now."
30 Days of Night may have resolved any residual childhood fear Hartnett had about vampires, but there's still one fear lurking in his consciousness. "Sharks. I'm terrified of them. That's a fact," he said.