From writer/director Daniel Roby and inspired by a true story, the indie drama Most Wanted tells the story of investigative journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), as he unravels a case of entrapment, in which Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) was forced into a drug deal and then sentenced to 100 years in a Thai prison for it. While Victor must unravel the conspiracy and fight for Daniel’s freedom, his drive to uncover crooks that abuse innocent victims that are forgotten by society puts him in a dangerous position that puts his family at risk.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Josh Hartnett talked about the appeal of this project, why he identified with the dilemma that his character faces, what he learned from meeting the real Victor, and the experience of working with filmmaker Daniel Roby on set. He also talked about what he loved about working with Guy Ritchie on the action flick Cash Truck, why the Spectrum Originals series Paradise Lost didn’t turn out as he expected, shooting Exterminate All the Brutes in Paris, and getting more into writing scripts to produce.
Collider: I found this story really fascinating. When you read this, what was it about the story and characters that most stuck with you?
JOSH HARTNETT: The structure of the story is something that (writer/director) Daniel [Roby] found in the script, but it wasn’t quite as tight as it is now, in the edit. To me, it seemed like an obvious solution to ending up with a character that you know more than, which would, more or less, stop the film in its tracks. So, I think he did a really good job of weaving these three stories together, in a way that felt like you were current with the characters. That’s a great element of the film and a great element to the filmmaking. But the thing that got me was that I felt, initially, that the story was great and I understood where this journalist was coming from. I wanted to see him succeed, wanted to believe in him, and thought of him as heroic and larger than life, but I also liked the conflict that he was having and I wanted to know more about that. Honestly, I had just found out that I was gonna have my first child and was wondering how that was gonna affect me, as a dad, as an actor and just in my life, so I felt his dilemma, on a personal level. And then, I met and spoke to Daniel, who directed it, and his passion for the film was overt and palpable, and I always wanna work with directors who are passionate and want to be as involved with as many projects as I can be, that are the director’s passion project. He’d been working on this for eight years, before we even met, so I knew that he needed to tell the story. And then, he invited me up to Toronto to meet Victor, and Daniel, Victor and I spent the day together. I was compelled by Victor as a person, as well. There was a lot going for it. I just believed that Daniel would be able to make something spectacular. Even though he didn’t have the budget that he would have liked to have had, he has a lot of ingenuity and he’s a smart guy, and he really understands filmmaking. I just knew he was gonna be able to pull this off.
Were there things that meeting the real guy did for you, as far as finding this character, that you wouldn’t have necessarily known or done, if you hadn’t met him?
HARTNETT: Yes, there was one thing, actually, that really helped me, in getting into the character, which was that Victor comes across, in his filmed interviews and in his books, as someone who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. It’s a very grandstandy, larger than life character, and what I really learned from meeting him was that, behind all of that, he’s a very soft character with a soft touch. He’s dedicated to his family and there’s a central humanity to him that drives that larger than life aspect of his character. I was way more way more drawn to the character, at that point, because it was not just a two-dimensional character.
With something like this, where it sounds like you signed on because you really believed in the director, what was it like, actually getting on set with him? What were your conversations like, during the shoot? Was he someone that gave you a lot of direction, or did he let you do your thing, unless he felt he needed to step in about something?
HARTNETT: I don’t know how he worked with the other actors. I had a lot of stuff that was on my own. I came in with a very specific idea of how I wanted to play Victor, and I think that’s why he wanted to hire me to begin with. He wanted a strong point of view. He left me to do what I wanted to do, but what was great about it, and this doesn’t always happen, was that he had done so much work on the technical side of things, to limit the amount of behind the scenes work that had to be done in between shots, so we were shooting close to the entire time. All of the stuff that I did in Bangkok, we shot in under two weeks. We were able to shoot take after take after take, and shot after shot, without any set up time ‘cause he just decided that he wasn’t gonna use lights. I don’t think I saw a light on this set, the entire time we were filming. It was all practical. And then, there was a bounce card, occasionally. And it was all hand-held and had this feeling of documentary filmmaking. In a way, it needed to be that way, with the budget that we had and the time that we had, and Daniel recognized that. He was a savvy enough filmmaker to understand that this was gonna happen in the performances, and he was able to get great performances from all of his actors, and a new type of character from Jim Gaffigan, and a great performance from Antoine [Olivier Pilon]. He worked hard with the actors, which was excellent. That’s what you want from a director.
You obviously like doing projects that are very different from each other, and you even did a Guy Ritchie action movie, with Cash Truck. What sort of atmosphere does he create on set? What did you like about working with him, as a filmmaker?
HARTNETT: I love Guy’s films. His early films were very quickly indoctrinated into the canon. He was such a big deal, in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and has done such varied and wild work since then. He’s a wordsmith. He’s on set, constantly changing the dialogue. He wants to hear it said out loud. It feels very off the cuff, almost, but it’s basically him filtering everything on set, which is fantastic. In my opinion, that’s when filmmaking is at its best, when it’s coming from a point of view of a very strong director. I loved working on that film. I have no idea how my character is gonna turn it out, but I’m excited to see it.
You did, another series, with Paradise Lost. Is that something that will continue for another season?
HARTNETT: No, that’s not gonna continue. It was a limited series. Really, what happened there was that they sent two of the best scripts that I’ve ever read to us, and they were phenomenal, but they rushed into production without finishing the other eight scripts, and I was naive enough to think, “Oh, this is gonna be magnificent, throughout. It was a scramble for everyone and, unfortunately, it just didn’t quite come together. That’s a real problem with TV. I don’t think I’ll do another TV show, unless I’m really certain about the pedigree of the filmmakers and everything is worked out beforehand. Those first few scripts were on unbelievable. They were so layered and so textural, and they had so many different issues at play that felt current and important. And then, they couldn’t keep up with it. We started filming right away, and there was just too much to do.
You’ve previously talked about how you read a lot of scripts and that you enjoy reading scripts. When you read a script, do you always read it through to the end? Will you stop and put it down, if you know that it’s not something you’re interested in?
HARTNETT: Even if I’m not interested in it and the story’s great, I’ll read it, just because it’s a good piece of fiction. Part of it is natural curiosity because I like to write, as well, so I just wanna see what everyone else is writing, and part of it is professional. There might be something in one of these characters. A lot of what I’ve been lucky enough to do recently is dip into films that you wouldn’t necessarily expect me to be in, at least in a previous iteration of my career, and do some of my most fun work for myself. So, in order to find those roles, you have to read a lot of films.
When you say that you’re looking for stuff that you haven’t done or that people don’t expect you to do, is there a genre that you haven’t done, that you’d still like to do, but just haven’t found the right thing yet?
HARTNETT: There’s one thing, and it’s obvious to me, but now that I have kids, I really wanna make a film that they can see. I wanna do a voice in an animated movie. I really would love that.
It also seems like that would be a really safe way to work, in this new world that we’re all living in now.
HARTNETT: We’re starting back up on the production that we had shut down, at the beginning of the lockdown. Everything’s changed, but it’s still the same people. I got here yesterday (July 14th), to Paris, and we’re just getting started up on it again. It’s a very new world, making films now. The different departments are isolated in their own little groups, everyone’s wearing masks, everybody’s been tested for COVID, and everyone is supposed to be self-isolating while we’re making this. It’s an experiment. I think we’re the first production that’s up and running in France right now. We’ll see if it works, without people getting sick.
What are you shooting?
HARTNETT: It’s Raoul Peck’s next story. He did I Am Not Your Negro, a few years ago, and he did Lumumba, about Patrice Lumumba, which is phenomenal. He and I have known each other for a long time. We were gonna a movie together, 15 years ago, called Continental Drift, based on the Russell Banks book, and that ended up not coming together, for one reason or another, but we kept in touch. He has some narrative parts of this film (called Exterminate All the Brutes) that he needs to insert into what is mostly a personal viewpoint documentary about historical genocide in Western culture. It’s a very timely piece. And since we were just on the cusp of shooting it before the lockdown, he just needed to shot for three weeks. We’re just gonna try to get it done now, and hopefully he can release it. It’s a four-part series on HBO. Hopefully, that will be out by the end of the year.
You mentioned that you write yourself. Do you have scripts that you’re looking to get made, and do you write with yourself in mind?
HARTNETT: I never did write with myself in mind, but yeah, I’m looking to get them made. I sold a script when I was really young, looking back on it, at 22, to DreamWorks. It just sat on a very important shelf there, I’m sure, but it never went anywhere, and that was disheartening. I’ve written a few other things, with an eye towards making them, in some way, myself and producing them, in some way, but never with me as the lead actor, until the one that I’ve written most recently. We’re potentially gonna bring that up to a few people that we trust, and maybe at some point, get it made. We’ll see.
Most Wanted is available on-demand.