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Josh Hartnett: 'Most Wanted' journalist character 'almost superheroic'

Josh Hartnett filmed Most Wanted in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Saban Films
Josh Hartnett filmed "Most Wanted" in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Saban Films

LOS ANGELES, July 23 (UPI) -- Josh Hartnett portrays Globe and Mail reporter Victor Malarek in the new film Most Wanted. The film chronicles Malarek's investigation of the arrest of a Canadian in Thailand on trumped-up drug charges.

Writer/director Daniel Roby changed the name of the prisoner to Daniel Leger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), but retained Malarek's real name. In 1989, Malarek took an assignment to interview Leger in a Thai prison.

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Malarek ultimately uncovered the Royal Canadian Federal Police's (a fictionalized version of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) role in Leger's arrest and exposed them. Hartnett considered Malarek's crusade to free Leger "almost superheroic."

The real Malarek was available to Hartnett before filming Most Wanted. Hartnett learned Malarek's childhood backstory which inspired the qualities that seemed almost superheroic to the actor. Malarek told Hartnett he grew up in a home for boys, where he witnessed abuse.

"[Malarek] decided at a very early age that he was going to stick up for people who were being abused by powerful people," Hartnett told UPI in a phone interview. "I admire that very much."

The film also present's Leger's side of the story. Glen Picker (Jim Gaffigan) offered Leger work running errands for him. Leger didn't know that Picker actually was a paid informant for Royal Canadian Federal Police officer Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie).

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Picker sent Leger to Thailand to smuggle heroin out of the country. Then, Picker tipped Cooper off to Leger for a quick payday, only he promised Cooper a major kingpin, not an addict on an errand.

"It's such an ugly story of corrupt powerful people abusing their power," Hartnett said of the real incident.

Most Wanted depicts Malarek's investigation, which impressed Hartnett. The film also depicts Malarek's compassion for Leger, which impressed the actor equally.

"[Malarek] is also a very soft, gentle and thoughtful person underneath all that bravado," Hartnett said. "He doesn't allow that out very often."

Roby's script incorporates more of Malarek's compassion in his home life.

Roby took dramatic license to set Malarek's investigation of Leger's case during the birth of Malarek's first child. When a masked man vandalizes Malarek's home while his wife (Amanda Crew) and newborn infant are there, it adds a complication to Malarek's crusade he never faced before.

"They were forced to deal with the concept of his work potentially hurting more than just himself," Hartnett said.

Roby began writing Most Wanted in 2006 and asked Hartnett to play Malarek in 2015. By the time they filmed the movie in 2018, Hartnett had become a father to two children, whose names he and girlfriend Tamsin Egerton have not released to protect their identities.

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"Suddenly, you're very cognizant about how the world is reacting to [your children] and how they're reacting to the world," Hartnett said. "It's incredible and it feeds you, but it's also exhausting."

Hartnett could relate to Malarek's struggle being available for the story with being available to his family. However, the actor admits there is less at stake when traveling for a movie production. Most Wanted shot some scenes in Thailand, and Hartnett filmed the 2017 Oh Lucy! in Tokyo.

"I've been able to sort of get away for short stints but [having children] changes your values," Hartnett said. "I personally have spent a lot more time at home with my kids because I know they grow up fast."

Over two decades, Hartnett's approach to his career has evolved, as well. He made his feature film debut with a pair of horror movies in 1998, Halloween H2O and The Faculty. Hollywood quickly cast him in blockbusters like Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down.

Hartnett explored independent films like Mozart and the Whale, Bunraku and Stuck Between Stations before playing the lead on Showtime's Penny Dreadful for three seasons. The actor committed to Most Wanted before Penny Dreadful began to air.

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Hartnett stuck with Most Wanted for two reasons. First, the story Malarek reported was lost to history. It was news to Roby in 2006 and Hartnett in 2015, so the actor wanted people to know about it.

Second, even though the story occurred in 1989, Hartnett felt that audiences in any era would relate to Malarek holding powerful people accountable.

"It felt like speaking truth to power was the most important thing," Hartnett said.

Most Wanted premieres on video-on-demand services and select theaters Friday.

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