Josh Hartnett says fame had a 'massive effect' on his mental health

There was once a time when you couldn't go anywhere without seeing Josh Hartnett's face, whether on movie posters or magazine covers.

At just 20, he became a household name thanks to his roles in numerous blockbuster films including Pearl Harbour and Black Hawk Down. But after enjoying the limelight for a little while, Josh decided to be a little pickier with his films and only choose the ones that really excited him.

Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett tells us how his intense fame in his early 20s had a 'massive effect' on his mental health. Photo: Getty

Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle about his new indie film Ida Red, Josh, now 43, shared that he was drawn to it because he loves crime stories that are really about family at heart.

"Just the idea of working with your family and how horribly that always turns out and then and add to that sort of the pressure cooker of time and crime and all that," he told us jokingly. "I've always responded to those types of films. And so when this came across my desk and the actors that are involved, I felt like it would be a great experience."


The film is about a crime boss named Ida Red (Melissa Leo), who is in jail and terminally ill. She enlists her son Wyatt's (Hartnett) help for one last job and a chance to regain her freedom.

It was shot early in the pandemic before there were any Covid protocols in place, and at one stage, Josh says they didn't even know if they'd be able to make the film.

Josh Hartnett as Wyatt in Ida Red
Josh as Wyatt in Ida Red with co-star Melissa Leo. Photo: Supplied

As a result, much of the budget went towards keeping the cast and crew safe from the virus, with Josh describing it as "a weird film to make" and adding that "it was a little bit scary" at the beginning.

Speaking of his movie choices, Josh said he loves indie films over big-budget films because it's always a "gamble".

"I like how much of a gamble it is making indie films, especially these days because there aren't many indie films that get a great release that people see," he said. "Like I did a movie called Oh Lucy! a few years ago, and it was a Japanese American production. It's a comedy sort of but a super depressive comedy. And like it had no place – it had no business being in the business and no place in the marketplace, and yet it was happening, and I had to be a part of it because it's just so bizarre and you don't get a chance to do something like that very often.

"For me, it's always about being able to do something that I wouldn't get another chance to do. And that happens occasionally in big studio films, but it happens a lot in independent film. So I'm drawn to independent projects because of that."

'Not healthy'

Josh Hartnett on the set of Black Hawk Down
Josh Hartnett on the set of Black Hawk Down in 2001, the height of his fame. Photo: Getty

While there was that period where Josh was on every magazine cover and heralded as 'the next big thing', there was also a time where those magazines and online publications questioned where he was as he wasn't choosing so many big films.

When asked if this annoyed him, given that he has constantly been working, aside from a short break from 2011 to 2014, Josh jokingly responded, "It only annoyed me when I was in interviews, and I was reminded of it!"

The father-of-three continued, "I'm not someone – I can't Google myself. It would be a disaster for my mental health. So I don't have any relationship to that stuff. And I have a really rich family life. I've got three kids, and I mean, we've got so much going on, it's almost impossible to kind of take the time to do that.

"And I work a lot, as you know, so it's – yes, it's sort of annoying... What's annoying about it is that people weren't seeing the projects I was making as much, which were, I think, really worthy projects. And hopefully, I'm doing a few studio films now that are bigger, and hopefully, people, if they are more interested in my career as a whole, will come back and see some of those films because they're worthy films as well."

While mental health is discussed a lot nowadays, it wasn't so much in the early 2000s and late 90s, and when asked if he thought fame affected his mental health, he said yes.

Josh Hartnett in 2001
Josh said it was 'annoying' that people thought he'd stopped acting simply because he chose smaller projects. Photo: Getty

"Becoming famous at aged 20 years old or whatever?" he said with a smile. "Yes, I think it did have a massive effect on my mental health. I would say that now people are much more aware of [mental health]. And it's a good thing. It's nice to see that people can take a break and not be considered crazy.

"That was the big thing for me and like I realised this is not healthy the amount of attention being put on me, and it was even more different, even more kind of aggressive back then. Because you had roving gangs of paparazzi, and they were gangs, like they were actual groups of kind of scary men who had no scruples about getting into your space and invading your privacy in your house and all sorts of things. And... I knew that it wasn't healthy at the time, and I wanted to be around people that I cared about and cared about me. I had no doubts about that.

"So the best thing for me to do was to take a step back and kind of reassess my life and work when I wanted to and also then spend time with my family when I had time off. And so yes, there's a lot more attention being paid to [mental health] now, I wish there had been when I was younger, but you can't go back, and I'm happy with the choices I made. Here we are."

Covid 'recalibrated' priorities

Josh Hartnett and Tamsin Egerton
Josh and his partner of eight years Tamsin Egerton share three children together. Photo: Getty

When the Covid pandemic struck, Josh and his partner of eight years, Tamsin Egerton, had recently welcomed their third child, with the actor saying he welcomed the forced break as it allowed him to spend time with his family.

"Absolutely. I mean, it was, I hate to say this, but it was, I think for a lot of people, it was the recalibrating of priorities," he explained. "And I found being able to know for a fact I wasn't going to get on a plane for a couple of months. And I was going to be just there with the kids. It made us all feel a little bit more stable with each other.

"And that was really nice. There was nowhere to go, so we had to make things up to do, which I felt was kind of nice as well."

He added, "It was a very difficult time, of course, for everybody and our experience was no different, [we had] family members who ended up with Covid and all that, but as far as like a relationship with the kids went, [it was] very, very gratifying, for sure."

Ida Red is available for digital download now.

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