Joseph Gordon-Levitt is every director’s dream. Not only is he “that guy everyone loves,” but he’s also one of the few actors of his generation that fits seamlessly into any role he tackles. From a teenage hustler in Mysterious Skin to the charming romantic guy in 500 Days of Summer to a mind thief in the blockbuster Inception—Gordon-Levitt has become successful and famous for his talent and versatility.
In his upcoming film 50/50 (written by Will Reiser based on his true-life experience), Gordon-Levitt takes on the dramatic role of a man who finds out he has a rare form of spinal cancer. But with the help of Seth Rogen (his best friend), Anna Kendrick (as his young and inexperienced therapist) and Bryce Dallas-Howard (his somewhat inconsiderate girlfriend), Gordon-Levitt and cast turn this depressing subject matter into a light-hearted film that’s not only real but funny.
You’ve made that successful jump from child actor to a successful adult career. Are you conscious of that?
Gordon-Levitt: Thank you. There was a time for a while after I got done doing 3rd Rock from the Sun where no one wanted to put me in any movies and I was very worried and depressed about it, but I really have to give credit to a few filmmakers who took a chance on me early on. Jordon Melamed who made the movie Manic that I did right at the end of my run from 3rd Rock from the Sun. And Manic was the movie Gregg Araki saw and put me in his movie Mysterious Skin and also the movie Rian Johnson saw and decided to put me in his movie Brick and when people saw Gregg and Rian’s movie they started to believe I could do some acting besides teen comedies or sitcoms, not that there’s anything wrong with teen comedy. I’ve had a lot of great experiences in that genre/format.
What was the appeal for you to star in 50/50?
Gordon-Levitt: This piece of writing is written by a guy named Will Reiser and this is his story, he actually did survive cancer and he is also actually a really funny guy. He has a circle of friends including Seth (Rogan) and Evan (Goldberg) and he just runs with this funny posse of dudes so it’d only make sense after going through this horrible deal, they would convince him to write a funny movie about it and I actually think that’s an appropriate and really healthy response. It’s something so heavy and tiring and I think it’s got a sense of humor about it that is really wise and I really admire him for writing this screenplay and I’m humbled that I get a chance to play him in the movie.
Were you at all concerned about how you would portray him onscreen?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, it was great just to have him there; you know not every movie has a screenwriter there on set while you’re doing it. Seth and Evan were running the show with the director and it was a very collaborative process and Seth and Evan are screenwriters so they had Will on the set there all day, so that was a great resource for me. Talk about researching an actual character! I just had to hang out with the actual guy and I did hang out with him all day while we were shooting and we would talk about every scene and how it felt, why it was funny but also what it meant to him on other personal levels as well.
I think today most people know someone who has cancer or who had cancer and one of the things that I found striking about this movie was that it was very real. It had real reactions.
Gordon-Levitt: We definitely wanted to make it real because in many cases reality is compelling if not more so than any other fiction that you could come up with and I think that speaks to Seth and Evan in general. Their style is finding the comedy in the realistic situations and people.
What a great cast! There’s Seth, Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard. What were they like to work with?
Gordon-Levitt: Everyone was really great. I think Bryce—because there is a lot to dislike about her character—managed to, I think, live that balance and make her a sympathetic character. It’s just hilarious and sharp and I loved working with her. Also, there’s Anjelica Huston who’s my mom.
Yeah what’s she like as a mom? She’s a pretty cool mom to have.
Gordon-Levitt: She was awesome to work with and really funny. She’s one of those actors who as soon as they start rolling you just get sucked in because she’s got that gravity to her. I’ve felt that way about her ever since I saw Crimes and Misdemeanors when I was watching every Woody Allen movie that I could get my hands on and a number of other movies she’s been in.
You’ve done some small films like this; little gems but you’re also getting into movies like Inception and I know you’re filming The Dark Knight Rises. What do you like better?
Gordon-Levitt: Well, for me it isn’t so much about the size of the movie. I just want to work on stuff where I feel creatively inspired whether that’s like a movie like 50/50 or The Dark Knight Rises—they’re both creatively inspiring. I’m in both of them and get to work with artists that I really admire and love working with whether that’s Gary Oldman and Christian Bale or Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick or whether it’s Chris Nolan or John Levine. I mean these are all artists I really respect and it’s true the movie I am working on right now is a huge, huge, huge movie and 50/50 is a smaller movie but I guess I have eclectic taste. I take equal inspiration from them both.
Yeah, I think that’s what success is in your business, though, having variety and versatility. Speaking of that huge, huge movie is there anything you can tell me about your character in The Dark Knight Rises?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, everyone asks me that but I can’t. The thing is Mr. Nolan is very, very considerate in every aspect of how he tells his stories and I really admire that about him. He’s very measured in exactly when he will reveal the next thing about his stories within the movie and leading up to the movie so I just wait for what he wants his audience to know.