Looking back on the history of Guy Ritchie’s film resume, it’s only reinforced that the man has a knack for characters. Quirky nicknames, rapid fire dialogue and colorful words most wouldn’t utter in polite society give a certain texture to the world he creates. Though Wrath of Man is a more serious Ritchie caper, those hallmarks are still present, thanks in part to the inclusion of characters like Josh Hartnett’s “Boy Sweat Dave.” What’s most impressive about Hartnett’s particular example, though, is the fact that Dave wasn’t as fleshed out in the original script, leading to one hell of a Guy Ritchie experience.
I spoke with Josh Hartnett on behalf of Wrath of Man's release this week. With a name like “Boy Sweat Dave” given to his character, there’s some serious Guy Ritchie vibes coming off of his mere presence. That led me to wonder what the most Ritchie day on set was for someone like Hartnett, and as you can tell from how his character was built, the entire production qualified for that distinction. Here’s how Hartnett explained the crazy eleventh hour nature of his role, and how it ultimately convinced him to take the part in Wrath of Man:
My whole experience on this film was a pure Ritchie moment, because my character wasn’t in the script. There was a character called ‘Boy Sweat Dave,’ he was tiny, barely written, he was in a few scenes. The actor who was gonna play him dropped out, or was fired, I don’t know what happened there. Guy called me the day he started filming … he knew I was in England, and he said ‘Could you come up to London? I’ve got this part I want you to think about and consider. It’s not in the script, but we’ll make it up as we go along. What do you think?’ I was like, ‘That sounds like a really interesting challenge. I love Guy Ritchie’s movies. I wanna see where this goes, let’s do it.’
Creating a character like Boy Sweat Dave on the fly is something that’s totally nerve shredding, but at the same time a creative coup. Wrath of Man’s blank page of a character gave both Guy Ritchie and Josh Hartnett a lot of leeway to create a character that the Jason Statham vehicle really needed. In that context, the ability to add a wildcard character like Boy Sweat Dave is one of the assets Wrath of Man used to its full advantage.
In co-creating this character, Josh Hartnett got to imagine a backstory for Boy Sweat Dave, which confirms everything you’ve thought about him. According to the backstory that Hartnett put together, Dave wanted to do one of two things in life: become a soldier or movie star. He sucked at both, which landed him in a gig as an armored car guard who’s a bit of a chicken. It might not sound like your typical Hartnett role, but as he admitted in our interview, that was part of the charm, and the importance, of Wrath of Man’s resident wimp:
We basically inserted the character into a bunch of different scenes, and then sort of made him up, made up his interaction with the other characters as he went along. What was most fun about it was that it was a very dark, testosterone filled film, and I just wanted the character to be just such a try hard, and a character that had a very soft center, and was not. Always in over his head, always the butt of the joke, just to kind of counter-balance all that testosterone. So for me, it was the chance to pay something new.
If you look back on Josh Hartnett’s career and imagine Wrath of Man being made around the time Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham were on a break from collaborating, you could totally imagine this as a Hartnett-led vehicle. With his smolder and status as a Hollywood star in the early '00s, the same traits that landed him movies like Pearl Harbor and Sin City could have made Hartnett another generation’s H, Statham's Wrath of Man character. Even in the here and now, that very casting would have played like a charm, though it probably wouldn’t have been as exciting for Hartnett or the audience.
Watching Josh Hartnett’s Boy Sweat Dave get worked up in any given Wrath of Man scene is a joy for even his most ardent fans. That “something new” that he mentioned is a Hartnett where he’s not guaranteed to be in the right, or even merely capable of his job. It’s an unpredictability that helps fuel the center of Wrath of Man’s mystery plot, as you’re never quite sure what to expect from Dave. That spontaneity is the final gift that Hartnett took from his time with Guy Ritchie, which he mentioned as he rounded off his statement about the entire shoot:
Guy gave me his interesting take on the english language every day. We would go through all these different types of dialogue changes. So I felt like I was getting a little tutorial on how to improvise right on the spot. It was very cool.
Wrath of Man feels like an anomaly since it's R-rated product with no major franchise backing in a market that increasingly seems to depend on such projects. But Josh Hartnett and Guy Ritchie’s process of creating Boy Sweat Dave on the fly only further puts this film in rarified company, as an entire person was built, from the ground up, as the movie was shot. The results have to be seen to be believed, and you can do just that when Wrath of Man opens this Friday, only in theaters.