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Josh Hartnett explains why he left Hollywood: 'It was a set-up-to-fail moment'

"I didn’t respond to the idea of playing the same character over and over," Hartnett said in a new interview.
/ Source: TODAY

Twenty years ago, Josh Hartnett was one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood and seemed poised for a career taking on leading man roles in big-budget movies.

That is, until Hartnett decided he had enough and walked away.

Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett attends the 30th Annual American Cinematheque Awards Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Oct. 14, 2016.Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

"I wasn't doing it to be recalcitrant or a rebel. People wanted to create a brand around me that was going to be accessible and well-liked, but I didn’t respond to the idea of playing the same character over and over, so I branched out," Hartnett told The Guardian in a new interview. "I tried to find smaller films I could be part of and, in the process, I burned my bridges at the studios because I wasn’t participating. Our goals weren’t the same."

Hartnett, now 42, starred in films including "The Virgin Suicides," "Black Hawk Down" and "Pearl Harbor." The latter movie, which also starred Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale, was billed as the next "Titanic" but turned out to be a box office flop.

Hartnett said he initially didn't want to sign on for the blockbuster.

“I was happy with the amount of fame I had and the types of roles I was getting. At the same time, I asked myself: ‘Am I just afraid that by doing Pearl Harbor, I’m going to enter a new category of film-making that I might not be ready for?’" Hartnett told the outlet. "I ultimately chose to do it because turning it down would’ve been based on fear. Then it defined me, which means I was right to fear it.”

Harnett also reflects on a July 2001 cover story for Vanity Fair, titled, "The Making of Josh Hartnett."

"Oh, that was an awful piece," he revealed. "Was there even a quote from me in it, or was it just everyone talking about how hot I was? 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."

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Josh Hartnett back in 2016.Rob Kim / Getty Images

"It was a set-up-to-fail moment," he said of the piece, which compared him to Tom Cruise and promised "Pearl Harbor" would "virtually overnight make an international movie star out of a comparative unknown."

"It's just that it happened at a time when I wasn't that famous, and it seemed to already be asking whether I should be or not," he explained. "I felt like: 'Oh my God! I'm not the tallest poppy yet — don't cut me down!'"

Now 42, Hartnett lives far away from Hollywood in Surrey, England with his wife, actor Tamsin Egerton. He's also starring as a journalist in the upcoming Canadian crime drama "Target Number One" and choosing roles that personally excite him.

“I’m happy to be done with that era and to be making films that are more personal to me,” he said. “Directors are coming to me to play characters as opposed to versions of a hero I played in a movie once.”