‘The Fear Index’ star Josh Hartnett: ‘It's about the hubris of creation’

Josh Hartnett as Dr Alex Hoffman in 'The Fear Index'.
Josh Hartnett is under pressure as Dr Alex Hoffman in 'The Fear Index'. (Image credit: Sky)

Josh Hartnett is put through the mill in the new four-part thriller The Fear Index, which explores the potentially terrifying nature of artificial intelligence.

The series will air on Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK and Ireland from Thursday, Feb. 10 at 9pm, and will broadcast in the US at a later date.

Based on Robert Harris’ novel, the drama is set during one 24-hour period in Geneva and sees Penny Dreadful star Josh as genius US scientist Dr Alex Hoffman. Alex has created VIXAL, an AI system that plays the financial markets by exploiting fear, but although the innovation is making money for Alex’s company, concerns grow over VIXAL’s uncanny powers of prediction.  

When Alex is attacked by a mysterious figure, he starts to suspect that someone is framing him for various worrying events. But is someone really targeting Alex or is his sanity in question? 

Here, Josh Hartnett tells us more about The Fear Index

Josh, what appealed to you about 'The Fear Index'?

“I liked the book very much, Robert Harris is an astounding writer, he takes on so many different genres and always adds an element of history although it’s a contemporary thriller. It’s cleverly put together. Originally, the book was based on Frankenstein so it's about the hubris of creation and also being able to survive your own creation. Be careful what you wish for…”

Tell us about Alex

“Alex is a scientist who has always been a prodigy. He’s more interested in AI than money, but he ends up in finance because that seems the best outlet. He’s just put VIXAL-4 online, and it's doing better than he expected but it leads to potentially dangerous situations for him and the people around him.”

What is his relationship like with wife Gabby ('I Hate Suzie' star Leila Farzad) and business partner Hugo ('Informer' star Arsher Ali)?

Leila Farzad plays Dr Alex Hoffman's wife.

Gabby (Leila Farzad) is troubled when husband Alex (Josh Hartnett) comes under threat in 'The Fear Index'.   (Image credit: SKy)

“Hugo’s useful because he deals with the complexities of the financial world while Alex doesn't have any interest in that. He also admires Hugo's charm, wit, and ability to get along with people, so he gives him a lot of leeway to run the company. And Gabby is Alex's first love. She understands where he is coming from but also can add the buffer that he needs from the outside world to help him sort out his life.”

How does he react when he is attacked, as local detective Leclerc ('Call My Agent!' star Grégory Montel) is suspicious about what he says?

Detective Leclerc (Grégory Montel) in 'The Fear Index'.

Detective Leclerc (Grégory Montel) is on the case in 'The Fear Index'. (Image credit: Sky)

“At first, Alex is skeptical about his own memory and his own idea of what's happening, but he becomes more sure of himself, although, unfortunately, everyone else stops believing what he's saying. He's never on solid ground and it makes him isolated. He has to go it alone and try to stop this thing himself.”

Does artificial intelligence worry you?

“I’m all for scientific discovery. But if the tool is misused or ungoverned, then it's potentially dangerous. The main thing is – is it helping us? This show is an indictment of people that live outside of normal, governable worlds but have the ability to create things and put them out into the marketplace and onto our phones.”

How did you find the action side of the role?

“The director said, ‘You’ll be running a lot.’ And he was right! I felt like I was constantly running, and we chose the wrong shoes. They should have put Alex in a nice pair of running shoes!”

Did you enjoy the filming locations?

“It’s set in Geneva but we filmed in Budapest, which was a good stand-in. It’s a beautiful city and apparently they have famous baths and all sorts of interesting things. But I didn't have time to do anything because I was working so much and it was still locked down there. I was able to walk across the Chain Bridge, though, which was great.”

You’ve done so many different things from movie blockbusters like 'Pearl Harbor' to long-running series such as 'Penny Dreadful'. How do you look back on your career?

“The ability to tell a good story doesn't really rely on the way it’s put out anymore. People don't look at television as lesser, it's just a longer format to tell the story. I’ve been in this business for 25 years and I just feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to continue to do good, interesting work with great directors. It was never a race for me.” 

The Fear Index will air on Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK and Ireland from Thursday, Feb. 10 at 9pm, and will broadcast in the US at a later date.

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.