IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Josh Hartnett Talks 'Bunraku'

Thursday, 01 September 2011 20:02 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Josh Hartnett Talks 'Bunraku'

At the relatively young age of thirty-three, actor Josh Hartnett has already established an extremely impressive resume of film work appearing in such popular movies as The Virgin Suicides, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, Sin City, The Black Dahlia, and 30 Days of Night. The young actor has been fortunate enough to collaborate with some of the best directors in the industry such as Ridley Scott, Brian De Palma, Robert Rodriguez, Sophia Coppola, and Michael Bay. He’s also shared the screen with several of the most beloved actors around including Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, and Ewan McGregor. Now Hartnett returns to the screen in a new movie that features an equally incredible ensemble of actors called Bunraku, which is available today on VOD and is scheduled to be release in theaters on September 30th.

In the film, which combines elements of both the Samurai and Western genres, Hartnett plays the Drifter, a mysterious unnamed man on a mission of revenge against a crime boss named Nicola (Ron Perlman). Also in pursuit of Nicola is a samurai named Yoshi (Japanese musician Gackt), and together the two warriors unite to take down the crime boss and recover a family heirloom that he stole from Yoshi’s clan. In addition to Hartnett, Gackt, and Perlman (Drive), the film boasts an impressive cast of actors that includes Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy), and Demi Moore (A Few Good Men).

I recently had a chance to speak with Josh Hartnett about Bunraku and the actor discussed the new movie, its Western and Martial Arts influences, the film’s unique look, the amazing cast, his role, and his character’s signature mustache. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, the film is extremely stylized with a very ambitious production design; did the set and the costumes help you get into your character and the tone of the film?

Josh Hartnett: Yeah definitely, the way I was introduced to the film was (director) Guy Moshe coming to New York to show me some visual mockups of what the fight sequences would look like and they were just awesome. He also showed me some drawings of what the world was going to look like and he had a certain look that he wanted to create. So my introduction was through the visual stuff and then I read the script afterwards. I had a sense of what it was like before I read the script. Obviously that was a big factor in whether or not I wanted to do the film. The thing that really struck me was that Guy was uncompromising in making this film for the most part. He had an offer from a studio to do a film that was similar to this, that was based off of this but they wanted to change certain aspects of the story and of the visuals. He would have had a bigger release and budget but he really knew what he wanted to do and didn't understand why anybody wanted to take away that away from him. He knew what he was going for so he decided to go it alone and I really respected that.

The movie is really a hybrid of several different genres of film including Westerns, martial arts, and sci-fi. Are those genres of cinema that you’ve always enjoyed and if so, was it fun for you to have them all combined into one movie?

Hartnett: You know I’ve always said that film is evolving and anyone who has any interest in that has probably seen some Kurosawa films and more likely have seen some Sergio Leone Westerns. I have seen pretty much everything by those two guys. I had seen a lot of French new wave films before, but Guy specifically turned me on to Le Samourai. I used elements Le Samourai for the character. What I liked about it, and what I enjoyed about Guy’s approach is he is shamelessly picking things from these different genres to create this world, but the world itself is unique, the story he’s telling and the angle he is approaching. The story itself seems pretty likely, little guy comes, fights the all-powerful evil and somehow he usurps that power. Its been told many times but the angle at which he approaches it is original and he understands all that. He's playing off the archetypes. I find that not only can that be cool, but also it's also really honest. I mean films these days … most filmmakers have seen so many films and to not reference film in a way, he's definitely taking us to the edge in this film.

Your character is really kind of an archetype of the man-with-no-name role from classic Western films, did you create a lot of back-story for the Drifter and if so, how did that help you get into character?

Hartnett: Yeah well there were some aspects that weren't in the script that I wanted to bring to light. The original Drifter in the movie, he was really okay. He never did anything wrong except to kill people you know? He was on a mission and that was it. That was interesting too in a way to me, but after spending a little bit of time on it, I had just decided that there must be some flaw or some kink in his armor and we came up with the idea of him being afraid of heights and him being kind of unnaturally attached to his hat like Indiana Jones. Little by little I built these quarks into the character that make him a little bit more of a relatable real guy underneath this guise. I love him. I find him to be a lot of fun to play. We did a lot of physical comedy stuff and some of it made the film and some of it didn't.

Was your character’s mustache your idea?

Hartnett: Yes it was. What do you think of the mustache?

I thought it was cool! It’s a sweet ‘stache dude!

Hartnett: Well if you're a young guy and you look somewhat boyish, like I was looking in that outfit, I thought okay he’s got to recognize that he looks somewhat boyish. How does he change that? Well, obviously grow some facial hair and that's what we went with.

Was that make-up or was that your real facial hair?

Hartnett: No I had to shave because Guy wanted no mustache. So we shaved and got into the whole thing. Just a few days before production started I said, you know I really think we need the mustache. So we put on this kind of really interesting looking thing.

Can you talk about the bond that is created between the Drifter and Yoshi in the movie and what it was like for you as an actor working with Gackt?

Hartnett: Yes, well it's a bond of mutual respect coming from completely different styles and backgrounds. Not only physically and from two completely different film genre backgrounds, but also from different disciplinary sort of reactions to things. They just have completely different upbringings. So being able to understand each other came purely through their respect for what the other one was trying to achieve, not necessarily with their way of going about it. Then eventually of course their way of going about it crosses over. I think that working with Gackt, he's a total professional. He was in the trailer learning English every day before we went to set. He's just got this Rosetta Stone style of teach-yourself-English computer program and he's just sitting there saying, "the cat wants some milk, the cat wants some milk," all through the makeup sessions. It's pretty hilarious to watch, but his English improved dramatically, the guy's just can pull anything. I had a lot of respect for his work ethic and his ultimate take on the character. It's not easy for a musician to come in and to do such a great job. He has no fear that guy. He pulls everything off.

Finally, I understand that you were the first actor attached to the project, so when you heard that seasoned veterans like Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Kevin McKidd and Demi Moore were going to be rounding out the cast, did that validate your choice in a sense and give you assurance that this was going to be a great project to be a part of?

Hartnett: Yeah, you know Guy and I talked a lot about potential people for the movie and people responded to it right off the bat. I think they responded to Guy's energy mostly and his utter faith in himself that he could pull this off, so a lot of people wanted to do it. I was really pleased with the choices he made. I've always wanted to work with Woody. I grew up watching his work and I just find him so entertaining. He just seems like a really cool guy, and now I know he is. Kevin McKidd, I didn’t know him very well from his work and since then I’ve watched some stuff that's he's done over the years and you know he's so underrated. He was in things like Topsy-Turvy and of course Trainspotting, he's such a unique actor. He's done so many different types of characters. I was just awed by his choices in the film and how well he pulled them off. Ron I had ton of respect for, I knew he was going be fun to work with, but I never met any of these people except Demi before this and we all just got along exceedingly well. Most people they leave a set, they want to go home, they want to see their families, but people stuck around after they finished filming for a few days just to hang out with the crew because we all became so close. That's a real sign of having had a top-notch experience. I guess it validates the choice, but I attribute that all to Guy's energy and his ability to what he was trying to accomplish and I think he pulled it off.

Bunraku is available today on VOD and will be released in theaters on September 30th. 

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