The Stunning Transformation Of Josh Hartnett

Once upon a time in Hollywood, Josh Hartnett was inescapable. In 1999, Teen People named him one of its 21 Hottest Stars Under 21. In 2003, PETA named him one of its Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrities. You get the idea. Even Hartnett agrees that it was too much. A Vanity Fair cover story, in particular, seemed to go too far. "[W]as it just everyone talking about how hot I was?" he pondered to The Guardian years later. "People got a chip on their shoulder about me after that. They genuinely thought I'd been thrust on them. It was a very weird time."

Hartnett isn't quite that famous anymore. He regularly appears in articles that wonder why, or where he's been. The answer is simple: He's been acting! Hartnett intentionally stepped back from the high-profile films that defined his early career, but he's been steadily turning in performances ever since. In 2023, he told Yahoo that he doesn't understand why people keep writing about him this way. "I've been extremely lucky to have 25 years in this business and make great films with really interesting directors and be able to play a bunch of disparate characters," he said. "I find it remarkable and very lucky that I'm here after 25 years. It's bizarre."

If you'd like to take a trip down memory lane and explore how Hartnett got where he was — and why he went the way he went — then read on for a look at the stunning transformation of Josh Hartnett.

Josh Hartnett loved where he grew up

Josh Hartnett was born in Minnesota in 1978, and he loved that about himself. As he told The Guardian, "It's one of those ideal places to raise a family. It's safe, it's beautiful, there are lakes and cabins." He also called his parents "hippyish," explaining that he grew up with three younger siblings, all of whom had names that started with the letter J. His father was a guitar player turned real estate agent, and his mother was a classroom assistant; they divorced, but it seems to have been amicable, and Hartnett later reported still being close with everyone in his family.

Hartnett was raised Catholic, and he was an altar boy. However, his motives weren't necessarily always pure. "Me and my friends used to serve every funeral because we'd get five bucks and we could get out of school," he confessed to Vanity Fair. He told the magazine that he considers being an altar boy the first time he was onstage in front of an audience.

Those Midwestern values gave the budding young star something else he holds on to today: the conviction to chase his dreams. "I've always felt that I could do whatever the hell I wanted," he told USA Today. "Maybe that's the product of growing up when I did and where I did. My parents weren't wealthy, but I was told to follow my heart."

His high school football career was cut short

When Josh Hartnett was a teenager, he was on his high school football team. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and was no longer able to play. He told The Guardian that he looked into acting instead, even though he thought it was "for sissies." He tried out for a part in a play about Tom Sawyer and won the role of Huck Finn. Soon, the young actor was hooked.

Around the same time, Hartnett had a job working at a video store. He told Vanity Fair that the position gave him an education in film. "I'd take home like three or four films a night and at least start them," he recalled. "When you work in a video store, you go, 'That sucks, that sucks, that sucks, that's good, that's not really my taste.' You see so many." He soon began to wonder what it would be like to walk into his video store and see himself on a VHS cover.

Hartnett and his friends began making short films, including one in which they pretended to rob a Dairy Queen. He told Teen People that a neighbor who didn't know it was all part of the film called the cops. Luckily, they were taking a break when the police arrived. "If we'd had our fake yellow pistols in our hands, we probably would have all been goners," he said. 

Josh Hartnett's audition schedule was off to a hectic start

A talent scout saw Josh Hartnett in a production of "Guys and Dolls" and gave him a card. By the time he graduated high school, Hartnett was acting in commercials. His manager, Nancy Kremer, insisted that he go to Hollywood. He went to college first, attending SUNY Purchase. Unhappy, Hartnett complained to school administrators about the "Darwinism" in the drama program, according to an interview with Vulture. Then he left school to make his way in Los Angeles. "A couple of years later, they offered me an honorary degree, before my contemporaries had even graduated. It was really strange," he ruminated.

When Hartnett went to Hollywood, he realized that the City of Angels was nothing like what he'd expected. "I thought it was a bunch of guys in slouch hats carrying big planks, building sets, and singing, 'Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go.' I thought it was all going to be a community," he told Vanity Fair.

Not so much, but that's okay; Hartnett's manager got him an agent right away. Soon, he was going out on four auditions a day. Kremer told Vanity Fair that her young protégé built buzz around town almost immediately. "The thing is, when he went out, every single call, he got a callback on, which is pretty much unheard of," she said. "That's just a gift from the heavens."

Josh Hartnett had a questionable haircut

Almost immediately after moving to Los Angeles, Josh Hartnett was cast on a TV show called "Cracker." It didn't last long, but Hartnett quickly moved on to other projects, and in 1998, he filmed three movies that would come to define his early career. Hartnett starred in "Halloween H20" and "The Faculty" that year, two teen horror movies that made him an instant celebrity.

While those early roles showed an actor with promise, they also showed something else: a terrible haircut. Both "Halloween H20" and "The Faculty" featured Hartnett with a bizarre chop that is still the subject of jokes online. "[W]e talk a lot about Courtney Cox's bangs in Scream 3 but not enough about Josh Hartnett's hair in Halloween: H20," one fan wrote on Twitter in 2021 alongside screenshots of Hartnett in the film. His uneven bangs weren't the worst part; the back of his head looked like he just got out of bed. His hair was the same in "The Faculty," as a thread on MovieChat explored. "[I]t's Josh Harnett," one fan wrote. "He can get away with it and still look hot."

He finally explained himself in a 2001 interview, confessing that there was no barber to blame. That's right: He cut it himself. Hartnett told that he had the haircut in his auditions, so he kept it for the films. The heartthrob joked, "The team of people around me gave up on my appearance a long time ago."

The Virgin Suicides lent him some indie cred

The other film Josh Hartnett shot in 1998 was released the following year. "The Virgin Suicides," directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst, featured Hartnett as Trip Fontaine, a total heartthrob. Whereas "Halloween H20" and "The Faculty" were lighter fare, "The Virgin Suicides" was a serious indie hit, lending the actor's budding talent some serious credibility. Luckily, he had the film's director to back him up. "You just knew he had it," she told Vanity Fair, looking back at why she cast him. As for why Fontaine is introduced with a slow shot tracking up his entire body, boots to '70s cool-guy haircut: "We had to make him an icon."

Years later, Hartnett looked back on how he felt about the role as he reunited with the cast online for Entertainment Weekly. "I was, you know, hyper-vigilant at the time, thinking myself to be a pretty s***-hot actor, and wanted to read the book before I got there and like, be all prepared," he recalled. To his surprise, all of that preparation wound up being unnecessary: He didn't need to try so hard to prove himself on set. "It felt like nothing I'd done before," he said. "It just felt so relaxed."

Hartnett turned 20 on set, and when he did, Coppola gave him a bottle of wine. According to Artful Living, the director wrote on the label, "Congratulations, Josh. Teen idol no more." Josh Hartnett, serious actor, had arrived.

Pearl Harbor was meant to change everything

Pretty much everybody told Josh Hartnett that starring in Michael Bay's 2001 film "Pearl Harbor" was going to change his life. Gone were the movies about teenagers, for one; this was a grown-up role. "I'll tell you right now, Josh Hartnett is going to be f***ing huge," Bay predicted to Movieline. Co-star Ben Affleck anticipated similarly massive things. "Josh will get very famous very quickly and runs the very real risk of becoming a sort of one-man embodiment of the Backstreet Boys to hormone-crazed 15-year-old girls from Minnetonka to Tarzana," he told Vanity Fair. "He is particularly at risk for this as he is so very PRETTY."

At this point in his career, though, Hartnett wasn't sure he wanted this. He told Newsweek that the day he got the offer for the film, which was predicted to be as big as "Titanic," he had a long conversation with his father. "I went and washed the car with my dad and talked to him about, you know, if I really wanted to be in a big, blockbuster-type movie," Hartnett recalled. His father told him that regret can last forever, but fame can be temporary. So he signed on.

The film was not nearly as big as "Titanic," but Hartnett's life had indeed changed. He told The Guardian that he wasn't interested in being that famous forever. "People care about my fame, not me," he pondered. "But that's fine. I have my own life."

Josh Hartnett feuded with a more-famous co-star ... sort of

"Hollywood Homicide," a 2003 action comedy, teamed Josh Hartnett with an older, more established star: Harrison Ford. Apparently, the two were not fans of one another, and they were both open about that fact in interviews to promote the movie. While speaking with The Mirror, Hartnett admitted, "Over the course of the film we had our ups and downs. ... He tested me to the limit, so I hated him for a while." Hartnett said that Ford teased him about various acting choices he made on set, leading to tension.

Ford, for his part, did little to hide his opinion of his younger co-star. "These two characters are not buddies," he explained, clarifying that their characters are co-workers who don't understand one another. "I thought that was pretty much reflected in our relationship," Ford said, "and I didn't try to disturb it." When they appeared at the MTV Movie Awards, Ford grabbed Hartnett by the collar and roughed him up a little. A scripted bit, no doubt ... but still.

Two decades later, Hartnett said things were blown out of proportion. He told Access Hollywood, "Harrison and I got along very well, despite the rumors that have recently circulated." He did, however, confess to having injured his co-star during a stunt driving sequence gone wrong. "We have film footage of Harrison's head hitting the windscreen," he admitted. "He was fine ... I was very close to killing one of my idols."

Josh Hartnett took a break from acting

In the space of just a few years, Josh Hartnett had become one of the most famous men in Hollywood. It proved to all be too much, too fast. GQ pointed out that Hartnett's resume included one great film ("The Virgin Suicides") and a couple of smaller hits, a filmography which hardly made him "a throwback to the old Hollywood legends, a cross between Gary Cooper and Montgomery Clift," as they said insiders predicted. Hartnett felt that tension, too. "It's hard to overcome that pretty boy thing," he told the magazine. "I don't know. I always wanted to be considered an actor."

To achieve that goal, Hartnett decided to step back from his career for just a while, taking a break in order to recalibrate his level of fame. He told The Evening Chronicle that he wasn't interested in being considered one of the "hottest" stars in Hollywood, wanting to focus on his craft instead. "I think trying to stay at the top is a shortcut to unhappiness," he said. "I took 15 months out of the business. I was like a lot of people in their 20s, wondering, 'Who am I? What do I want to be when I grow up?'"

Ultimately, while he considered going back to school to be a painter, Hartnett decided to continue acting. That time away, however, took some of the pressure off of his boiling-hot fame. Finally, Josh Hartnett was learning how to just be.

He trained as a boxer for a movie role

In 2006, Josh Hartnett starred alongside Scarlett Johansson in Brian de Palma's "The Black Dahlia." His character, Bucky Bleichert, is an LAPD cop trying to solve the grisly real-life murder of a would-be starlet. He's also a boxer, and although there's only one boxing scene in the film, Hartnett went through months of boxing training to prepare. He told GQ that he trained at a Minneapolis boxing gym called Circle of Discipline. His discipline extended to his diet, maintaining a weight of precisely 175 pounds. By the time he was ready to film, Hartnett thought about some actual fights. "I would have lost," he confessed.

Hartnett wanted to train like that so he could really get in the mind of his character, perhaps an unexpected level of dedication to the role for someone considered a teen idol at the start of his career. He read the source novel by James Ellroy and realized that Bucky's boxing strategy resembles his police work. "[T]he way he takes apart an opponent is very similar to the way that he takes apart a case," Hartnett told "When I got into the ring I felt that I was really starting to understand the character."

But the boxing wasn't the only way Hartnett got into character. He smoked real cigarettes on set, too, which took a toll on his body. "You can see it in the movie," Hartnett confessed to Dark Horizons. "I look sallow."

Josh Hartnett sued a newspaper for false reports of a sex tape

In September 2008, news broke in The Daily Mirror that Josh Hartnett was headed for the first major scandal of his career. The newspaper reported that Hartnett and an unnamed woman had a late-night, X-rated romp in the library of a London hotel ... and that it was all inadvertently caught on security cameras. "Josh and the girl were getting pretty hot and heavy," a source told The Mirror. "Unfortunately, the hotel has security cameras all over the place." Was the pretty boy actor exactly the sort of playboy cad he'd told reporters he didn't want to be?

Mere days after the story broke, TMZ reported that it simply didn't happen. Sources at the hotel spoke with the outlet and confirmed that not only was there no late-night CCTV sex tape, but Hartnett hadn't even been at the hotel on that day. Within days, the BBC reported that Hartnett had sued The Daily Mirror for defamation, with his lawyers alleging that the story was "not only untrue but a complete fabrication."

The lawsuit didn't take long to work its way through the courts. By December, The Guardian reported that The Mirror had admitted the whole thing was made up. They agreed to pay him £20,000 in damages — about $30,000 at the time — which he donated to charity. They also apologized for causing him "distress, hurt, and embarrassment."

He became a television star

Josh Hartnett's first-ever role was on an ABC crime drama called "Cracker," which debuted in 1997 aired for less than a season. After he made the leap to movies, Hartnett didn't star on another television show until 2014, when he signed on to Showtime's period drama "Penny Dreadful." The horror series combined characters from a number of sources, including Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray; Hartnett's character, Ethan Chandler, was later revealed to be a werewolf. He liked the fact that the show drew inspiration from horror, telling Channel Guide Magazine, "I like horror as allegory. I think you can say a lot in this context because you can say a lot more overtly and it doesn't feel like you're preaching."

The show was a hit and ran for three seasons. A large part of the reason fans tuned in was because of Hartnett's chemistry with fellow star Eva Green, which he discussed in an interview on Sirius XM's "Entertainment Weekly Radio." The characters' relationship was always the plan, but they were able to tweak the show as it went along to focus more on what fans wanted. "I ... think that the chemistry sort of made itself evident early on to people," he reflected. "That's the great thing about working on TV, which I'd never really anticipated. It's kind of organic in that way. If something is working, then you can take advantage of it."

Josh Hartnett loves being a father

Josh Hartnett and longtime girlfriend Tamsin Egerton had their first child together in 2015. Us Weekly reported that photographers captured the couple leaving the hospital, newborn in tow, and the magazine was able to confirm that it was indeed their baby. Hartnett is infamously tight-lipped about his family life, but he appeared on "Live With Kelly and Michael" a few months after his child's arrival to reveal that he'd had a daughter. "She's 5 months old, she's the apple of my eye, and she's perfect in every way," he gushed.

Hartnett also confessed that he had a totally new outlook on life thanks to having a child. "Your ego just kind of melts away when you have a new kid," he said, waxing poetic. "Your heart kinda leaves your body, and you give it permission to walk around with someone else for a while." Furthermore, Hartnett said, his daughter made him realize that he'd been missing out. "I wish I would've started earlier," he said.

He and his girlfriend would have two more children in the following years, welcoming a second in 2017 and a third in 2019. While speaking with "Good Morning Britain," Hartnett had more to say about his new perspective. "The rubber finally meets the road and everything you have done beforehand is just preamble," he reflected. "You're actually living your life for the first time because everything matters a bit more."

He married his longtime girlfriend in 2021

Josh Hartnett has never been one to discuss his personal life, and that includes his relationship with fellow actor Tamsin Egerton. The two starred together in "The Lovers," and they've been together ever since. Aside from the fact that they have three children together, they haven't released many details about their relationship, and it seems that's exactly how Hartnett likes it. "I think if you spend too much time courting people's attention into your personal life, you lose your ownership of it," he told USA Today in 2015. "That's why I make sure my life is my own."

We don't know the details of their nuptials — no Vogue photo shoots here! — but People confirmed in 2022 that Hartnett had married Egerton the previous November. They pointed out that details were scarce, but they did notice that Egerton shared a photo on Instagram that month wearing what seemed to be a wedding band on her finger. "[T]his is me getting some special birthday time with my man sans children and enjoying the last of November's autumnal energy whilst it melts into the new joys of December's festivities," she wrote in the caption.

Hartnett seems to have settled happily into married life. He and his family live in England, and he told The Independent that 90% of his time is family time. "Typically, I work on the films that I work on," he said, "and then I go home."

Josh Hartnett finally worked with Christopher Nolan

Back in the mid-2000s, Josh Hartnett was nearly cast to play Batman in Christopher Nolan's trilogy of superhero films. Warner Brothers wanted him for the part over Christian Bale, he later revealed, but Hartnett wasn't looking to be contractually bound to a superhero franchise. "I met [Nolan]. I talked to him about it. It wasn't something that was interesting to me at the time," Hartnett told The Independent. "I was on a different path to a lot of actors." He pitched himself for "The Prestige" instead, but Nolan didn't cast him, and they went their separate ways.

In 2023, Hartnett appeared in "Oppenheimer," a Nolan-directed biopic about the man who was one of the chief inventors of the atomic bomb. He played Ernest Lawrence, a colleague of Oppenheimer's who is suspicious of his ties to the Communist Party. It seems that, almost two decades after turning Nolan down, Hartnett had a great experience finally working with the director. "I feel really lucky that he still saw me as somebody he wanted to work with all these years later," Hartnett said. "I'm a big believer in things working out when they're supposed to."

"Oppenheimer" proved to be Hartnett's biggest hit since early in his career, and fans on social media expressed their delight at seeing him back on top. "Loved seeing Josh Hartnett especially make a huge comeback on the big screen," one fan wrote on Twitter. "He was incredible."