Hartnett set for ’40 Days’

'Harbor' star to lead Perez's comedy

NEW YORK — “Pearl Harbor” star Josh Hartnett is negotiating to play the male lead in “40 Days and 40 Nights,” a comedy about a man’s quest to be abstinent. Michael Lehmann will direct the film for Universal and Miramax this fall. Michael London produces.

“40 Days and 40 Nights” is a comedy scripted by Rob Perez about a guy who, after a brutal breakup, vows to stay celibate during the 40 days of Lent. During that period, he finds the girl of his dreams but is unable to do anything about it. The teetotaler role was originally slated to be played by Ashton Kutcher, whose commitment to “That ’70s Show” led to scheduling problems and caused him to abstain from the pic after a deal was consummated.

While the filmmakers began casting for a new lead, the script got a polish from Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis, and Hartnett became available. It remains to be seen whether his co-star will be Katie Holmes, who was set for the pic but who’s due to return to her TV series, “Dawson’s Creek.”

Interestingly, the project, which originated at Working Title and Universal, involved Miramax only because that studio had a pre-existing option on Kutcher. Even when Kutcher stepped out, Universal allowed Miramax to remain in the partnership and the latter was helpful in landing Hartnett, whose stock rose exponentially after he landed one of the two male leads in “Pearl Harbor,” the Michael Bay-directed, epic-sized pic for Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Hartnett, who’s repped by Iris Burton, will begin work shortly after completing the WWII drama.

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