February 29, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

A Moment With Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Thoughts on Character Development and Independent Filmmaking

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been in show business since he was three, and has gracefully transitioned from child star to young leading man. Audiences first became familiar with him when he played young Norman in Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It,” and later in the long-running “3rd Rock from the Sun” television series. The actor has been selective in choosing roles, gravitating toward small, independent films like “Brick.” His performance as the love-struck young man in the indie “(500) Days of Summer” resulted in a Spirit Award nomination for Best Lead Male. In his latest film, “Hesher,” directed by Spencer Susser, Levitt plays an almost sociopathic, violent drifter who intrudes himself into the lives of a family struggling to overcome a recent loss. We are to believe that he is there to lead them down the path of recovery through his anti-social behavior. The cast includes the brilliant Piper Laurie as the grandmother, (co-starred with Paul Newman in “The Hustler”) Rainn Wilson as Paul, the grieving husband, Devin Brochu as TJ, the 13-year-old son, and Natalie Portman as Nicole, the object of TJ’s affection.

Gordon-Levitt recently sat down with a group of journalists to discuss a variety of subjects and the following interview has been edited for print purposes.

What attracted you to this rather unpleasant character?

Gordon-Levitt: What attracted me initially to the character is that on the surface he’s a really fun, raucous guy, but what really got me is what’s underneath that. There are a lot of layers to his humanity and wisdom that you don’t necessarily see right off the bat. A lot of movies that have a strong, broad, central character will stick with their one little bit and do it over and over again, which is funny at first, but can get old after fifteen minutes. But Hesher really develops and grows and evolves beyond what you see on the surface. That’s what kept it interesting for me.

How was it working with Natalie Portman, who is also one of the producers?

Gordon-Levitt: It was really exciting working with Natalie. I’ve admired her since she was a very young actor whom I found inspiring because I was a young actor as well. It’s easy to put a beautiful actress like Natalie in a pigeonhole, but she shatters that box all the time because she approaches her work with such dignity and intelligence. She’s not about being a pretty girl, but about being an actor and an artist. The fact that she was producing this movie made it all the more interesting to me because she could produce some huge Hollywood moneymaker, but decided that this was a genuine story and something she cared about and wanted to help get it made.

Piper Laurie is a Hollywood legend. How was it working with her in the “bong” scene?

Gordon-Levitt: It was really cool working with Piper. She was game, as a good actress would be, and wanted to do it right, and she did. It would have been easy to turn that scene into a silly joke. ‘Oh look, the grandmother is smoking the bong, ha ha,’ but the director and Piper found a way of balancing the humor with grounded reality and it became a sweet scene with two people smoking. Is it funny? Yes, but it’s not like it would be in a comedy sketch and that’s what makes it all the more touching and funny.

Is there a freedom in playing a character that has a total disrespect for socially acceptable behavior?

Gordon-Levitt: Absolutely. I think freedom is a good word to describe Hesher. He’s really let go of a lot of the baggage that we all, in this culture, carry around with us, like our attachment to material things, our attachment to our future and our past. He’s just in the present – be here now. I found it illuminating to spend time in that space.

Did you and Spencer develop a back-story?

Gordon-Levitt: Yes. Spencer and I talked a lot about where Hesher came from, what he was like when he was a kid, etc. But, it’s also quite intentional that none of that information is in the movie, but is part of his mysterious power.

You have a great monologue in this film. As an actor do you like these kinds of showy pieces and is it easy for you?

Gordon-Levitt: (Laughs) None of it is easy. Not that I would complain, but it’s hard work to make a movie. That said, it comes down to the writing. If a big speech is well written, you don’t have to think of it as memorizing words because if you know the story, it makes sense.

Did you create your character after someone specific?

Gordon-Levitt: I’m glad you asked that. When Spencer and I talked about the character, we both thought that Cliff Burton, who played bass guitar with Metallica, would be a great inspiration for creating Hesher, both esthetically on how he looked, and also his spirit. Spencer cut a version of the movie that used Metallica’s music and we figured that it was nice to have it in the temporary cut, but thought they’d never let us use their music. We showed them the movie, which they dug, and they decided to give us their tunes, which rarely happens. It was such an honor that these guys, whose work largely inspired our movie, ended up connecting to it and that the movie resonated enough with them that they were willing to lend their work to it. That was a huge salute and meant a great deal to me.

How much character direction did you get?

Gordon-Levitt: Spencer was really focused on the character not being a stereotype even though on the surface he comes off as a homeless, dirty bum. He was really intent on the character being more than that and throwing people off guard by things happening in an unexpected way. Even though it’s the story of a family getting over a terrible loss, it’s not approached in a totally serious way and balances humor with seriousness.

You have some pretty brutal scenes with young TJ (Devon Brochu.) Did you ever feel badly about the way Hesher treated him?

Gordon-Levitt: No (laughs). Devon is a great actor. A lot of people have the misperception that kids aren’t capable of the same thing as adults are and I couldn’t disagree more. I think they are capable of being as good, if not better actors than adults, and Devon is a shining example of that. I’m proud to be in his first movie and I think he has a great career ahead of him.

Were there any challenges in working with a first-time director?

Gordon-Levitt: No. Every director is a unique experience. Spencer made a short film that I liked called “I Love Sarah Jane” and he’s shot a lot of stuff, including music videos and did second unit directing, if I’m not mistaken, on the “Star Wars” movies, which is where he and Natalie met. I like working with first-time directors and have had a lot of good luck with them. Marc Webb of “(500) Days of Summer,” and Rian Johnson who made “Brick,” were first-time directors. If people are ready and good, I don’t see any reason not to work with them. Whether you’re making huge blockbusters or little independent films, the purity of intention is what attracts me to working with a filmmaker.

What advice would you give to a young person embarking on an acting career?

Gordon-Levitt: The important thing is if you love movies, telling stories, and acting then focus on that and don’t be distracted by the ancillary stuff that goes along with show business. What I really love is the work itself. So somebody who wanted to start, whether they’re young or old, I would say just do it and don’t wait around for some Hollywood producer to hire you. We live in the Internet age so don’t worry about the other things. Just focus on the project and get it out there.

Can you talk about hitRECord.org?

Gordon-Levitt: Thanks for asking. hitRECord.org is my production company and I’m lucky enough as an actor to have enough sway in the world to get projects off the ground, instead of just working as an actor for hire. The idea of hitRECord.org is, rather than just working within the insular Hollywood industry, to create projects and invite people to contribute. It opens the door to artists, whether it’s kids working on their laptops in their parent’s house or professionals working in their home studios. Anybody can contribute to our collaborations. We recently went on a tour and screened a bunch of short films we made at Sundance. We also published a book called “The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories” and are working on the next one. I invite anyone who wants to work with me – writers, filmmakers, editors, photo shoppers, musicians – to get in touch as I’m working on stuff all the time. It’s a lot of fun. Me? I just like making things. I would do this even if it weren’t my job. Getting started on any creative process is the biggest challenge, so just hit that red button and do it!

Related Posts

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

July 19, 2023

July 19, 2023

FILM REVIEWMISSION IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONERated PG-13163 MinutesReleased July 11th The story in this “Mission: Impossible” chapter, “Dead...

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

July 5, 2023

July 5, 2023

FILM REVIEWINDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINYRated PG-13154 MinutesReleased June 30th The director of Indiana Jones and the Dial...

Film Review: Past Lives

June 27, 2023

June 27, 2023

FILM REVIEWPAST LIVESRated PG-13105 MinutesLimited Releases June 2nd and June 9th, Full Release June 23rd The Korean concept of “In...

Film Review: Sanctuary

June 8, 2023

June 8, 2023

FILM REVIEWSANCTUARYRated R96 MinutesReleased May 19th In my humble estimation, this is one of the best movies of the year....

Film Review: The Little Mermaid

June 2, 2023

June 2, 2023

FILM REVIEWTHE LITTLE MERMAIDRated PG135 MinutesReleased May 26th With today’s technological developments, a live-action The Little Mermaid is not only...

A Riveting Revival of the Pulitzer Prize-Winning “A Soldier’s Play” Now Playing At The Ahmanson Theatre

May 31, 2023

May 31, 2023

On Stage With… Murder mysteries, whether cinematic or theatrical, are one of the most popular subjects. The list is quite...

Film Review: Chevalier

May 12, 2023

May 12, 2023

By Kathryn Boole  RATED PG-13107 MinutesReleased April 21, 2023 Chevalier is based on the true story of a historical figure...

Ballet at the Broad Stage Memorial Weekend – Meet the Talent!

May 10, 2023

May 10, 2023

Westside Ballet of Santa Monica returns to the Broad Stage with special guest artists kicking off Friday May 26th with...

Elizabeth McGovern Lights Up The Stage in “Ava – The Secret Conversations”

April 26, 2023

April 26, 2023

Play About Legendary Screen Star Runs Until May 14 At The Geffen Playhouse By Beverly Cohn Ava Gardner, born Ava...

Unconventional Art Festival “The Other Art Fair” Returns to Santa Monica This Weekend

March 31, 2023

March 31, 2023

140 independent artists, immersive installations, performances, DJs, and a fully stocked bar await visitors at Barker Hangar The Other Art...

Samohi Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” Takes the Stage in Santa Monica

March 1, 2023

March 1, 2023

Shows will take place at Barnum Hall on March 3 and 4 at 7 p.m. and March 5 at 3...

Film Review: “Marlow”

February 23, 2023

February 23, 2023

FILM REVIEW“MARLOWE”Rated R109 MinutesReleased February 15th “Marlowe” is a beautifully shot period piece that takes place in the late 1930’s....

Film Review: All Quite on the Western Front

February 22, 2023

February 22, 2023

I have never been a soldier at war, although I have close friends and relatives who have been. Universally they...

SMC Emeritus Concert Band to Hold Free Concert This Weekend at the Broad Stage

February 22, 2023

February 22, 2023

Concert February 26 will feature musical selections with an outdoor theme Santa Monica College’s Emeritus Concert Band, under the baton...