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“Penny Dreadful” star Josh Hartnett came by the USA TODAY NY studio to talk with entertainment reporter Donna Freydkin about the show’s second season. The pair talked character development and what one product the traveling actor can’t live without. Jason Allen and Michael Monday
NEW YORK — Josh Hartnett had no idea the moon, in its different iterations, would come to be such a luminous part of his life.
While filming Wild Horses (out June 5), a drama directed by Robert Duvall, he learned about the legendary actor's proclivity for mooning members of the cast.
And on his Showtime series Penny Dreadful,(Sundays, 10 p.m. ET/PT), Hartnett's Ethan Chandler is a werewolf with a soft spot for that celestial body.
"I'd love to see what Ethan's Instagram would look like. A lot of pictures of the moon," jokes Hartnett. "Feeling good today!"
When he first broke through as dreamy, duplicitous Trip Fontaine in Sofia Coppola's 1999 movie The Virgin Suicides, Hartnett, 36, was hailed as the heartthrob du jour. After 2001's Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor, Hartnett mostly sidestepped big-ticket blockbusters in favor of smaller fare.
"I've always felt that I could do whatever the hell I wanted. Maybe that's the product of growing up when I did and where I did," says Hartnett, who was born and raised in Minnesota, the son of a building manager and an artist. "My parents weren't wealthy, but I was told to follow my heart. That comes naturally for me, and I know that's privileged.
"I'm becoming less and less like that as I get older and more adherent to the strictures I didn't (care) about before. Maybe that's just growing up."
He now spends six months of the year in Dublin shooting his horror series. Every episode is written by John Logan, who created the macabre, ominous world of 1891 London populated by Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway); his creature, Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney); medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green); and the beast played by Hartnett, who started out as a swashbuckling foreigner with a secret.
"He's struggling on a much deeper level than someone who can just wash it all away with a couple of drinks and a quick one-night stand," although Ethan has plenty of those, says Hartnett. "It's always difficult where you're the only American in a group of an almost entirely British cast. I didn't want him to be a cliched American abroad."
Unlike Ethan, who could probably use a session with Dr. Phil, Hartnett is direct and forthright.
"I'm not someone who runs from my problems. If I have a problem with something, we have to work it out now because I don't know when I'll see you again because I'm always moving around," says Hartnett. "Ethan hides behind a lot of things. I try not do that. I try to be as straightforward as I can be."
Hartnett is dating British actress Tamsin Egerton, who turned him on to the joy of electric toothbrushes. And that's pretty much where he leaves it. He's not interested in sharing his offscreen life, on social media or in the press.
"I purposefully didn't want people to know too much about my personal life because I think a lot of people give it away for free," he says. "I think if you spend too much time courting people's attention into your personal life, you lose your ownership of it. That's why I make sure my life is my own. I was not a dumb kid. I was a little bit wary of this business. I saw what it could do to people pretty quickly."