Sad but true, I’m leaving England in a little more than a week. That’s back to the “Armpit of America” for me. Fortunately, I’ve managed to cram in a lot during these last few weeks, even amid the onslaught of final papers and exams. I’ve learned the blood-drenched history of the Tower of London and laid eyes on the Crown Jewels. I’ve hopped a train to the honey-colored walls of Oxford, an old and breath-taking city steeped in academia where grassy quads and punting boats abound. I’ve revisited a favorite weekend spot, Camden Town, where I discovered Proud Galleries, a joint bar/music venue/photo gallery housed in a converted horse stable and decked out in winter wonderland decorations. Man, I’m really going to miss this country.
So, how shall I draw a proper close to this semester of personal growth and European exploration? With some good, old-fashioned man candy. Specifically, one Josh Hartnett. I’ll be heading to the outskirts of
ever-lively Soho this Monday night to the Apollo Theatre where I’ll watch Mr. Hartnett, the unparalleled object of my eighth-grade affection, perform in a theatre adaptation of the 1988 U.S. film Rain Man.
OK. Stop judging me. I’ve absorbed enough London culture to indulge this American pre-teen obsession. And it’s not like he’s my favorite actor anymore, not even my favorite to look at. (I’d say those spots have since been filled by the likes of Gyllenhaal and Krasinski, to name a few.) In fact, I’m not really sure I was ever that concerned with his acting skills. He was simply that way tall heartthrob with fluffy hair and brooding puppy-dog eyes. He always looked a bit pained — or maybe just slightly confused — but that was all part of the mystique. And I mean, how dare we forget his performances in such hard-hitting films as The Faculty?
After starring in big blockbuster flicks like Pearl Harbor and dabbling in modern Shakespeare updates, Mr. Hartnett started to take on some edgier, more grown-up roles to modest success, but faded a bit from his teen-icon status…or maybe I just stopped paying attention. (This may or may not have correlated to my viewing Donnie Darko for the first time. Just a theory). But for some reason, seeing his face plastered on adverts (as the Brits call them) in the London Underground has renewed my intrigue. So Josh, here I come.
Mr. Hartnett is certainly not the first American actor to ditch Hollywood in favor of West End London theatre. In fact, he’s following in the footsteps of Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey, Matt Damon, and several others before him. Playing car salesman Charlie Babbitt (once Tom Cruise’s role) opposite British actor Adam Godley as his autistic brother Raymond (once Dustin Hoffman), he’s received so-so reviews from the London critics thus far — but then again, it’s his first time on stage in years.
And maybe he really is trying to move in a new direction, to forego his heartthrob days for a serious acting career in his thirties. He told The Times of London in August, “I think how I looked accelerated things in the beginning, but now I want to make movies that will stand the test of time.” I can respect that. And whether or not this play will provide the facelift he’s looking for, I’m keeping my hopes high for a decent night at the theatre, or at least a good round of drinks in Soho, if all else fails.
And looking back, yeah, he had some cheesy roles, but they weren’t all bad. Remember his part in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides? He really nailed that ’70s seductive-stoner vibe as Trip Fontaine, swiping the innocence right out from underneath Kirsten Dunst’s prom dress. Plus, I’ve heard that some of his recent ones like Lucky Number Slevin have been pretty decent, though his towel-wrapped bod might have had something to do with it. (I heard he takes his shirt off in Rain Man. Coincidence? I think not.)
So, here’s to indulging my vapid, boy-crazy side and having a little faith in teen heartthrobs of yesteryear. But more importantly, here’s to London, England for doing what it does best: rejuvenating Americans — famous and non — and just making them feel pretty damn cool.
See you Stateside,