The real reason Josh Hartnett turned down multiple superhero roles

Penny Dreadful's Josh Hartnett burst onto the scene (and onto locker doors everywhere) in the late '90s when he starred in horror hits like Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and The Faculty. Soon, he was a certifiable A-list leading man who held his own against Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor and Ewan McGregor in Black Hawk Down. Recently, Hartnett revealed during an interview in Playboy that he was offered not one but three major superhero roles: Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman—all of which he turned down. Why would anyone scoff at the chance to take a spin in the Batmobile? What was actually going through Hartnett's mind when he said "No thanks" to these once-in-a-lifetime roles?

He wasn't cut out for Hollywood life

Hartnett's official reason for turning down superhero roles was that he didn't want to be pigeonholed for the rest of his career. The reality seems to be, though, that he simply didn't want anything to do with playing the Hollywood game. Hartnett told Playboy that his life philosophy was "You don't need money to survive. We can all just help each other out." Taking on a blockbuster superhero role simply might have been at odds with his ethics at the time.

He may have still had a thing for his high school girlfriend

Shortly after turning down these major roles, Hartnett stayed true to his good-old-boy demeanor and left Los Angeles to return to his home state of Minnesota. Once here, he reported reconnecting with old friends—including his high school flame. It's possible he harbored such strong feelings for her that he had to pack up and give it a shot. Hartnett had been no stranger to dating famous women, and was linked with co-stars such as Julia Stiles and Kirsten Dunst. He's said, though, that at least some of his high-profile romances were ill-advised, stating, "Everyone makes mistakes dating people they work with." Perhaps at the time, Hartnett felt he needed to break the cycle of dating actresses and go back to a girl who knew him before he was a big shot.

He didn't realize what a big decision he was making

Hartnett is the first to admit that turning down multiple iconic roles may not have been the best career move. The actor has been particularly vocal about the remorse he had after declining the chance to work with Christopher Nolan on Batman Begins. Making this decision cost him not only that role, explained Hartnett, but subsequent opportunities with Nolan. When the director was putting together the cast for his movie The Prestige, he cast Christian Bale, who had ultimately replaced Hartnett as Nolan's first choice for Batman. To add insult to injury, Nolan also cast Hartnett's then-girlfriend Scarlett Johansson in the film.

It's possible that Hartnett, then in his early twenties, didn't have a grasp on the magnitude of what he was doing. The actor was gearing up to shoot projects like Hollywood Homicide, and may have thought an unending stream of work would always be waiting for him if he wanted it. Hartnett has said that the decision at the time led he and his then-agents to part ways, and that retreating to Minnesota certainly impacted his status as an A-list powerhouse. "When I see a role now, I've got to fight for it."