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Josh Hartnett on going Canadian gonzo in Target Number One

Victor Malarek is the kind of journalist that doesn’t really exist anymore, but even when he was at the height of his powers, he remained a rare occurrence. Laying the groundwork, in a way, for modern gonzo journalism in the Vice mode, Malarek was a reporter at The Globe and Mail whose presence was so at the forefront of his work that it inspired a movie (Hey, Malarek!, starring Elias Koteas) and a TV show (Urban Angel) right around the time that the events of Daniel Roby’s new film Target Number One were occurring.

In Roby’s film, Victor Malarek (played by Josh Hartnett) is a principled, opinionated newspaper reporter who comes across the case of Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a Québécois heroin addict currently rotting in a Thai jail for heroin trafficking. The official line is that Léger is a kingpin controlling the drug trade, but what Malarek soon finds out is that he’s almost certainly a patsy, delivered through an informant (Jim Gaffigan) to government officials through less-than-legal means. 

Target Number One has been a pet project of Roby’s for well over a decade — there are mentions of it in articles previewing Funkytown, which was shot in 2009 — and one that Josh Hartnett has been attached to for nearly as long. 

“Daniel got in contact with me maybe six years ago,” says Hartnett, “and then I didn’t hear from Daniel for about a year. (laughs) The first financing deal fell through, actors fell through. It took a while to get the right group of people together, and then we finally finished the film about two years ago. It’s been a long journey for Daniel, for sure. When he sent me the script, it wasn’t about me being the lead in the film. It is an ensemble piece, 100 per cent.”

Victor Malarek is a central figure in Target Number One, but not its main character — he’s part of the tapestry of a surprisingly complex political thriller with shades of Oliver Stone and Michael Mann. To prepare for playing the part, Harnett met with the real Victor Malarek, who went on to host The Fifth Estate for a decade and now works as a senior reporter for CTV’s W-Five

“Part of Victor’s charm is that he lets it all hang out,” says Hartnett. “His heart is on his sleeve, he tells you what he believes and he fights for it. It’s simple, it’s clear and he doesn’t let up. Most of the reason I wanted to do the film was, first of all, Daniel’s enthusiasm and the fact that the script was really interesting. But he invited me up to meet with Victor. I flew up to Toronto — I was living in New York at the time — and spent the day with Victor. Getting a sense of what he’s like, what drives him, was comforting. It was exciting to feel like you’re with someone who has an answer for themselves. That, I think, is his charm. He’s very certain of what Victor Malarek is about and what creates that star power that you’re talking about, that clarity of vision.”

An interesting nuance about the way Malarek is portrayed in the film is that, although he fits in many ways into the image of the rough-around-the-edges, truth-seeking reporter, he’s also someone concerned with the work and, ultimately, the paycheque that comes with it. In the idealized version of Target Number One, Malarek would be the kind of starry-eyed reporter for whom justice is payment enough — but, for Malarek, payment is the ultimate form of payment. 

“That’s what made the story interesting,” says Hartnett. “He’s at a point in his life where it’s all changing. Victor is basically just going on his little journeys and getting the bad guys and thinking of himself as this vigilante journalist, but this is the point where things are changing for him. Suddenly, he’s gotta worry about his family and about his income — for the first time, he’s not the only one who doesn’t eat if he gets fired from all his jobs. It’s a transitional period in his life, which is what makes the character more compelling than just the cavalier, renegade journalist.”

Target Number One is also a period piece about what feels like the not-so-distant past (although it was three decades ago). Though Josh Hartnett is no stranger to appearing in period pieces throughout his career, this is the first “recent past” film he’s appeared in in some time.

“It frightens me, but I’m well past that now,” he says. “When I first heard Nirvana on a classic rock station, I wanted to jump off a bridge. (laughs) I’m 41 now, I’m used to it. Some of the movies that I was in are now being rediscovered by kids who weren’t born yet. It’s what happens, man. If you’re lucky enough, you get old.” ■https://cultmtl.com/2020/07/josh-hartnett-on-going-canadian-gonzo-i...

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