Wicker Park: Josh Hartnett is serious.

And though he is also friendly, relaxed and casual, it's the serious part that comes across most. Meeting the press to promote his latest film, Wicker Park, he wants everyone to know why. "Right now I'm in a place where I want to play better characters, more fully realized characters. All the movies I'm choosing right now are based on character and director." Hartnett, who has starred in major studio films like Pearl Harbor, and co-starred last year with Harrison Ford in Hollywood Homicide, is telling us something here. "Before, I don't know what I was doing. I was just doing it willy-nilly. I wanted to try it all." But now that's all changed. And given the response to HollywoodHomicide in particular, it's not a bad strategy: The Johnny Depp route. Eschew the big budget Hollywood parts that bank on just being a good-looking movie star and build your reputation as an actor. Smart. And if Hartnett is aiming for more serious, more carefully crafted pieces, like his best performance in the Shakespearian re-make O, he's off to a good start here.

Directed by Paul McGuigan, and based on the French film L'Appartement, Wicker Park tells the story of obsessive love. And though the dark parts, the French parts, have been cut out -- including an ending that, in the original, had the leads getting blown up by jealous lover -- the obsessive part remains. McGuigan, best known for the Indie classic Gangster No. 1, stresses high style and look over dialogue. And though this is his first American film, he is definitely a talent on the rise. "Paul's a terrific director, says Hartnett. "He's interesting visually and he also has a good grasp of character and plot development and that's pretty rare." Hartnett must like working with the Scottish director because he's signed on to do it again in Lucky Number Sleven, a gangster noir picture that is right up McGuigan's alley.

Hartnett also got casting approval for his co-stars in Wicker Park and had a hand in picking three of the most beautiful women in film: Diane Kruger, Rose Byrne and Jessica Paré. The good news in this movie is: they all want him. The bad news is: one of them is obsessed to the point of near-madness, and intent on keeping Josh away from his true love. Between Paré, who plays his grounded fiancé, Kruger, who embodies perfect love as "the one who got away," and Byrne "the bad girl," they are like superego, ego and id fractions of one woman. And it's a fascinating question:

If you only get one, whom do you choose?

Diane Kruger plays Lisa, the ideal, and it's not the first time this year she's had to live up to that demand. Though she gets an "introducing" credit in this film, it's only because Troy came out first. As the face that launched a thousand ships, and $300 million in worldwide box office, Kruger got high praise for her performance as Helen of Troy. Not easy sandals to fill. But onscreen, it made perfect sense to send the fleet after this elegant and noble beauty. It's been an incredible year for the German-born former model. Not only is she in production on a new film in which she plays an opera singer, but will star with Nicholas Cage in National Treasure this fall. When asked if she ever dreamed of this kind of success growing up she admits: "It would have been hard to believe just three years ago." Even more amazing is that Kruger fields the many offers Hollywood has been throwing her way lately, all while living in Paris.

But the breakout character in Wicker Park, naturally, is "the bad girl," played by Rose Byrne. Up til now, the Aussie actress has been best known for her role as Dormé, handmaiden to Natalie Portman in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, a role that has earned her a cult status, with fans building a website dedicated to slavish devotion to her character. She gets the fun part here. As the obsessive "Alex" in Wicker Park, Byrne is the spanner in the works in this love Pentagon that also includes Mathew Lillard (Scooby-Doo) and gets to do all they nutty, crazy "bad girlfriend" stuff. She learned an American accent for the part and did it so well she had a hard time letting it go. "I even kept my accent when I was drunk," Byrne notes proudly. Proof surely that she was in character for real. Byrne has recently moved to Los Angeles and is looking for new roles to play. And she too was in Troy. In an amazing bit of serendipity, both Byrne and Kruger were cast in the epic while working on Wicker Park. But it was Rose who got to play opposite Brad Pitt.

As the lynch pin in this story, the guy that all three women want, Hartnett is philosophical about obsessive love "Everyone has had something like it." Hartnett's current obsession is staying grounded, splitting his time between New York City and Minneapolis, and finding that next great part that will allow him to work with a great director and cast. With parts in Gangster Number Sleven on his agenda, and with movies coming out soon that demonstrate many aspects of his acting talent, including Mozart and the Whale -- a heart rending love story about an autistic man -- he is showing a wide range of interests and a serious focus on acting.

Not bad for the guy who turned down Superman.

- Blake Snyder

Movie Picture

Josh Harnett

Movie Picture

Rose Byrne