Hey Joe

You may not know his name. You may not even know his face. But look out Jake Gyllenhaal – indie prince Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fast becoming one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. Wonderland finds out where he’s going with that gun in his hand… ?


The road from child star to adult actor is littered with mangled corpses. Puberty does for most of them, with many ex-moppets skidding off the tarmac as soon as they lose their cutesy looks. Others make it into their teens, only to crash in gory style courtesy of drugs or drink. And if the booze and narcotics don’t get them, the psychotherapy will…

 
For indie star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it was a close call. Like so many of his peers, the 27-year-old almost ended up as road-kill. As a teenager, the actor hated being a celebrity. He hated being pimped out as a poster boy during his six-year stretch on suburban-alien sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun. He hated being named one of People magazine’s ‘21 Hottest Stars Under 21’. And if a fan came up and asked for an autograph, it would ruin his day. He hated it all so much, in fact, that – after cashing in his heartthrob chips in Halloween: H2O and 10 Things I Hate About You – he asked to be released from his contract during  3rd Rock’s final season and then abandoned acting altogether and fled to New York to study French poetry at Columbia University.

 
Born in 1981 to Jewish hippie-liberals – Mom ran for US Congress for the Peaace and Freedom Party in the 70s; Dad was head of news at a leftie radio station – Gordon-Levitt was ushered into showbiz at an early age. He hopped quickly from peanut butter and Pop Tart commercials to TV bit-parts. A few inconsequential film roles came and went before he got his break as Tommy Solomon, 3rd Rock’s wisecracking extraterrestrial-cum-horny-teen. The first thing you notice about Gordon-Levitt in person is the hooded eyes that give him an eerie resemblance to Heath Ledger. The Los Angeles native was once described as having the “mean-eyed sensuality of a Larry Clark pin-up”. It was meant as a compliment. Since relaunching his career in 2005 with star-making turns in Gregg Araki’s art-house smash Mysterious Skin and cult high-school noir Brick, Gordon-Levitt has been the object of even more critical adulation. In the former, he stripped off to play a hustler whose childhood abuse leads him to embrace life as a gung-ho rent boy; and in Brick his mumbling loner dominates every frame. With two massive indie hits under his belt, Gordon-Levitt found himself on every Hollywood hot-list. At his best, the adult Gordon-Levitt is a stealthy, cerebral performer – always shining without shouting. Recently, he’s been slotting nimbly into studio films like Memento-style heist thriller The Lookout; and Killshot, in which he plays a psychopathic assassin stalking Diane Lane. Next on our screens, though, is Kimberly (Boys Don’t Cry) Peirce’s eagerly anticipated boys-back-from-Iraq drama Stop-Loss, in which Gordon-Levitt co-stars with Ryan Phillippe. To date, he has kept a tight steer on script choices – no youth romps, no flowery rom-coms. Instead he seeks out troubled, edgy roles that showcase his dark side. But as Wonderland meets up with Gordon-Levitt for breakfast at a Brazilian café in the Los Feliz district of LA, he is about to face one last hairpin bend on the road to fully fledged stardom: the blockbuster.

Matt Mueller


Is it Joseph or Joe? 
It depends who’s talking. And, more importantly, it depends on how they say it. If a pretty French girl wants to call me Josef then I’m down with that. 
Do you like the Jimi Hendrix song Hey Joe?
…where you going with that gun in your hand? Yeah. I love it. 
What was a key lesson you learnt from being a child actor?
That whatever you do, you do it all the way. So with acting, you decide how you’re going to play the character, you work out how they behave and you commit 100% to that. If you don’t, it’ll fall flat, it’ll come across as self-conscious and the audience won’t feel it. 
Are you glad you spent six years on 3rd Rock From The Sun?
I spent all of my teenage years there. I credit just about everything I know about acting to that show. It taught me how to be professional. 

“I’ve had  a select set of really beautiful, powerful, psychedelic experiences on certain drugs but I never got into just doing it at a party: ‘Oh let’s get fucked up and drop acid’. That’s so retarded and disrespectful to your body and the drug itself.”

Who are you most like – your father or your mother? 
I’m a mix between the two. I hope you don’t take any offence, but I prefer not to talk about my parents.
Why did you give up acting and go to college?
I’d forgotten why I loved it. I’d been doing one show for so long and I’d been working since I was six so I kind of lost track. I just wanted to not do it anymore; to not know what my future was. 
Do you owe your current film career to taking that break? 
I’ve been doing this for 20 years now so it’s been a gradual progression. The new film stuff all happened after a film I did called Manic, which I made in 2001. I played a mentally ill kid. If there was one hurdle then it might have been Manic. Rian Johnson saw it and cast me in Brick. Gregg Araki also saw it and cast me in Mysterious Skin, which was the first time that anyone had asked me to be sexy. 
What was it like taking Brick and Mysterious Skin to Sundance in the same year?
It’s a cliché to say it, but that was a dream come true. To go to Sundance had been a promise I’d made to myself since I was a kid working on TV. So ten years later when I was able to go there with two movies that I was really proud of, it meant the world to me. 
Which character has been most like you?
It depends from day to day. I do know that Tommy Burgess, the soldier I play in Stop-Loss, couldn’t be more different from me. 
How? 
I was brought up to believe that fighting isn’t the answer and it’s better to use words. Everything in my upbringing went against me ever becoming a soldier. I wasn’t even allowed to play with toys to do with the military. 
So although you’re playing Cobra Commander in the G.I. Joe movie for Paramount, you were never allowed to play with G.I. Joe dolls as a kid?
That’s right. No toys that had guns. But I got to know a lot of soldiers through Stop-Loss and I learnt what it means to be one. No matter what you feel about America’s occupation of Iraq, it’s important to
distinguish that, in a way, what those soldiers do is the bravest thing a human being can do: they put their lives on the line for each other. I’ve never risked my life for anything. 
Do you have any vices?
Well, I drank a lot when we were shooting Stop-Loss. A lot of beer, a lot of hard liquor. If we weren’t on set we’d go work out like a bunch of meatheads. Then we’d eat a lot of meat. And then we’d go drink at the nearest place we could find tequila, Coors, whatever. And just get really drunk. By the time I was done, my tolerance for alcohol was nuts! I could shoot liquor all night long and be alright, but now, not even close. I’ve never been much of a drinker, it’s not really my drug of choice. 
What is your drug of choice?
I guess marijuana. I’ve had a select set of really beautiful, powerful, psychedelic experiences on certain drugs but I never got into just doing it at a party: ‘Oh let’s get fucked up and drop acid’. That’s so retarded and disrespectful to your body and the drug itself. Mushrooms, acid and ecstasy can offer you a new perspective. They can also offer you nothing. 
Do you exercise when you’re not filming?
I go through phases. I put on 10lb of muscle for Stop-Loss. I don’t lift weights normally. Lifting weights is weird. I can understand doing it if you’re an extremely dedicated athlete, if you play football or something, cool. But if that’s all you’re doing at the gym, I think that’s weird.
What’s your USP?
My what?
Your Unique Selling Point.
Really? My unique selling point? Jesus! I guess maybe the fact that I didn’t know what USP stood for could be my USP? 

“When I saw David Bowie in concert I froze the fuck up. I was there with my then-girlfriend and hardly looked at her for two hours – and she was good to look at.  But I only had eyes for David.”

Do you lose yourself in your
characters?

The simple answer is no. Some actors stay in character on set. I think that’s impressive but I’ve never done it. But when I went home at night on Stop-Loss I was still very much in the mood of that character. It’s a strange thing to say about yourself, but I change a lot with different roles. I’m a volatile person. 
What’s Killshot about?
In Killshot I get to play the bad guy with the gun. I ride around in a blue Cadillac with Mickey Rourke shooting up 7-11 stores. Mickey’s a really great guy.
On what occasions do you lie?
I don’t. Maybe when I’m talking to interviewers. That’s about the only time I’ll bald-faced lie. Because interviewers lie about me.
Often? 
Of course, but it’s not that big a deal. When I think about how soldiers get misrepresented by journalists it makes me stop complaining. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way the Iraq war is portrayed in the media. Journalists are trying to get ratings, they’re showmen just like I am. You never get much more than a sound bite from the actual soldier, hand-picked to make the show entertaining. That’s why I’m proud of Stop-Loss – because it tries to represent soldiers in a respectful and accurate way.
Are you a character actor or a
leading man?

[Laughs] A ‘character actor’, what does that mean? I don’t appreciate the dichotomy, because a good actor is going to play a character. Johnny Depp is a very good-looking, leading man dude but he plays characters because he’s a good actor. Daniel Day-Lewis, same story. 
Do you think you’re attractive?
[Laughs] That’s not a fair question. How can you answer that without sounding like a tool?
Do you make a playlist of music for every character?
Yeah. My G.I. Joe one is still developing. He’s a weird one. I’ve been listening to big, illustrious classical music, and Jay-Z. I think the first song on my Stop-Loss playlist was Kick Out the Jams, the MC5 song. 
Is music crucial to you?
Yeah. We’re all made of music. It’s the most basic thing in the universe.
Do you collect anything?
Snail shells. I don’t know how many I have – I’ve never counted them. People find them and give them to me.
Who would you like to work with? 
Tim Burton, especially after doing Stop-Loss and The Lookout. I’d love to do a Tim Burton movie where reality doesn’t have much to do with it. 
Have you ever been star-struck?
When I saw David Bowie in concert I froze the fuck up. I was there with my then-girlfriend and hardly looked at her for two hours – and she was good to look at. Usually when I see a band I watch what the drummer is doing, what the bass player is doing, but I only had eyes for David. 
Do you Google yourself?
Yes. It was a triumphant day for me about a year ago when my website hitrecord.org came up first on the Google page under my name. I make short films and put them on there. Now I think it’s number four. 
Have you ever been to court? 
When I lived in this apartment in New York the landlord was one of the worst human beings I’ve ever met. He took advantage of poor people in a low-income neighbourhood. I took him to court. 
Have you ever been in love?
Yes.
Are you in love right now?
No. 
What were your favourite films growing up?
Well, Dumbo still hits me harder than just about any other. Dumbo or Bambi couldn’t happen nowadays. In this business where accountants and lawyers are now in charge of how stories get told, the movies are sucking. 
Are you in the frame to do the live-action Akira with Leonardo DiCaprio?
That’s just a rumour. They haven’t finished the script yet. I’m waiting to read it. 
Are you worried that doing big movies like G.I. Joe will make your life difficult?
In what way? In terms of fame. I don’t feel famous. That word gives me the creeps. Personally, I don’t think fame 
has that much to do with it – it’s about making good movies. When I was younger, if people recognised me, I would lie or hide. I’d rather have just gone to work 
and then burnt the film. I was a selfish little kid, really. But now I want to do stuff that matters. So when people come up to me and say that a movie I was in made them laugh or cry, it means everything to me. Lee Wallick


Stop-Loss is in cinemas from April 25