The Real Reasons Josh Hartnett Disappeared From Hollywood

At the turn of the millennium, Josh Hartnett was one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. After blockbuster roles in Black Hawk Down (2001) and Pearl Harbor (2001), Hartnett was the odds-on favorite to become the next big thing, but a few years later, the young star went MIA. What the heck happened? 

He turned down major movie roles

Throughout the early and mid-'00s, Hartnett raised eyebrows when he turned down a slew of high-profile roles, including the lead in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (2006). "I didn't want to be labeled as Superman for the rest of my career," he told Details magazine in 2014. "I was maybe 22, but I saw the danger." His agents dropped him shortly thereafter. "There was a lot of infighting between my manager and agents, trying to figure out who to put the blame on," he said. "It got to the point where none of us were able to work together."

He said no to the wrong people

Another huge role Hartnett turned down: playing Batman in Christopher Nolan's now-famous trilogy. Speaking to Playboy in 2015, Hartnett admitted saying no to Nolan ruined his chance to work with him on other projects. "I learned my lesson when [writer-director] Christopher Nolan and I talked about Batman. I decided it wasn't for me. Then he didn't want to put me in The Prestige." Hartnett said, "I know now that I wouldn't turn something down just because it's a superhero role," noting the post-Batman success of the franchise's eventual star, Christian Bale.

Hollywood is a small world. "I've definitely said no to some of the wrong people," Hartnett told Playboy. "I said no because I was tired and wanted to spend more time with my friends and family. That's frowned upon in this industry. People don't like being told no."

He filmed a bunch of indies that nobody saw

Turning down superhero roles left Hartnett with fewer and fewer opportunities, leading to jobs in independent movies that we're not even sure he's heard of. A quick browse of Hartnett's IMDb page shows head-scratching titles like I Come with the Rain (2009); Stuck Between Stations (2011); and Parts Per Billion (2014).

Hartnett knows full well he's no longer Hollywood's first choice for acting gigs. "I still get offered films and TV roles, luckily," he told Details magazine (via ABC News) "but years ago, if I saw a role I wanted, there was a good chance I could grab it. When I see a role now, I've got to fight for it. It's not bad. It's actually more rewarding. Depressing when something doesn't go your way, but only for a minute."

He moved home to Minnesota

Minnesota is a long way from Tinsel Town, so when Hartnett moved home in his twenties, he literally and figuratively isolated himself from the entertainment industry. Hartnett said he got so fed up with appearing on magazine covers and getting recognized in public that he packed up his stuff and returned to his roots. "I didn't trust anyone," he said in 2014. "So I went back to Minnesota and got back together with my old friends—ended up getting back together with my high-school girlfriend for a while—and I didn't do any filming for 18 months. I'm still finding my way through all that."

Hartnett doesn't seem to regret his exodus, but he does realize it's made his comeback more difficult. "If I could go back and take with me my wisdom of today, I wish I'd been more resilient," he told Playboy. "I hope I wouldn't be as panicked as I was. Maybe I'd have known that no matter what people try to take from you, you don't have to give it to them. I've definitely grown a bit."

He campaigned for Obama

During President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, Hartnett gave a talk to about 300 guests at the University of Minnesota in support of the president. "I haven't been in front of an audience like this in eight years," he quipped to the crowd, according to MinnPost. "It makes me feel anxious. ...But it's so important for all of us to be involved. This election may be a bit more difficult than some of us expect at this time. There's going to be a lot of money on the right re-interpreting what the president has accomplished. He's done a terrific job."

Hartnett certainly isn't the first or last celebrity to campaign for a candidate, but talking politics always brings with it a degree of risk and distraction at a time when Hartnett arguably could have been campaigning for his career.

He's very private about his personal life

In an era when celebs sell photos of their newborns to the highest bidder, Hartnett and his girlfriend, English actress Tamsin Egerton, didn't even reveal the name of their firstborn. The private couple welcomed a baby girl in November 2015, but true to form, they've been reluctant to dish details.

Hartnett did share a little on Live with Kelly and Michael in April 2016, saying parenthood "puts things in a totally new perspective...Your ego melts away when you have a new kid. Your heart kind of leaves your body and you give it permission to walk around with someone else for a while. It's really terrifying but it's beautiful. I love it more than anything. I wish I would have started it earlier. But I'm so glad that she is the one I'm raising."

Hartnett also said his daughter has motivated him to chase after that elusive Hollywood comeback. "Because of her, [my] perspective shifted on work and stuff, too. I used to be a little bit more precious about what I was choosing to work on because I was just so worried about how, like, my career was going to come across and stuff like that. And now with her, I'm like, 'I just got to work. I gotta make money.'"

Hartnett and Egerton met while filming the critically-panned movie The Lovers, which was released in 2015 but filmed in 2010 and 2011. The co-stars began dating in 2012.

Can he find his footing after Penny Dreadful?

Hartnett's career has been moving in the right direction in recent years. His big break was the role of Ethan Chandler in Showtime's 19th-century drama Penny Dreadful. Since its 2014 debut, the series has received strong reviews from critics, as well as impressive ratings, but in June 2016, the network confirmed the Season 3 finale marked the end of the monster drama.

The show's creator and showrunner reportedly felt that three seasons was just the right amount of time to do the story justice. "I think it's really interesting that we live in this world where every show can have its own rhythm and create its own destiny," Showtime president David Nevins told The Hollywood Reporter. "This is a case of your creator says this is the best thing for the show and eventually you just say OK, do it, just do it well."

But was that the best thing for Hartnett? Time will tell. He'll star in the police thriller Gut Instinct in 2016 and the fantasy drama, Valley of the Gods, opposite John Malkovich, in 2017. Our gut tells us Hollywood and Hartnett are rekindling their love affair.