In his new movie, “Resurrecting the Champ,” Josh Hartnett flips the script and gains a new appreciation for the reasons that some journalists hound him and other celebrities.
He doesn’t it like it, but he gets it.
“I have more respect for the profession now that I’ve played a journalist than I had before because I understand a little more intimately the pressures of having a boss who is so far removed from what you do and needs you to create headlines and make the paper interesting,” Hartnett said. “You’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s a difficult place to be.”
That’s kind of the situation former Los Angeles Times reporter J.R. Moehringer found himself in back in 1997 when he wrote a critically acclaimed Times magazine story about a homeless man he had stumbled upon, who claimed to be a former boxing champion, had lied to him. He had a great story with all the right ingredients — it was inspiring, powerful and poignant.
In the film, Kernan had all those same ingredients, it just wasn't all that factual.
The film is set at a fictional Denver newspaper. It stars Samuel L. Jackson as Champ, Hartnett plays an ambitious sports writer named Erik Kernan (Moehringer) and Alan Alda as his editor. It hits theaters on Friday.
During an exclusive interview in his hotel suite, Hartnett, dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt and black Chuck Taylor sneakers, talked about how he manages to stay under the TMZ radar, those pesky bushy eyebrows, and what he learned about the newspaper business after shooting portions of the film in a real newsroom.
“Well, I think what this film has taught me is the pressure that a journalist is under to make copy that is going to keep the newspaper interesting to the public, but struggling also to have integrity and write the facts and be honest,” Hartnett said. “It’s a tough balancing act — especially with all of the competition from the Internet and television.
“Newspapers are losing readership and folding left and right because of the Internet and there is so much access to the news in so many different other mediums and it’s difficult to maintain the audience. So, as a journalist you’re kind of tempted to fudge the facts and make a better story in order to remain relevant and keep your job, and that’s the opposite of what should be being done. It’s a difficult scenario.”
‘I live like a spy’It can also be tough being on the other side, trying to evade overzealous journalists who are trying to get the next big scoop. Hartnett, a Minnesota native who now lives in New York, has somehow avoided becoming daily tabloid fodder — even when he was dating Scarlett Johansson.
The former high school football star is a fine actor. He’s just not a great celebrity.
“I don’t handle it very well actually,” Hartnett, 28, said. “I don’t read about it even though occasionally friends of mine will show me some of the funny stories that have been written. I live in New York and there are paparazzi everywhere. The gossip — it doesn’t even need to be substantiated. You can just say what you want. So, I’ve read some pretty amazing and somewhat humiliating stories about myself. They’re ridiculous and 95 percent of the stuff written about me is not true.
“But I’ve been pretty successful in avoiding (the paparazzi). I’m kind of clandestine. I live like a spy. I avoid them at all costs.”
Some of his contemporaries, however, can’t seem to get it right when it comes to dodging, or courting the press as they often do. Although some members of the young Hollywood set are seemingly caught in a downward spiral, Hartnett said he has empathy for them.
“I don’t judge,” says the star of “Black Dahlia,” “Lucky Number Slevin,” “Sin City” and “Black Hawk Down.” “This business is tough enough to navigate without having all the other actors saying that you’re doing it wrong. I understand that people have their issues. Actors aren’t born out of some sort of beautiful little acting pod where they have their lives figured out before they hit the public eye. And a lot of these celebrities are young and still trying to figure out who they are. I feel bad for people who have to deal with that everyday. I’m just glad that I’m not in that position.”
A ‘reluctant hunk’If Hartnett were the kind of guy who was hanging out at bars every night and accumulating DUI convictions, he might be a little more newsworthy. But he’s one of those guys who enjoys evenings at home in his “hopelessly cluttered apartment” strumming his guitar and watching movies. And according to his “Champ” castmates, he’s just a cool dude with a passion for his work.
“I had a good time hanging out with Josh and just kind of talking with him, because that’s the younger generation of actors,” said Jackson. “It’s another level of the entertainment business that I don’t normally get involved in because Josh is still one of those club guys. It was cool getting a look into what that new generation of actor does and how they carry themselves. He and I had some great conversations and actually kind of became really good guy friends.”
“He’s a very serious guy about his work,” Alda said. “And he doesn’t coast on being a hunky guy. He could and I’m sure there’s pressure on him because sometimes he gets hired because he looks so good.”
His rugged good looks have been an issue. Radha Mitchell, Hartnett’s costar in “Mozart and the Whale,” said he’s kind of a “reluctant hunk.”
“He’s just naturally charismatic, I think,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think he’s unconscious — I don’t think he doesn’t know he’s got sex appeal because there are always girls hanging out in the lobby. He’d be really stupid if he didn’t know he was sexy but he’s not sitting in front of the mirror preening. I think he’s aware of his affect on people, definitely.”
After hearing those assessments Hartnett smiled, rolled his eyes and let out a soft sigh.
“I think I’ve actively — in some respects to my own detriment — tried to move in the opposite direction,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many freaking comments have been made about me not plucking my eyebrows! I’m like c’mon man. So, I’ve purposely stayed out of that whole scenario. I don’t like to look at it that way because it’s a big detriment as an actor if your persona overrides what your characters could be.”
It’s kind of like being a reporter, huh?
“Yeah, it’s that same kind of balancing act,” he said. “You want people to like you as a person so they’ll go see your films, but you don’t want it to get in the way of those films as well. As a reporter or columnist, you want to use your words to draw people to your work, but you never really want to make yourself the story.”
Spoken like a great on-screen journo in the making.
Miki Turner is an entertainment columnist for MSNBC.com. She can be reached at .