Thursday, 3 September 2009

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Days of wonder (The List, Issue 638)

He may be a long way from 3rd Rock from the Sun, but as Paul Gallagher finds, actor-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt thrives as a moviemaking anarchist.

‘You have to make it for yourself. You have to figure it out for yourself, and if it’s real love it’s going to be unlike anyone else has ever felt before’. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star of the new romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, is getting philosophical about matters of the heart. The former teen star could equally be discussing his career so far, which in the last ten years has seen him take a similarly ‘figure it out for yourself’ approach, resulting in his transformation from TV comedy star to one of the more interesting young American actors currently working.

The latest evidence of this can be found in his performance opposite fellow indie hipster Zooey Deschanel in (500 Days) of Summer, a refreshingly honest take on relationships, in which Gordon-Levitt’s Tom attempts to piece together what went wrong in a relationship, and begins to realise that his memories aren’t telling the whole truth.

The film allows Gordon-Levitt to combine the comedic gifts that made his name with his more recently earned actorly cred, a dovetailing he is not unaware of: ‘I think that is a big part of why this movie is so funny because it’s genuine. And it’s not shallow surface level gags, but the humour is emotional, and I wanted to bring the same emotional truth to this movie as I brought to some of the more ‘dramatic’ movies that I’ve made.’

Having begun working in TV as a child, it was Gordon-Levitt’s role in aliens-on-earth comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun that brought him recognition. After he starred in 1999’s Shakespeare update 10 Things I Hate About You it appeared the young Gordon-Levitt would be following the tried-and-tested TV star route to likeable (and bankable) big screen success, but he happily confounded expectations. Opting instead to star in a series of low-budget, critically-acclaimed films, Gordon Levitt’s subtle and affecting performances in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin and Rian Johnson’s genre-bending cult hit Brick particularly confirmed him as a talent to watch.

As well as increasing in standing as an actor, Gordon-Levitt has become a significant figure in enabling and encouraging new approaches to filmmaking, having founded the online community, a ‘mass collaborative arts project’ that flies in the face of piracy laws and encourages creatives to re-cut each others’ work to produce new ‘hitRECords’. He has no truck with the current paranoia amongst studios about copyright protection, exclaiming, ‘what is a greater honour than someone wanting to record your movie? There’s no higher honour!’ It’s an attitude that almost got him ejected from the premises when he pulled out a digital video camera at the Sundance premiere of his own short film Sparks, an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard story that Gordon-Levitt directed, produced, wrote and scored.

It turns out that the star is no stranger to being thrown out of venues. Discussing (500) Days of Summer’s karaoke scene, in which he gives an impressively passionate rendition of The Pixies’ ‘Here Comes Your Man’, Gordon-Levitt admits his real life karaoke experiences haven’t always ended well, ‘[I] got kicked out because I rocked too hard! They forbade me to unleash the rock.’ Well, that’s the way he remembers it.

(500) Days of Summer is on general release now. This article originally appeared in The List magazine.

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