A knee injury forces 15-year-old Hartnett off his St. Paul, Minn. high school football team – and an aunt coaxes him onto the stage. His first role: Huck Finn in Minnesota's Youth Performance Company's production of Tom Sawyer. He's so cute girls swipe his headshots. Shortly after, he's discovered by a local talent scout and models for Mervyns department stores and Northwest Airlines. "I was crazy embarrassed," Hartnett tells the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "You're flying across the screen in those stupid jeans, and they make you look so goofy."
After graduation, Hartnett works in a video store. "I watched and rewatched movies like The Usual Suspects, Trainspotting, Basquiat and 12 Monkeys," he tells the New York Times. "I said: 'People in Hollywood are doing work like that? I want to go out there.'" He attends SUNY-Purchase's theater program in New York briefly before moving to L.A. for TV pilot season, where he auditions for some 50 projects in three weeks. He lands a role on the new ABC crime series Cracker (right), which airs only nine episodes.
Hartnett plays Jamie Lee Curtis' son in the horror sequel Halloween H20 (pictured with costar Michelle Williams). H20's co-executive producer Kevin Williamson works on another slasher flick, The Faculty, which also stars Hartnett that year. As a joint promotion, the actor, who has been dubbed "Hotnett" by fans, models jeans in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial with The Faculty cast, including Elijah Wood and Usher.
Hartnett gets a call from Warren Beatty, and three days later he is cast in Town & Country. He follows the comedy up with O, a modern Othello, where he plays Hugo to Mekhi Phifer's Odin (right). "Then I went straight to Here on Earth, which was great, because it was in Minnesota, so I got to be home," he tells Movieline. He also stars in the dark comedy Blow Dry, where he's a barber cutting dead people's hair. For his busy year, he lands on Teen People's 21 Hottest Stars Under 21 list.
Vanity Fair puts Hartnett on its cover, saying: "Admit It. Two Weeks ago, you'd never heard of Josh Hartnett. What a difference a costly summer blockbuster makes." That costly summer blockbuster is Pearl Harbor, where he plays Ben Affleck's (left) best friend and steals Kate Beckinsale's heart. He follows it up with another war drama Black Hawk Down.
After the war movies, there is sex – or really, no sex – as Hartnett gives it up for 40 Days and 40 Nights. In real life, he personally attempts this and barely lasts two weeks. He also lands on PEOPLE's 50 Most Beautiful list and spends seven months practicing downward dogs to play a detective who moonlights as a yoga instructor opposite Harrison Ford in the box-office bomb Hollywood Homicide (right). After the failure, he takes a break from acting, retreating to Minnesota for 14 months.
Hartnett stars in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's ultra-violent Sin City. The film, which explores a miserable and corrupted city, also stars Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Marley Shelton (left).
Hartnett meets Scarlett Johansson (right) on the set of The Black Dahlia, where he plays a detective in the real-life case. "It's hard for me to work closely with a girl and not completely fall in love with her as a person," he once told Teen People in 2002. The golden couple keeps mum about their relationship until its end in 2007.
Hartnett's vampire flick 30 Days of Night (pictured with costars Manu Bennett and Melissa George) is his first No.1 opener since Sin City. While promoting the film, the single star is caught off guard when asked about his rumored relationship with Rihanna. A visibly uncomfortable Hartnett says: "Whoa...C'mon you guys...This is...uh...We weren't supposed to talk about these things were we?"
With his relationship with Johansson long behind him, Hartnett couples up with Norwegian model Sophia Lie, whom he's seen with around New York City, where the pair is first spotted holding hands. The couple dates for more than two years before calling it quits.
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