Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to have tossed the Hollywood playbook right out the window. Where most child actors struggle to define themselves once their programs go off the air, the former "3rd Rock From The Sun" star bucked the trend by taking challenging roles in indie films like "Mysterious Skin," "Brick," "The Lookout" and of course, "(500) Days of Summer." The industry finally sat up and took notice of his mainstream potential, as he snagged the villain role in "G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra" and as Arthur in last year's "Inception." But not only that, the actor has made a name for himself in the media sphere with hitRECord, his collective production company which is truly doing something unique in terms of giving a voice and creative space online for artists around the world.
West Coast Playlist member Leah Zak had the chance to sit down with Joseph Gordon-Levitt recently as he met the press to talk about his upcoming indie flick "Hesher," and of course at one point the conversation turned to what was around the corner for the actor, and they chatted about his forthcoming re-team with director Rian Johnson on "Looper" and the rise of hitRECord.
If the cast alone wasn't enough to get you excited for "Looper" -- it features Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Xu Qing, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo and Noah Segan -- the premise should. The story follows “a killer who works for the mob of the future. He, along with other so-called Loopers, dispose of people sent from the future. When he recognizes one victim as his future self, he hesitates, letting the man escape.” For the actor, the project continues a strong relationship he's had with Rian Johnson ever since the director's debut feature film.
"Rian and I became good friends during and after 'Brick.' And 'Looper' is a project he's been talking to me about for years as he was writing it," Gordon-Levitt told us. "And we just finished shooting it a few weeks ago. I'm so so excited to see how this movie turns out. I've personally never done work like that. I just think he's a pinnacle filmmaker and I can't wait to see it. And I can't wait for everybody else to see it."
"He's egoless. It's always about the movie [and] making the movie better," the actor told us the qualities that make working for Johnson such a joy. "And Rian has a unique way with language and how he writes. And he also has a unique way with his visual storytelling. He's an editor, he cut 'Brick' himself. He can watch the movie in his head while we're shooting it. At the same time, he's really open to collaboration and spontaneity. And in that way he has a lot in common with [Christopher] Nolan. They're very different voices, but I think a lot of their strength is in vision and openness to organic spontaneity -- they have that in common."
And speaking about Nolan, Zak gave it a whirl in asking about "The Dark Knight Rises" and while Gordon-Levitt politely stayed mum on the details on the forthcoming film, he did say he was "Extremely excited. I love working for Chris. I just think the world of him." However, he did a draw a line between Nolan and "Hesher" director Spencer Susser, two directors he sees as sharing a very similar approach to their work.
"It's interesting bringing him up [Nolan] in the context of 'Hesher.' I think that 'Hesher' being an independent movie and the kind of movie that isn't made for box office or isn't made because anybody told Spencer that it would be a good idea to make it. But he made because he meant it. And I think he has that in common with Mr. Nolan," Gordon-Levitt explained. "Even though Chris is doing huge, huge, huge, huge movies -- he still makes movies for the same reason I think that he always did. He has a story and he tells it from a genuine place. And I think that's one of the many reasons why people love his movies so much. He's not talking down to people he's not motivated by market research or any of that stuff. It's a genuine work of art."
But Gordon-Levitt's greatest passion these days might just be his production outlet hitRECord. Zak asked him about the short film he directed, "Sparks," starring Carla Gugino and based on an Elmore Leonard story, and if that would lead to possible feature. While that may be in the cards, the actor enjoys how ideas flourish in the unlikeliest places with hitRECord.
"HitRECord is where I direct lots of different things. We haven't done any big 24-minute short films yet and I think eventually we will -- I think eventually we'll do a feature. But 'Sparks' was a great experience. I did the very traditional writer/director process: I took a short story, adapted it into a screenplay, cast it, shot it, cut it, did the whole thing kind of by the books. And that was a great experience," he said about the short. "HitRECord is much more all over the place. It's not so conventional. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes it goes another way, sometimes it starts with writing, sometimes it starts with a drawing, sometimes it starts with a photo. Things come together in all sorts of ways. And we're still figuring out exactly how our collective creative process works and in fact every project has a bit of a different methodology which keeps it very entertaining to try and direct it."
"I was doing HitRecord for years as a hobby and it wasn't anything that would come up in conversations like this one," he said about the rising popularity of the site. "But in the last year and a half as I've elevated it to this professional production company, now it's becoming this thing which you're asking about which is really exciting to me. I'm just excited for people to see the stuff."
And as the actor has seen the music industry crash and burn and with the movie business taking a hard look at how it will move forward in the digital age, he believes that moving ahead there will multiple paths for filmmakers to take. "....the system is crumbling in that there's no more Tower Records. The technology is changing so the media business is in the middle of an enormous earthquake and the movies are not far behind music. There's no more music industry really. Bands are just figuring out their own way. Unless you're very very very very very tippy top, you have to kind of figure out your own way to make it work. And I have friends who are in band and they all kind of do it in different ways," he explained. "I think filmmaking is going to be the same way. Rather than the standardized system of 'Well, you make a script and you try to get it picked up by a producer and then you shoot it and then you cut it and then you distribute it to the theaters'....that's all up the air now. That's exciting to me."
"The one thing that's remained consistent with HitRECord and sort of the lesson so far with what we've been doing -- or one of them -- is every situation is different and you have to come up with a proper approach for every situation," he added.
Certainly, in his on-screen career, Gordon-Levitt hasn't been one to take a single course either. He will be seen in the cancer dramedy "50/50" this fall and the thriller "Premium Rush" early in the New Year. He starts lensing "The Dark Knight Rises" this summer, but before all of that, he's got "Hesher" hitting theaters on May 13th.