Stories of famous actors turning down roles that might've made them superstars are nothing new. Al Pacino said no to Han Solo. Pierce Brosnan said no to Tim Burton's Batman. Emily Blunt said no to Black Widow. Somewhere there's a parallel universe where all of those actors said yes, and perhaps, in that universe, all of the massively successful films those characters featured in became colossal failures. Making blockbusters can be a gamble. You can become a big star who's only sought after for very specific roles. You can become a has-been with the albatross of that massive failure around your neck. Or you can become a megastar with more pull in Hollywood than you can possibly handle. Whatever the case, it's impossible for stars to tell the future, but they can sometimes reflect on the choices they've made in surprisingly candid ways.
The latest such reflection comes from Penny Dreadful star Josh Hartnett, who discussed his decision to turn down working with Christopher Nolan on Batman Begins in a new interview with Playboy. For Hartnett, backing away from Batman led very quickly to losing a chance at another Nolan-led drama: The Prestige.
"I learned my lesson when [writer-director] Christopher Nolan and I talked about Batman. I decided it wasn’t for me. Then he didn’t want to put me in The Prestige," Hartnett said. "They not only hired their Batman for it, they also hired my girlfriend at the time [Scarlett Johansson]."
Like so many young actors, Hartnett was worried that he'd get stuck doing only one kind of role for the rest of his life, but in saying no to Nolan he also lost some powerful connections that could've been a career boost down the road, as the career trajectory of Christian Bale has since shown. Of course, it's easy for us to say that, but hearing Hartnett admit it himself is kind of powerful.
"That’s when I realized relationships were formed in the fire of that first Batman film and I should have been part of the relationship with this guy Nolan, who I felt was incredibly cool and very talented. I was so focused on not being pigeonholed and so scared of being considered only one thing as an actor. I should have thought, Well, then, work harder, man. Watching Christian Bale go on to do so many other things has been just awesome. I mean, he’s been able to overcome that. Why couldn’t I see that at the time?"
Hartnett hasn't exactly had a Christian Bale career in the 10 years since Batman Begins, but he has kept up steady work on projects of all sizes for stage and screen, and now he's a TV star thanks to Penny Dreadful, which kicks off its second season next month. Given the chance at another role like Batman, though, he probably wouldn't be so quick to shy away.
"I know now that I wouldn’t turn something down just because it’s a superhero role."