Josh Hartnett stars as The Drifter in writer/director Guy Moshe's action thriller Bunraku co-starring Gackt, Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, and Kevin McKidd. The Drifter is a mysterious stranger who's on a mission to take down the powerful Nicola (Perlman), a vicious crime boss who rules the city with the help of his evil henchmen. Mixing different genres (including old-school Westerns) and drawing inspiritation from Japanese puppet theatre, Bunraku takes audiences into a bizarre new world where guns no longer exist and where gangs rule the streets.
In support of Bunraku's release on Video on Demand on September 1st (followed by a theatrical release on September 30th), Josh Hartnett talked about being a part of such a unique project, Guy Moshe's vision, and tackling some very intense action scenes.
Exclusive Josh Hartnett Bunraku Interview
How does the final cut of the film compare to the vision you had in your head after seeing the script?
Josh Hartnett: "You know, I didn't know what to expect when I read the script. The script was secondary in the process of getting to know this movie because Guy came out to New York - Guy Moshe, the director - came up to New York and showed me kind of a pre-made digital mock-up of a few scenes. We talked about his references for the film far before I ever read the script. He asked me not to read it before he showed me all these visual things. It kind of reminded me of the way that Robert Rodriguez did Sin City. It was the visuals first, and then he tried to figure out what to do with the script."
"I really respected Guy's obvious enthusiasm and his excitement and his ability to push himself to the point that most people would kind of stand back and say, 'This may come across as totally absurd.' He just pushed through it. And I think he accomplished something that's unique and definitely something that other people aren't doing. I'm proud to be able to work with him on this."
"I read the script before I actually said yes, but the first thing I saw and the thing that stuck in my mind were the references he had. He referenced a lot of French new wave films and Kurosawa films, of course, and Sergio Leone films of course. And he was looking to do something that was kind of '60s-centric, you know, and yet he wanted to bring in new technology to create this world. The reason that I think that he titled it Bunraku is because he wanted it to be an obvious staged world that you're involved in. Do you know what Bunraku means?"
I do now, but I didn't before this film.
Josh Hartnett: "Okay. Well, puppeteers are onstage with these life-size puppets and they're performing melodramas and mysteries. It's a traditional Japanese form of theatre, and Guy wanted this to be just as far removed from reality, in that he's telling a parable. And it reminded me a lot when I read the script of something like Star Wars, actually, or Hidden Fortress - the Kurosawa film that Star Wars is based on. It has this sort of little guys versus an evil empire storyline and the little guys all band together in a hilarious way and are guided by a sage, in this case Woody Harrelson's part as the bartender. In Star Wars' case, the Obi-Wan Kenobi part with Alec Guinness. It had a lot of similarities to it."
Do you believe, knowing all the references that Guy was intending to work off of, that's what actually comes across on the screen?
Josh Hartnett: "You tell me."
I think so. I think he captured it.
Josh Hartnett: "Good. Being so close to it, I had certain expectations before I saw it. But I saw a lot of the visuals before we finished because they were cutting together these little short reels with music. You could kind of get a sense of how it's going to look and how it's going to feel."
"They talk about special effects all the time these days and how you can heighten things and create these fantastic superhero movies where some of the characters will do things that are just physically impossible at every turn. I liked that this was pretty much all the stunts, all the fight sequences, were in camera and that it was just the background that was heightened. It's more of an art piece, really, surrounding these spectacular fights than it is a CGI-infused over-the-top action films."
Your fight scenes look really brutal.
Josh Hartnett: [Laughing] "I was in pretty good shape."
Was it difficult for you, because this is not the type of film you normally do?
Josh Hartnett: "I was getting a little fat before this film. [Laughing] But it whipped me right in shape. It was a challenge for me, for sure. Before I did this film I was sitting on my ass all the time and they made me go to the gym and learn some brutal fight moves. We had a good time - nobody really got hurt."
"We worked with these terrific stunt guys and they were all trained in MMA. They got me a month and a half before we started filming, and I mean the first day I couldn't do 20 sit-ups. I was not in good shape. They got me to quit smoking. I started really going to the gym three or four hours a day with them. You can see some of it, I'm sure, when the DVD comes out. I'm sure that they'll have some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. We just did a lot of choreographed training. It was not so much about being bulked up but being ready to do some pretty interesting moves."
Were there any mishaps during the action scenes?
"The only time I really got hurt on this film was doing that jump from building to building. Obviously I wasn't jumping from building to building, but I was jumping quite a long ways to a pad. I was supposed to jump to a pad but I kind of leaped over the pad because I was playing a little game with the camera operators, seeing how close I could get to the actual camera. I think I did something to my hamstring and that swelled up, and then my sciatic nerve started to pinch. My whole left leg turned into a mess for about three months."
"But the training was just kind of stage choreography, really, combined with a lot of physical, twice a day physical training. But it was mostly focused on the choreography because everybody had to be doing it exactly right, especially for the sequence in the prison. I mean, it's a long, uncut sequence and the timing had to be correct. It had to be that way, and you don't spend five days doing it. I think we did that whole scene in like three hours or something. We just shot it really quickly. We didn't have a lot of time on this film. It's not a huge budget, so we had to make sure that our choreography was all pre-planned and worked out to the end."
Not only do they put you through a lot of physical stunts, but you also hold your body very differently in this movie. Was that something that just came with the character?
Josh Hartnett: "No. I mean, there are little tricks, you know? You can make the shoulders of your jacket too tight or you can wear a lot of heavy, restrictive garments. Or you can put some sort of pebble in your shoe which I think Dustin Hoffman did in Midnight Cowboy. You can do all sorts of things to give yourself physically a different demeanor. But with this, it just came organically through all the training and the fighting. His mentality is just so straight line; he doesn't beat around the bush, so I just wanted to be up front and center. He's not very sly. He's no-holds-barred."
I always find it really interesting when a character doesn't have a name. You're just known as 'The Drifter' in Bunraku. Did you, in your own mind, give him a name?
Josh Hartnett: "Harold. [Laughing] No, I didn't. I let him remain a mystery. Okay, so, we came up with this whole backstory which I don't want to give too much away because I don't want to spoil it, but it had a lot to do with his family being taken away from him and who he was raised by. And, what we decided is that he was raised by gypsies and he traveled a lot. All the while he had this idea in his mind that he was going to avenge his father's death and find out who he really is. But he got caught up in this training and this world...and maybe there was a little bit of fear. The idea that we had was that he was never really given a name - that he had a name as a young boy, but that he lost it over time in a sort of fantastical way. It's not meant to be strictly...obviously this movie doesn't even take place in the real world and I don't want to be Freudian."