Opening this Friday is the new Rod Lurie movie “Resurrecting the Champ.” The film is about a struggling sports reporter (Josh Hartnett) who encounters a homeless man who calls himself “Champ” (Sam Jackson). After talking with him, Josh determines that he’s boxing legend Battling Bob Satterfield who was believed to have passed away long ago. Soon, telling Champ’s story becomes Erik’s title shot. What begins as the young journalist’s opportunity to revive Champ’s story and come out from under the shadow of both his father’s as well as his wife’s success becomes a very personal and life-altering journey. The film is based on reporter J.R. Moehringer’s real-life experience writing about Satterfield in his 1997 article “Resurrecting the Champ.”
To help promote the film, I recently got to sit down with most of the cast and director Rod Lurie to participate in roundtable interviews. Posted below is the interview with Josh Hartnett.
And before we go any further… a quick confession.
I’ve never been a big fan of Josh Hartnett. For whatever reason, I never bought into what he was selling when he’s up on the screen. That is…until now. Yup, I dug his performance in “Resurrecting the Champ” and for the first time, I forgot he was acting as he pulled me into his story and his characters dilemma. Just wanted to throw that out there…
Anyway, the interview with Josh was quite good as he had a lot to say about this movie and what he’s working on next. He also spoke about how he had just attended Comic-Con, filming in Hong Kong and what that was like, and he gave us an update on “30 Days of Night.”
As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio of the interview as an MP3 here.
“Resurrecting the Champ” opens this Friday.
Question: You did a great job in this movie.
Josh Harnett: I’m really happy that it seems like the initial reaction at Sundance was good. I’m excited to see what people think. I don’t know. You tell me.
It was beautifully acted but how hard is it to talk about it without giving the film away?
Josh: Well, it’s up to you not to give anything away. We don’t really have to say anything for you guys to ruin the plot for people but I think no, because the story is about real people and, in my opinion, it’s a rather full drama on its own. There’s a lot to talk about. It’s a story about fathers and sons. It’s a story about journalistic integrity. It’s about just integrity as a person in general so there’s a lot of themes that you can mine.
Did you talk to journalists or base this character on anyone?
Josh: What was great was having J.R. [Moehringer, author of the original article] as a sort of mine to use. I met J.R. and really only talked to J.R. a couple of times before I signed on but then, once I signed on, I talked to him on the phone a lot. Then, met him and, when I was in New York I hung out with some journalists there and then I was hanging out with journalists in Denver, then in Calgary and being able to go into the bull pen and hang out in the space where journalists work, just seeing how much business and how much pressure people are under in this business, gave me a new kind of respect for you guys. He’s between a rock and a hard place. You want to create a story that people want to read and you’re competing with gossip on the internet, blogs that have no responsibility to the truth. It’s hard to be sensationalist and get people interested when you’re stuck having to tell the truth. Then, of course, you’ve got the higher-ups, the bosses, the media moguls; usually there are so few people who actually own papers in this country. They’d just as soon throw your paper away as continue it on. It just needs to make money. It’s kind of the same thing in the movie business. The movie side of every company is such a small entity that, if it’s not making a lot of money, if they aren’t turning a profit, it’s like ‘oh, we don’t need that. We can just eliminate the studio’.
It’s interesting that you filmed scenes in the Calgary Herald newsroom with real journalism happening around you.
Josh: Yeah, yeah. That helps inform the character. It helps inform the movie. It gives it a real feel and they gave us so much access and the poor people had to work in silence all day long while we were rolling.
I know that newsroom. It was all done in beige.
Josh: Yeah [laughs].
Were you surprised that you were working around these people during the day? That you didn’t shoot at night? Not that a newsroom isn’t open at night.
Josh: We did some night shots but, in the movie, you can see that there’s a whole bank of windows in the background so we needed some light coming through.
You were really good playing a dad. Have you played a young dad before?
Josh: No, I haven’t.
Does that come from having any nephews or where does that come from?
Josh: I’m a lot older than my little brothers and sister so I think I grew up babysitting them. For the most part, it had a lot to do with the kid [Dakota Goyo]. The kid, by like the third day, you know how a kid will come up and wrap his arms around your leg and kind of look out at the world from that perspective? He just connected with me right off the bat. It was a good thing but then I got to give him back to his mom at the end of the day, which is good. I was free.
You just came back from Comic-Con. Can you talk about your experiences down there?
Josh: I didn’t have a whole lot of experiences. I flew in from Hong Kong to come do press and just went straight to Comic-Con and came up here to do press with you guys. But we did the panel discussion with Sam Ramie and he’s like God down there I walked out on stage right with him and there were like seven thousand people in the audience and we showed a little clip from our movie [30 Days of Night] and they went nuts. It was good, you know. It’s like Halloween for adults and it lasts for four days.
What was the experience like of entering the comic-book craze in movies?
Josh: ‘Sin City’ was a comic book too and, for a long time, people were trying to get me to do other comic book films but I couldn’t bring myself to put on tights so..[laughter] so I found one where I was allowed to wear proper pants. Of course people are making films for comic book lovers now because they’re loyal fans and actually go see the movies in the theater. The audiences are, I think, shrinking for a lot of different genres in this business but, for some reason, comic books keep drawing people in. I think it’s cool because the people who are at Comic-Con are so into the idea of their favorite comic book being made into a film or just to be down there and revel in the common insanity of it all; people coming together from all over the place and enjoying the same thing.
Can you talk about working with Sam Jackson? Did he tell you much about himself?
Josh: Sam and I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his family. We got along really well as co-workers, as actors. I think he’s terrifically talented. He’s such a smart actor. He comes to set with everything already planned. It’s like he would do one take and he would be totally satisfied and everybody else would be like ‘well, we need another one for technical reasons’ and he’d be like ‘why? That was it. That was the performance. You got it.’ And I’m much more labored in my approach. I wanted to do at least two but he was good to work with because he works in such a different way. He’s kind of a legend. He comes in, puts on the make-up, puts on the hair, the voice, the walk and it’s like the exterior, all of the make-up and all of those exterior aspects kind of inform the interior life of the character which is kind of the opposite of how people have been working lately in movies. It was inspiring because it opens up a whole other realm of possibilities for me having seen it work.
How was it working with Rod Lurie as a director?
Josh: Rod is a fantastic director. What he does better than anything is delegate authority. He’s very smart about what it takes to do what in this film. This film was very small budget and I think it looks amazing. He got a really great D.P. He got really good producers who really believed in what his vision was. He found actors that, I think, fill out the roles really well. And then when we got to the set… a couple of months beforehand, he said to me…. And he’s very proper about his directing. Like he wants you to know exactly where he’s at so before, we were talking and he says ‘you know, Josh, right now I think I know more about the character than you but I expect that, by the time we start filming, you’ll know more than me’. And I was like ‘oh, okay’ [laughter] ‘I hope I don’t mess up’. But by the time we got to actual filming, there was very little discussion and we just went ahead and did it and it seemed like he hired all the right people. It felt natural.
This character made some of the choices you’ve made; he’s offered this glitzy star job and he chooses the more meaty, truthful stuff.
Josh: I admire that in people. I admire when people take the harder path, not because they are masochistic and want to beat themselves up, but because you actually kind of learn more and I think you grow more. I guess that’s kind of the way I’m going but I’m not a construction worker. I have a pretty easy life. I really like what I do and, for me, it’s not that much of a sacrifice to chose movies like this because I think that movies like this are the ones that really affect people.
What was your experience like working in Calgary?
Josh: A very good experience. I was there for Stampede. I went to my first rodeo.
Saw a chuck wagon race.
Josh: Saw a chuck wagon race. It was a lot of fun. I was surprised.
What were you doing in Hong Kong?
Josh: Doing a movie called ‘I Come With the Rain’. It’s a Anh Hung Tran. Do you know who he is? He’s a Vietnamese director who directed a movie called ‘Xich lo’ [aka Cyclo] and ‘The Scent of Green Papaya’ and a movie called ‘Vertical Ray of the Sun’ and he’s only made those three films. He won, I think, the Golden Lion for Cyclo at Venice and won, I don’t know which prize. It wasn’t the Palm ‘d Or but the other big prize there, first jury prize there for ‘The Scent of Green Papaya’. So, he’s really well-regarded all over the world except nobody really knows him here. So, he’s written his first English-language film. He’s been working on it for about six years, the script. And, it’s 2/3rds in English 1/3rd in Cantonese and all set in Hong Kong about an American looking for a man who has gone missing. He follows him from L.A. to the Philippines to Hong Kong and I get to play his lead which is incredible.
Josh: Kind of. There are certain supernatural elements to it, not really supernatural but a little bit skewed, a little bit off of the natural path of life. My character is incredibly empathetic in the way he finds people by kind of living like them. The guy I’m trying to find has the ability to heal by touch and, aside from that, everything’s very real. I think it’s sort of Hung’s exploration of Catholicism in China these days. China is becoming predominantly Catholic which is odd. It’s that wild?
Are you speaking Cantonese?
Josh: No Cantonese for me. I mean I’ll try but not for the film.
Is the whole crew Cantonese? Does the director speak English?
Josh: He speaks English. Most of the Asian actors, most of them are from Hong Kong, there’s one woman from Vietnam. There’s a couple of guys from Korea and a couple of guys from Japan. But, in Hong Kong, it was a British Colony for so long, I guess not a colony but it was under British rule for a long time, so people speak English.
Was it fun to work with Terry Hatcher in those scenes in this film?
Josh: [big grin] Terry’s a fun girl. She’s cool. She was only on set for a few hours and she had to go back shooting her TV show.
You didn’t got to Vegas to shoot that?
Josh: No, we shot in Calgary in a casino just outside of town.
Have you had a chance to explore Hong Kong?
Josh: Well, I’ve only been there for a couple of weeks so I haven’t been able to explore too much. I’ve been out a few times. You should go. It’s amazing. There’s an area called Kowloon that’s the older section of town that’s more Chinese, more people speaking Cantonese and then there’s Hong Kong Center which is where all the business people work and that’s where all the clubs are and stuff like that, the nightlife. I’ve been kind of all around the city itself just checking out the different areas and getting to know those. I would like to get outside of the city and the parts of Hong Kong that aren’t actually the city before you get into mainland China and just see the beaches. I’d love to go to Mong Kog.
Do you get recognized over there?
Josh: I’m six foot three and white so people do take notice. I set myself up there. No, but at the same time, people are amazingly respectful over there and I haven’t had any run-ins. People don’t really bother me except for one night I went out on my birthday and I was taken out by some of the crew to this club where there were a lot of Western people, a lot of white people and I got mobbed and it was like ‘I think I’ll just walk down the street.’
Are you attached to anything after that?
Josh: I’m kind of not sure as to which one I’m going to do so I don’t want to talk about it but there are a couple out there that I’m looking at.
What about ’30 Days of Night’?
Josh: ’30 Days of Night’ is David Slade directing, Sam Ramie producing, Danny Huston and myself, Ben Foster, Melissa George in the film. It’s a vampire film, plain and simple.
Are you one?
Josh: I can’t tell you. But, it’s a re-imagination of a vampire film based on this graphic novel and I have actually, always had a fascination with vampire movies. For me, it’s about picking projects that I think are new and exciting and also ones that have great talent involved. I think David is an amazing talent and this film will scare the pants off you.