Why Joseph Gordon-Levitt May Be the Most Thoughtful Actor in Hollywood
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Why Joseph Gordon-Levitt May Be the Most Thoughtful Actor in Hollywood

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | October 3, 2013 | Comments ()


Some people argue that Hollywood has stopped making “movie stars,” and while that may be increasingly true, something else that is in short supply in Hollywood right now are genuine, thoughtful people. Joseph Gordon-Levitt may not generate the kind of box-office performances that others of his generation — Seth Rogen, James Franco, or JGL’s best friend, Channing Tatum — can, but by my count, JGL is killing it in the thoughtful department.

A child-star of the 90s, Joseph Gordon-Levitt broke free from his cleaner, earlier image not by going the Lohan and Miley route with big public displays of sexual outlandishness and drug use, but by going to college and afterward reinventing himself by taking only “good roles,” beginning with the astounding, but little-seen Mysterious Skin, which demonstrated that JGL wasn’t just a kid from a cute 90’s sitcom, but a formidable lead actor.

It was the clip below of Joseph Gordon-Levitt turning his video camera on the paparazzi eight or ten years ago, however, that prompted me to see JGL in a different light: He’s more than a great actor; he’s a fascinating and thoughtful mind. In the clip, he has a respectful conversation with two members of the paparazzi who had been aggressively taking his — and other young celebrities’ pictures — about why they do what they do, and why it is they can’t just ask. One photographer implies that he was aggressive because the photos carried a suggestion that JGL was gay, a suggestion that JGL doesn’t bother dismissing. He just lets it linger, because the answer doesn’t matter.

JGL has taken an interesting, dynamic career path since, choosing intimate, versatile, and challenging roles in movies like 50/50, Looper, Inception and (500) Days of Summer. He’ll do the occasional blockbuster, too, like The Dark Knight Rises or G.I. Joe, a popcorn movie he doesn’t shy away from (“I got to play the fucking Cobra Commander! How cool is that?” he recently said at a Reddit AMA).

He’s also interesting in specific ways in which others in Hollywood are not. He’s a private person — he has a girlfriend, but he won’t reveal who she is — but he’s also one of the most accessible actors around. You can often find him on Reddit, he’s approachable on Twitter, and with his production company, HitRecordJoe, he fosters collaborative art with anyone with a great idea and returns all the proceeds back to the collaborators.

Last week, Don Jon — which was written, directed and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt — opened in theaters. It’s an impressive piece of work, not just because it’s well acted, well directed, and well written, but because of the thoughtfulness beneath the surface. He uses porn as a hook to draw viewers in, but in the end, Don Jon ends up being an indictment of it, not because it’s bad, but because it’s not real.

The seed of Don Jon is rooted in the very question he began exploring in turning the camera on the paparazzi: The difference between what is real, and the artificial allusion of reality that magazine covers, movies, and porn attempt to convey as real. He interested in getting beneath the surface of sex and celebrity, in making emotional connections between him and his audience, and in removing the filter between celebrity and consumer. He’s encouraging us to stop buying into images and brands, and instead, consume the thoughts and ideas, and more importantly, create our own, alone, or in collaboration. There’s no one else in Hollywood like him: An actor, a writer, a director, and Internet entrepreneur, a collaborator, and a celebrity who not only eschews the trappings of it, but is working to erase it all and expose the beautiful wart of reality beneath the artificial layer of bullsh*t.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • FoxyRoxy

    Ever since I saw him in "A River Runs Through It", I knew he was going to be a big star.

  • Jackie Jormpjomp

    Cool. Ever since 3rd Rock it was apparent this guy is extremely talented. Nice to see actual ability and not just hype make it in Hollywood.

  • CLFilm

    I like this article, Dustin, & god knows I LOVE JGL, but I wish you had come up with more equivalent contemporaries to compare him with. Not only are Lohan and Cyrus quite a bit younger than him, but the way we treat young female celebrities in this culture is so much different than the way we treat young male celebrities. I am uncomfortable with you using his success and groundedness as a counterpoint to how those ladies 'should be' and as a way of putting them down. They never had the chance he did, we didn't give it to them. I would compare him more closely with Natalie Portman, if forced to choose a female counterpart.

  • joe

    Illusion not allusion

  • JW

    The production company is called HitRecord !

  • MiaHouse

    "Illlusions," Michael... Artificial illusions :)

  • Suz

    I'm feeling a little bad for RyRey. Bitch got dumped.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    This man has my utmost respect. First as an "artist", since he is a damn in any role he is in, and picks high quality films hr knocks out of the parl as well as popcorn dreck like gi joe, but without an ounce of irony. But he also had my respect as an "Artist" once I found out about HitRecord. He has absolutely no reason to do that project other than the fact that he loves artistic communities and I assume is trying to leverage his fame into a platform for artists of all mediums. He promotes HitRecord as much as his own films, even organizing tours and a monthly magazine to showcase the collaborations that happen on the site. He is the man.

    And yeah, super handsome and impeccably well dressed.

    He wins.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    "...since he is damn fine in any...". Goddamn phone fat fingers

  • Darek

    All right Dustin, you've convinced me, I'd totally bang JGL.

  • marya

    I just need to offer a warning to my fellow Pajibites and Pabjibettes. Mysterious Skin is truly as excellent as Dustin says. The acting, the script, the mood of the film...everything is just really well done. But I can't really recommend anyone see it. The main character is molested as a child, and it is ROUGH, y'all. They walk the line pretty carefully, but there is some pretty detailed, graphic stuff. It has stuck with me for years. There are things I now know about pedophiles that I cannot un-know. I'll be washing dishes, or walking my dog, and all of a sudden I'm thinking about those characters, and certain scenes, and my stomach heaves a little. So, beware.

  • amg

    hubby and i turned it off during the first pedo scene for that reason. it was just too creepy and sad because that stuff is real. :( but we are big JGL fans and don jon is really worth seeing. (as are all his films!)

  • Heather

    Agree. Mysterious Skin is extraordinary.

  • go_nelly

    saw Don Jon last weekend. good story. liked it a lot.

  • Benderman

    I love how the paparazzo tries to be smart by referencing La Dolce Vita, only to ask who directs and it and JGL responds immediately with Fellini.

  • sanity fair

    You make valid points here, but if I'm honest, I didn't find myself really liking him until I saw him explain satire to Stephen Colbert last week. THAT was adorable as hell.

  • e jerry powell

    Underutilized but good to see in Latter Days.

  • dilwazr

    I love almost everything about him EXCEPT, he was on Teen Celebrity Jeopardy or something (when he still had long hair) and he got super excited to answer a Catcher in the Rye question, saying "That's my favorite book!" I just hope he's grown out of that cause that book is dumb.

  • MichaelAndTheArgonauts

    You forgot to mention Premium Rush. That was such a fun B movie. JGL made the movie work. Michael Shannon didn't hurt either. :)

  • csb

    You didn't mention Brick, your argument is invalid.

  • JenVegas

    Stop it, Dustin. Just stop it. I don't care WHAT you say. It's impossible for me to love Joseph Gordon-Levitt any more than I already do.

  • BendinIntheWind

    If by "most thoughtful" you mean "actor that I think about the most", then yes. Very yes.

  • I sat through at least an hour of GI Joe solely because he was in it. I'm almost as impressed with that feat as I am Don Jon, which I really enjoyed.

  • Maguita NYC

    That is good to hear. I have yet to see the movie, and although DC's review was great, some had said the movie annoyed or disappointed...

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Plus The Lookout was fantastic.

  • cgthegeek

    I love that "pictures of assholes" video.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    If you were a paparazzo, why would you be openly hostile to the person you're photographing? That mystifies me. I mean, they're assholes already by virtue of being paparazzi, but it still seems really weird. 'Catch more flies with honey' and all that.

  • BWeaves

    Because they can sell the photo for more money if the celebrity looks pissed off or mad or bad.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    Guh, I hate the world.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    Yep, the term Paparazzo comes from the Fellini film he referenced, but the character was based on Felice Quinto, an early celebrity photographer. Quinto didn't do the normal press line events, but instead worked with a crew of photographers who would try to provoke celebrities. They found that there was more money in a picture of a fight, or a middle finger, than a shot of the movie star on the red carpet.

    It's pretty horrible.

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