Josh Hartnett's major comeback after ditching Hollywood

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In the early naughties, Josh Hartnett was an A-list actor who had top billing in some of the biggest blockbuster movies of the time including Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, 30 Days of Night, The Black Dahlia and 40 Days and 40 Nights.

Often featured in Sexiest Men magazine polls, he seemingly had the world at his feet.

Josh Hartnett stands smiling in black suit and bow-tie at the Cannes international film festival, out of focus crowd in background
Actor Josh Hartnett may have slipped off the radar for movie lovers, but he's stayed true to himself and his family. Photo: LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

His co-stars in those movies such as Ben Affleck, Orlando Bloom, Ewan McGregor and Eric Bana have all gone on to consolidate their success, picking and choosing which big-budget movies they want to be a part of next.

Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Affleck stand arms around each other with water and the USS Arizona Memorial behind them
Pearl Harbor co-stars Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Affleck on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis with the USS Arizona Memorial behind them. Photo: Getty Images.

However, at just 26 years old, Josh knew he was uncomfortable in the Hollywood bubble.

"I'm absolutely not in the race to be the hottest actor," he said in 2006 at the height of his career.

"I know what it's like to be in that whole world.

"I was up there for a couple of years and it was uncomfortable.

"I think trying to stay at the top is a shortcut to unhappiness."

At around this time he turned down playing Superman, a role that would have made him one of the top men in Tinseltown.

"I didn't ever want to do it," he explains.

"It just wasn't the kind of movie I wanted to do.

"I turned down other superhero roles as well," he said referencing Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise.

"There were a lot of powers that be that wanted me to pursue those films, but I have always been interested in stories about people and I didn't want to be boxed into that superhero type," he told the UK paper Metro in 2020.

"At that age, it is very easy to become someone else's tool or someone else's puppet.

"I was very aware of the choices I was making and I wanted them to be my choices."

Instead, he decided to step away from Hollywood and considered going back to studying.

"I thought if I did give up acting I'd go back to school for a while and find something else to do.

"I always wanted to be a painter and if I had the means I might just hermit myself away and do that for a while."

He didn't stop making movies though, rather he chose artistic roles in art house films and focused on his personal life.

Tamsin Egerton and Josh Hartnett sitting in the stands at the 2012 US open, both wearing sunglasses, drinks in hand
Tamsin Egerton and Josh Hartnett, at the 2012 US Open, just after they started dating. Photo: Getty Images

In 2012 he met British actress Tamsin Egerton and they settled into a quiet suburban street in leafy Surrey, England.

The couple have three children born in 2015, 2017 and 2019 and finally tied the knot after nine years together last year.

Josh Hartnett and Tamsin Egerton stand under a floral arch with out door dining and country manor in the background
Josh Hartnett and Tamsin Egerton are now married and have three children. Photo: Getty Images

"The thing I am most proud of is that I’m a father of three and I have a good relationship with my partner and a great family life," the actor told Mr. Porter in an interview.

"It was the best thing for my mental health and my career to keep Hollywood at bay," he added on Sunrise late last year.

"Luckily I think I hit onto it early on in my life: it’s about creating a good home life and being able to do things that are wild and wonderful like making films, which is such a privilege."

There is a rumour he lost out on a $100 million payday by turning down the Superman trilogy but he doesn't regret it.

"Yes, there was a lot of money involved, but I didn’t think that was the be-all and end-all," he said.

"It’s become increasingly clear to me that money only takes you so far. I’ve seen a lot of people drown in their money."

He does have one regret though, turning down the 2005 Academy Award-winning film Brokeback Mountain.

"Unfortunately, I was going to do Brokeback Mountain and I had a contract with the Black Dahlia that I had to film, so I had to drop out of it."

He explained he was originally meant to star in the drama with Joaquin Phoenix, "I always wanted to kiss Joaquin," he joked.

The roles later went to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal who were both nominated for Oscars for their performances.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett stand smiling back stage at an industry event
Josh with Jake Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst, says his one regret was tuning down the role in Brokeback Mountain which Jake starred in with Heath Ledger. Photo: Getty Images

Now Josh is back swinging in the big leagues, starring in the latest Guy Ritchie films, The Wrath of Man and Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre and also appearing in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer due out next year.

Josh Hartnett stands smiling wearing spectacles at an industry event
We're going to see a lot more of Josh at the cinema over the next few years. Photo: Getty Images

Don't expect him to forego his family and happiness though.

"I don’t know what the possibilities of my life could have been had I chosen different routes, but I will say that in giving in to the allure of Hollywood entirely, I know that I would not have a happy life," he says.

"I feel very strongly about that."

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