The California born-and-bred actor has been in the business since the age of 6, starring in commercials and TV movies before playing an adult alien stuck in a human teenager’s body in the popular show, 3rd Rock from the Sun. His endearing, funny and appropriately mature performance as Tommy Solomon more than proved that he had the natural talent to be on screen. But how many precocious talents have we seen get lost along the way?
Luckily for us (and for him), he made the right choices, kept his feet firmly on the ground and focused all his energy, intelligence and determination on evolving his craft. There was even a time in his early twenties when he took a break from acting and went to Columbia to study history, literature and French poetry. Having been brought up in a liberal household, Joe was never one to conform to tradition or peer pressure but nor was he ever encouraged to be an activist,
"My dad never blew anything up, but he probably had friends who did. He and my mom have always preached that the pen is mightier than a Molotov cocktail."
His priorities have always been clear – excellence, quality and hard work to achieve them.
"Success is not important to me, nor are power or money. If the script feels good, then I'm in. It's that simple."
Doing more independent films at the start of the career especially has nothing to do with proving a point and everything with the kind of work Joe sees himself enjoying. That’s the refreshing part about his filmography so far, there is a wide range that not only showcases his impressive acting chops but also proves his point about the script being the only thing that matters.
"There's the other way on both sides. There's plenty of low budget indie movies that are kinda doing it for the wrong reasons just like there's some great, huge studio movies."
And true to this word, over the past few years, the 32 year old has starred in some of the biggest blockbuster hits (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Lincoln) with plenty of indie, experimental, critically acclaimed films (Brick, Hesher, Stop-Loss, The Lookout, Mysterious Skin) as well as films across a range of genres – comedy/drama (50/50), offbeat romantic comedy (500 Days of Summer), action (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), teen (10 Things I Hate About You).
There is a frank genuine quality in Joseph Gordon-Levitt that makes him instantly stand apart from the others. In his interviews, he comes across as an affable, down-to-earth, fun but also serious guy who is modest about his considerable talents.
"He has tremendous charisma and that incredible kind of positivity that can't be faked." (Christopher Nolan)
There is more than enough sincerity and transparency to prove to us that it’s not for the media attention, nor is he being ‘an ivory-tower douchebag’, something that he insists he was like in high school. The idea of celebrity is an issue he feels strongly about. This is what he told GQ’s Amy Wallace in an interview/celebrity profile last year,
"I really don't like this notion that some people are more important than other people. These stories about these elevated people called 'celebrities' teaches you"—and by "you" he meant regular, nonfamous folks—"that what you have to say doesn't matter. It's degrading." (GQ)
Though his performances in Brick and Mysterious Skin did win him the critical acclaim, Joe’s first real ‘breakthrough’ performance was as Tom in Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer. He played a die-hard romantic, aspiring architect who is stagnating at a greeting card company. The girl of his dreams turns out to be a cynic when it comes to true love. In this ‘not a love story’ we get to see the wide array of emotional depth at his disposal, his ability to play characters with flaws and imperfections so that they seem so much more human and relatable and yet there is a certain subtlety, an impressive finesse and poise that speaks of a sensitive, intelligent thinker.
"To me, the highest compliment you can pay to an actor is, "Man, I didn't recognize you".
The perfectionist, the stickler to details with the hyperactive energy that just bounces off and the sense of him being constantly tuned in, even for interviews is very obvious. As does his quest to keep finding new challenges and constantly improving. This is a guy who is clearly dedicated to his craft, something that he considers more of a vocation than a profession.
"It's a very ritualized practice: First they say 'rolling' and then they say 'speed' and then they say 'marker,' and they clap the marker, then the camera says 'set,' then the director says 'action.' I've heard that sequence of words ever since I was 6 years old. It's powerful. I need that."
"That's what life is: repetitive routines. It's a matter of finding the balance between deviating from those patterns and knowing when to repeat them".
All the evidence so far suggests that Joe definitely knows how to maintain that balance. There isn’t any real fear of stagnation. In fact he is known to be highly innovative, keeping himself in tune with the pulse of our rapidly changing times. For him, the entertainment industry as we know it, has a large chance of evolving into a more organic entity by eliminating studios and agents – with artists sharing their creations and connecting and communicating with their audience through the internet. For him, ‘curation is the art form of the twenty-first century.’
This passionate approach has seen him pour $5,00,000 from his own pocket into hitRECord.org, a website that is ‘an open-collaborative production company’ where ‘we make things together.’ One of their projects was called Tiny Stories, a collaboration where JGL himself had a story. A story that simply said,
"When I was younger, I wanted to be something. Now, I just want to be younger."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s evolution from bright child actor to a precocious teenage talent to a polished, versatile star has been more than impressive. His debut directive venture, Don Jon’s Addiction has opened to positive reviews at Sundance 2013 and will have its full release this October. He also stars in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For releasing later this year and has been apparently lined up for the remake of the classic musical Guys and Dolls (made famous by Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando) along with Channing Tatum. You can only see his star rising higher, which leaves Joe in an enviable position where girls want to date him and guys want to be like him.