Dark horse rises: Joseph Gordon-Levitt back in action
This article first appeared in The New Paper on Sept 27
When it comes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, all I can say is that I liked him first.
Unfortunately, I don’t have him all to myself anymore – 2012 has been the Year Of Joe.
He had a killer role in this summer’s massively successful The Dark Knight Rises, stealing practically every scene he was in. Next up is the bicycle courier thriller Premium Rush, in which he must outwit and outrun a corrupt cop played by a ferocious Michael Shannon. It opens in theatres on Thursday.
Coming soon thereafter is the time-travel opus Looper, which sees the 31-year-old playing a hitman who must kill the future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis). He’s also a producer of the film.
Finally, he plays President Lincoln’s son in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
As if all that weren’t enough – and it probably should be! – Gordon-Levitt also directed his first feature-length film this year, Don Jon’s Addiction, which stars himself and Scarlett Johansson.
“I’m very lucky,” he recently told The San Jose Mercury News. “I’m very grateful I get to work with people I really admire on material that’s really intriguing and inspiring.”
What most of his new fans probably don’t know is just how hard Gordon-Levitt has worked to get to where he is today – luck has had very little to do with his success.
I’ve been on Team Gordon-Levitt since before any of you were even born, or at least since 2007, when I first saw him in the superlative “teen noir” Brick.
He didn’t take on his role in Brick for the money – the film’s total budget was around US$500,000 (S$610,000) – but rather because it seemed like it was going to be a really cool flick.
“I opened it like any other script, going ‘I wonder what this is?’ and by the time I was through page three, I was flabbergasted,” he told movie website Moviefone in 2006. People don’t write movies like this anymore. The writer-director, he created the world of Brick with his words...and no one tries to use words anymore; it’s like a dying art, the wordsmith.
“And the language that he came up with for Brick is so fun to say that when I was done reading it, I turned over the last page and went to the front again and started reading it again, just because I liked saying it.”
In Brick, he plays a high-school student who infiltrates a drug gang in order to get to the bottom of his ex-girlfriend’s murder. Directed by Rian Johnson – who also happens to helm Gordon-Levitt’s upcoming sci-fi drama Looper – Brick is something of a minor masterpiece.
Johnson and Gordon-Levitt have become true friends over the years, and it’s a pairing that could eventually be compared to the likes of Hitchcock and Grant, or Scorsese and De Niro.
In a recent interview with pop culture website Mania, Johnson said: “For me to watch an actor like Joe, it really is magical. To see a great actor work; in many ways I don’t see how it’s done, I just get this child-like wonder watching.”
During this fertile, game-changing period in his career, Gordon-Levitt also teamed up with the talented hellion Gregg Araki for the trippy Mysterious Skin (2004), in which he plays a troubled hustler.
Then it was on to The Lookout (2007), taking on the challenging role of a brain-damaged jock who gets involved with a heist.
Based on these three films – Brick, Mysterious Skin and The Lookout – I knew that Gordon-Levitt was going to be a major star.
Not only was he a deft, subtle performer with oodles of boyish charm, he had perhaps the finest taste and soundest judgement of any actor in Hollywood. Here was a kid who actually seemed to have an eye for quality.
Poor Taylor Kitsch – star of recent bombs John Carter and Battleship as well as the middling Savages – should maybe give him a call, chat for a while. He could definitely learn a thing or two about how to build a career.
For Gordon-Levitt, it mostly boils down to choosing talented collaborators.
“The director is the most important,” he told Mania. “When you watch a movie and it looks like an actor is giving a performance, they kind of are. But what’s actually happening is that an actor has given over a bunch of ingredients to a director that constructs a performance. That’s movie making.”
From 1996 to 2001, Gordon-Levitt played Tommy on the popular sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun, but he’d been just a kid, just another child star.
We all know what happens to child stars, don’t we? Usually it’s not pretty, to say the least, but here was Gordon-Levitt actually trying to make a go at a serious, long-term acting career.
His dedication paid off in spades.
In 2009 he made the sleeper hit (500) Days Of Summer, which has become something of a touchstone among the current generation of sensitive young lads.
Starring alongside his pal Zooey Deschanel, he proved that a slim, pensive fellow in a sweater vest could be just as sexy as a stud like Matthew McConaughey.
Then there was Christopher Nolan’s Inception in 2010, which introduced him to a much wider audience, and proved that he could hold his own among the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
He found the time to appear in the indie gem Hescher (2010), and later won kudos for his portrayal of a cancer victim in 50/50 (2011).
While there are a few dogs in Gordon-Levitt’s filmography – GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, yo! – his ability to choose worthy roles in worthy projects is all but unrivalled.
Not content to appear in other people’s worthy movies, he’s now setting out to make one for himself.
Don Jon’s Addiction will open in theatres next year, and Gordon-Levitt hopes that some of the greatness he’s witnessed on set – Johnson, Araki, Nolan, Spielberg – has rubbed off on him.
As he told the Vancouver Sun: “Working with Rian and Chris and then Steven really did play a big part in encouraging and emboldening me to try it.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to do it, and I finished the first draft of the script while I was in London shooting The Dark Knight Rises. I told Chris and some other people whom I’m really close to and I really admire, and they were all so supportive.
“I do think that made a big difference, because they could have been politely disinterested...so just the fact that they took it seriously and said, ‘You’re gonna be good at that,’ was huge for me.
“Chris even came to our set one day.”
If Gordon-Levitt is even half as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it, Nolan might actually want to watch his back!
This article first appeared in The New Paper on Sept 27.
“I'm very grateful I get to work with people I really admire on material that’s really intriguing and inspiring.”
– Joseph Gordon-Levitt