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Interview with actor Josh Hartnett

5 May 2015

The star of Penny Dreadful doesn’t want to call this a comeback.

Packed full of gothic literary tropes and familiar fictional monsters, the second season of critically acclaimed British-American horror noir TV series Penny Dreadful premiered last weekend on US network Showtime.

Written by Skyfall script creator John Logan, the show is set in a dark and gloomy Victorian London and stars the legendary Timothy Dalton, a fiercely mysterious Eva Green and Billie Piper as a tragic heroine who meets an untimely end. Erstwhile golden boy and heartthrob of Hollywood, Josh Hartnett, takes the lead role as conflicted sharpshooter Ethan Chandler; werewolf/beast hunter extraordinaire.

Hartnett, now 36, hasn’t worked in television since the age of 18 but enthuses about his newly-acquired appointment with Penny Dreadful. “It's one of my favourite jobs I've ever worked on,” he says. “Rich in a tapestry and intricate detail. I was over the moon. When I first contemplated working in television again, I thought really, it would have to be a partnership with someone I could trust, and I was put at ease knowing that John would be at the helm.”

Penny Dreadful has brought characters like Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Dracula to life, without scrimping on the gore and keeping the fear factor up high throughout. But Hartnett reveals that things are going to get a whole lot wilder and hairier. “It definitely gets ramped up a notch,” he says. “It's incredibly moving and gripping and this world that our characters inhabit suddenly becomes far more threatening than anyone could have imagined.”

Penny Dreadful’s 19th century London may be a far cry from the London of 2015, but for 36-year-old Harnett, our capital city holds a poignant place in his heart – he has been in a relationship with British actress and model Tamsin Egerton since 2012, splitting his time between his native US and the UK.

Voted one of Teen People’s ‘25 Hottest Stars Under 25’ in 1999, Hartnett previously appeared in major blockbusters including The Faculty, Black Hawk Down and The Virgin Suicides, but famously turned down roles as Batman, Spiderman and Superman. When asked about his decision to move away from the Hollywood spotlight, he admits: “when I was younger I liked the idea of it more than I enjoyed the actual limelight. Having people respond to what I did was empowering, but I didn't wear it well. It's not something that comes easily to me.”

He references his decision to temporarily leave Hollywood. “I think everyone goes through a stage, not only in their careers, but also in their lives, when they need a change of pace. There wasn't anything salacious about it. I just needed to change the scenery around me."

After filming Black Hawk Down, Hartnett left California and moved back to his childhood home of Minnesota. He’s since poured his energy into lower-key projects like The Black Dahlia and worked as producer on indie drama August, which premiered as an official selection of the Spectrum section at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Many critics are hailing his role in Penny Dreadful as his ‘comeback’, but he is quick to dismiss any use of the term. “The word comeback doesn't come up in interviews very often, only comes up when journalists write it in and after the fact, but I guess that's the narrative that people are using,” he says, pointedly. “I never felt I was out of the picture at all because I was lucky enough to be offered all sorts of things and the last few years, I chose to do small projects.”

He continues: “It doesn't bother me what people call it, but what’s good and what I like about it is that people are interested in this show and interested in the next couple of things that I do. And that's what important for me, keeping the work out there and keep people interested in what I am doing.”

Season 2 of Penny Dreadful begins on Sky Atlantic on 05/05/2015 at 10pm.

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