Borrowing its name from a 400-year-old art of Japanese puppetry, the fantasy drama Bunraku (available on VOD on September 1st and in theaters on September 30th) is about a mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett) and a passionate young Japanese warrior named Yoshi (Gackt), that both arrive in a town that has been terrorized by extreme criminals. Each man is obsessed with his own separate mission, and are guided by the wisdom of The Bartender (Woody Harrelson), but they eventually join forces to bring down the corrupt Nicola (Ron Perlman), who is at the root of each of their problems. Set in a unique world of hyper-real colors and locations, and combining the themes of Samurai and Western films, it gives the story’s classic conflict a vitality and imagination that makes the dynamic fresh.
To promote the film’s release, Josh Hartnett did this exclusive phone interview with Collider, in which he talked about the visual presentation that the film’s director showed him before he agreed to take the role, how much fun he had developing the backstory for a character known only as The Drifter, how this is such a universal story because everybody wants someone to come in and save the day and change our lives for the better, and the importance of keeping his character’s emotions as real as possible in such a surreal setting. He also talked about how he quit the business for awhile so that he could decide the direction he wanted to take his career, choosing things that are unique in an attempt to break the mold, and how he just finished another film, Roland Joffe’s Singularity, that is an epic tale of an impossible love set across two time periods and continents. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JOSH HARTNETT: Guy Moshe, the director, came to New York, where I live most of the time, and brought a visual presentation, before he had me read the script. I was sold on his passion and his integrity. He only wanted to do the film a certain way. He’d been offered more money and a release date, for a different version of the film that wasn’t quite what he had intended, and he pulled out and decided to do it independently and his way. I always love somebody who has that sort of ambition and integrity.
That being said, I thought his actual vision was absurd and was going to be a ton of work. I wasn’t sure if he understood what he was getting into, but he assured me that he was and explained to me how he was going to do it. That involved working on two different sets at once, for most of the film, and working in excess of 16 to 18 hours a day, a lot of the time, for six days a week. It wasn’t an easy shoot for anybody, but he pretty much accomplished what he had set out to accomplish, and I think that that’s remarkable and really brave, these days.
HARTNETT: I found it a lot of fun to develop his backstory. The process began with the costume. I drove the costumer crazy. We spent umpteen hours together, working on the tiniest detail for things you’ll never see in the film. I was really just trying to get a sense of who he could be. When you’re given no backstory and no hint of what the backstory is, then you’re free to create. I spoke to Guy about it and we came up with some ideas. He had some very specific ideas, and we eventually came to this guy. He was fun to play because he’s just so dry and mysterious. The room for physical comedy with this character was pretty high. We shot a lot of sequences that were pretty funny. I think they got a little too goofy at times and took away from the tone of the film, so some of them were cut, but we got to leave in that he’s afraid of heights. It was fun.
This film tells a pretty classic tale of the stranger with a personal goal that ends up sucked into the struggle for greater justice. What do you think it is about that basic idea that makes it so universal for any setting or culture?
HARTNETT: We all want somebody to come in and save the day and change our lives for the better. And, we all have the sense that we’re not necessarily getting a fair shake from the people in charge. We all love the idea of simple justice, as well. It does cross cultures. The references that went into making this film were cross-cultural, like [Akira] Kurosawa, Melville and Sergio Leone, mixed with some American archetypes. The thing that struck me most about this film was that it reminded me a lot of Star Wars with a couple guys coming forward and saving the entire universe from the evil overlords who seem to have infinite power.
Because this world was so unreal, was it important to always keep the emotion and conviction of the characters as real as possible?
HARTNETT: I always find that I have to be emotionally on my character’s side, for it to be convincing. All the other actors felt the same way. I think Guy specifically wanted actors who would take their character’s dilemmas seriously, and then add a little bit of flair to them. I guess maybe Woody [Harrelson] could be considered an overtly comic actor, at times, but he has quite a bit of pathos in his characters. Kevin McKidd’s character is so disgustingly over-the-top. I love it. He’s such an underrated actor. I think he’s starting to get his due. He’s so talented, and plays such a great #2 in this film. It’s a thing that could have gone horribly wrong, if it wasn’t tended to correctly, and I think Guy had a real sense of what he wanted from everybody and wasn’t afraid to talk to them, when they were going in the wrong direction.
HARTNETT: Yeah, it’s been hyper-intentional. I quit for awhile because I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in. I wasn’t really very interested in the business side of Hollywood. I lived in New York and I spent a lot of time with visual artists and musicians who don’t make money unless they’re making it on their own terms, and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me. I try to choose things that are going to be unique. I get bored with the same old film coming out, every weekend. It feels like it’s the same story, all the time, and the same visuals, and the characters’ dilemmas are remarkably similar. It’s always been the same. There are some films that really break the mold, and some films that don’t. I’ve been looking for films that break the mold a bit. For me, independent film has given me the opportunity to do that. I don’t really have the intimate relationships in Hollywood that some actors do, that can get something like Bunraku done at a big studio, so you do it independently. It’s more visceral that way. You can be very hands-on. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it.
Do you know what you’re going to be doing next?
HARTNETT: I just finished a film, called Singularity. It’s set in the late 1700’s in India, and 2020 in the States. It follows a love story, back in the 1700’s, that’s an epic journey across India with battles, and all that sort of stuff. And then, in the 21st Century, it has to do with the concept of reincarnation and if that’s possible. It follows this husband and wife who are wreck divers and find this treasure on this ship that might have something to do with the older part of the story. I play two different characters – the wreck driver in 2020, and this Scottish captain of the royal army in 1778. That was a really challenging, really interesting film as well. A lot of Indian actors are in the film, and Roland Joffe directed it.