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(500) Days of Summer - Joseph Gordon-Levitt interview

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOSEPH Gordon-Levitt talks about new romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, bonding with co-star Zooey Deschanel and why he rates the Internet so much.

He also discusses his appearance in summer smash GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and considers whether he’d like to move into film direction at some point in his career…

Q. Can you relate to some of your character’s experiences in (500) Days of Summer?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Of course, everybody can relate to both sides. Everyone’s been Tom, everybody’s been Summer at some point or another, to some degree or another. I certainly have. That was really our aim with this, to not just make something that’s funny or pulls at the heartstrings, so to speak, but is actually heartfelt and honest.

Q. Have you ever been that low?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I’ve been pretty sad! [smiles]

Q. How refreshing for you was it that it’s the guy who’s the romantic fantasist and the girl’s the cynic – it’s usually the other way around?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I like that neither of the characters fit so neatly into any gender box, that both exhibit traits that would typically be assigned to either one or the other, in like our parents’ generation of love stories. I think it’s a sign of the times that we as a people, and we as a culture, are kind of becoming more ready to be individuals and have less of a need to strictly adhere to any conventions or stereotypes.

Q. Did you know you’d hit it off straightaway with Zooey?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The cool thing was Zooey and I have known each other for a long time, because we did a movie together called Manic, almost 10 years ago. It was a very different movie from (500) Days of Summer, but it’s one I’m really proud of actually. It’s a very heavy, dramatic movie and we’ve stayed friends since then. The chemistry and the comfort and trust between two people playing a love story like this is key, and to have a friend that I could trust, and whose sensibilities I already understood, made it so much easier, and is a big part of why it all looks natural on screen.

Q. Was it never awkward, being such good friends, doing those intimate screens together?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: No, it’s the opposite, it’s so much easier when it’s someone you know. It’s weird when it’s a stranger, but when you’re friends… we’ve done this before, we’re both actors.

Q. What are your music tracks for those falling in and out of love moments?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It depends. I’ll tell you, when we were shooting (500) Days of Summer, what I listened to a lot was She and Him. Everyone loves it in the States. Every morning on my way to work I listened to She and Him.

Q. You’ve done a little dance video to that, haven’t you?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yes, there’s a dance number in the movie and Zooey isn’t in it, which is a tragedy, because Zooey is built for dance numbers. So, we made this little short film that’s out online.

Q. Are you a natural dancer? Did you watch any old musicals to train for it?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I wouldn’t make any comparisons! But I do love a Gene Kelly movie, or a Fred Astaire movie [laughs]. But those guys spent a lot of time practising dancing, which I haven’t, but I had fun doing it. [That sequence] took me by surprise when it actually arrived because there I was in front of 30 choreographed dancers who were all doing the same thing as me. It was a bizarre experience. We all picture ourselves doing that; we’ve all sat and watched the making of Thriller, I certainly have.

Q. At one point in the film you say that ‘60s women had the right idea with style and dressing – is that something you personally believe?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I do like fashion from the ‘60s, some of it. I think in that particular scene Tom’s being more of a curmudgeon. It reminds me of myself when I was younger actually, because I used to like to do a lot of that: “Oh, everyone’s so stupid today, how come nobody has any taste anymore?” But I’ve sort of gotten over that notion. I don’t buy into the glory days thing. I think every time has its great things to it. The ‘60s were such a glorious time but it’s easy to forget that there was all sorts of bullshit too. There’s an early Frank Zappa album that’s all about mocking the ‘60s. I remember when I heard that, when I was 15, he’s just taking the piss out of Hate Ashbury, hippies and everything. I was brought up to glorify the ‘60s, my parents grew up in them, but there was probably bad stuff then also.

Q. So, what’s great right now?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Now is so exciting. Right now a lot of the best stuff you see are things that just some kid somewhere in Japan made. Like I watched this video recently by a band called Sour… they’re a Japanese trio, it’s a cool song, but they made this video with hundreds of collaborators, people who liked their music, who were all obviously very organised and co-ordinated, and made these beautiful images that really wouldn’t have been possible before the Internet allowed for that kind of organisation and communication, which allowed all these people to upload their videos to one website, so someone could download them and cut them together. This is the kind of thing that would have been nearly impossible even four years ago, and is a beautiful work of art today.

(500) Days of Summer

Q. Are you naturally musical? Is there a YouTube video of you and Zooey singing your heart out in a bar somewhere?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: There isn’t [laughs]. I just made a short film that played at Sundance and it’s going to come out on a DVD compilation of short films. Spike Jonze actually has one on the same disc, which tickles me. The movie’s called Sparks and I adapted it from a short story, directed it, cut it and scored it. It’s really the first time I’ve been public about music that I make.

Q. Is that a taster of things to come, directing features maybe?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I don’t know. I don’t have a feature I’m working on now. But I do stuff all the time on this website called HitRecord.org. I put up little videos or pieces of audio or writing or photos and then invite other people to do the same, and we all sort of re-mix each others’ records and collaborate and make collages. It’s really fun.

Q. One critic called (500) Days of Summer the first great cinematic romance of the Facebook generation. It sounds like you’re into all of that – how would you say the Internet has changed your life?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: One thing I love about HitRecord and getting to make stuff and putting it up on line is how instantaneous it is. I love (500) Days of Summer, I loved it when we shot it a year ago, and I love it now, but it’s very different to be talking about and finally showing a movie to audiences that was shot so long ago, whereas online you can make something that day, put it out and have people see it and respond to it and maybe change it and collaborate. It’s just a different kind of vibe – it’s instant and it’s resonant. It allows for a kind of resonance that’s impossible in the older kind of media.

Q. Given your track record of off-mainstream films, did you decide to do GI Joe for the money?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Actually no… and to be honest GI Joe’s not the best-paying job I’ve had at all. I did that movie for fun. I got the opportunity to do this cool character with this mask and crazy make-up, and costume and voice – it was a blast. I go in for diversity and an eclectic mix of creative challenges, and GI Joe was really fun.

Q. How did you avoid the pitfalls of the child star going off the rails? You went to school and disappeared for a couple of years… Was that a way of dealing with that, or were you just quite grounded anyway?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I don’t know if I’m quite grounded. But I seem to have you convinced, so we’ll leave it at that!

Q. Are you a cynic or romantic at heart?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I think a healthy balance of both is important, but I’d probably lean more towards the romantic side these days.

Q. Is there anything missing from (500) Days that you wish had been kept?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: There used to be a sequence that was sort of the antithesis of the dance number, The Best Morning Ever – there used to be a Worst Morning Ever, which was really funny, and fun, but I think you always have to take some stuff out if it’s slowing it down.

Q. What’s your favourite scene in the movie?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Reality and expectations. I might cite that one! It really gets at the heart of the movie. Here’s a guy who’s built up all these expectations based on this music that he likes, and movies, and what he’s heard from friends and others, rather than engaging with reality and being present, he tries to project these expectations and defy this girl.

Q. It’s such an inventive film, was all of that in the script? And did it end up the way you expected?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: A lot of it really was in the script. I got to say, this one actually looked a lot like how I expected it to look. It was really what I hoped it would look like, and what Mark [Webb, director] the director described. He’s very savvy, technically, he’s shot so many videos, he knows how to get what he wants. The surprise, of course, is that he’s also an extremely humanistic story-teller. He’s obsessed with story and character, and not just making it look right, which is a double-thred that’s rare in directors. You usually get one or the other, you get someone who knows how to tell a story but they don’t necessarily know about light and camera and rhythm, or you get someone who can make beautiful images but they can’t necessarily tell a great story. He does both and I think he’s going to be one of the film-makers that our time is remembered for.

Read our review of (500) Days of Summer