Joseph Gordon-Levitt opens up about hitRECord and DARK KNIGHT RISES’ Occupy Wall Street vibe
It’s more than an hour ‘til show time and the ticketholder tent outside the 1,270-seat Eccles Theatre, the Grand Théâtre Lumière of Sundance, is bursting at the seams for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord: A Night at the Movies. Thus, the less punctual attendees are forced to brave the heavy snow and form a long line wrapping around the theatre. Judging by the high volume of beanies, as well as girls dragging their boyfriends around like disgruntled parents, the crowd is skewing very young—save a handful of older men who look like Julian Schnabel.
As soon as the doors open, it’s Black Friday. People rush inside the theatre to claim the coveted seats closest to the stage. One pretty brunette a few rows back obsessively combs her hair with her fingers like Marsha Brady—this lasts several minutes—while the Sundance Film Festival’s chief programmer John Cooper is overheard saying to a pal, “He explained it to me a million times and I still don’t know what I’m about to see.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great many things: talented actor, Internet entrepreneur, karaoke specialist. With the Sundance event HitRECord: A Night at the Movies, you can add showman to the list. HitRECord is an online collaborative website that allows participants to work together on songs, short films, and other multimedia. At the event, Gordon-Levitt exhibits his considerable swagger—displaying short films from the site, playing songs, reciting a passage from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer along with Parker Posey and Brady Corbet, and more.
Sundance Channel caught up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt to chat about hitRECord, his transition from indie prince to Hollywood star, how he coped with the loss of his brother, DARK KNIGHT RISES’ Occupy Wall St. themes, and more.
Sundance ’05 was a big year for you with BRICK and MYSTERIOUS SKIN. That seemed to be the year where people really started taking you seriously as an actor.
You’re absolutely right, man. I grew up admiring Sundance with RESERVOIR DOGS, SLING BLADE, BIG NIGHT, all these movies in the ‘90s that I’d get so excited to see. When I first got my license I’d just get in my car and drive to the indie theater in L.A., the Sunset 5. But at that point in 2005, I was like, “Wow. Maybe I’ll get to do this,” because at that point, I didn’t know if I was. People really wanted me to do another TV show, which was not what I was interested in doing.
You talked a lot about “independence” at the hitRECord event last night, and it was a very bold, “independent” move by you to turn your back on a lucrative acting career and enroll at Columbia University.
I think that was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done in my life—not just quitting acting for a while, but anyone at that age needs to move away from home and reinvent himself or herself. That’s the case with any sort of growth—you put yourself out of your comfort zone and it forces you to grow.
You and Gosling—two of our finest young actors—were primarily known as “indie guys,” but you’ve both lately crossed over into the mainstream. Was that a conscious choice of yours?
What Parker [Posey] and I were kind of getting at last night was that 500 DAYS OF SUMMER seems like an independent movie to some, but it’s not really an indie. What’s important to me was that Marc Webb, who made 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, is an artist I connected with. And now he’s making AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and I can’t fucking wait to see what he’ll do with that. And Christopher Nolan got started with MEMENTO and FOLLOWING, and I would say that DARK KNIGHT has that same independent spirit, and that’s what people love about it; he’s able to take that sensibility and that care and love for his work, and do it on a really large scale.
It’s fascinating the different paths people go on. Do you ever wonder how different your career would be had you not replaced James Franco in INCEPTION?
[Laughs] There are a million of those! Something goes one way, something goes another, you were five minutes late, etc. I wonder about that a lot. But Chris and me very much see eye-to-eye.
I’m curious why you started hitRECord?
It happened really organically, honestly. I was just making things and putting them on a website, then put up this message board and people started coming and talking on this site I was in charge of. It wasn’t even necessarily me—I think people just started to interact with one another. I thought it was cool, so I thought, “Alright, let me encourage that.” It grew very slowly from 2005 to 2010, when we came to Sundance and launched it as a production company.
Last night you said that you’ve “also found hope in the darkest places.” Was hitRECord also an outlet for people who were struggling like you, allowing them to realize that there was this community of people out there and they weren’t alone?
That’s really well put, man. With hitRECord, at the bottom of it, being alive at all is a creative process, and connecting with other people is also a creative process. That’s how I feel I can connect with other human beings and not feel lonely. What else are we going to do here other than make stuff? It’s either that, or destroy ourselves. My brother Dan and I, the earliest versions of hitRECord were us doing stuff together, and he was here at Sundance in 2010. [Getting choked up] He died in the fall of 2010, a little over a year ago, and for sure, throwing myself into hitRECord was one of the most comforting things I could do. Making RECollection was the best way I could cope with the grief.
You’re also really furthering his legacy because you two created this thing together.
Abso-fuckin’-lutely! He lives on.
One of the shorts that was shown last night was an Occupy Wall Street cartoon done in concert with the ACLU. What are your thoughts on OWS?
Some of that footage [in the cartoon] was stuff that I shot when I went down there, the night they raided Zuccotti Park. We had just finished shooting DARK KNIGHT RISES when it happened. What was going on in the park, the geographic thing of gathering, was great, but I think what’s really revolutionary is happening online with the 99 percent movement. It’s an idea and ideas travel in many ways.
This sounds like INCEPTION.
They travel through your dream! [Laughs]
There’s a quote in the DARK KNIGHT RISES trailer that Hathaway whispers into Bruce Wayne’s ear: “You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Between that, and the scenes of people protesting on the streets, people are gathering it has Occupy Wall Street themes.
Yup! I know. You saw it, man. The trailer isn’t misleading and Nolan’s not the type of guy to create a trailer that will sell you something other than what the movie is.
With DARK KNIGHT RISES, you’re reunited with Anne Hathaway from HAVOC. I think it’s one of your most hilarious performances ever.
[Laughs] Thanks! That was Channing [Tatum’s] first movie! We had a great time doing it and Chan and me are really good friends. We’ve done three movies together and I hung out with him last week. I had a ton of fun doing that character. It’s not a perfect movie, but it was a great script that Stephen Gaghan wrote. Annie’s really good in it… Yeah. I was like, “I’m going to smoke a blunt in every scene. Is that OK?” And no one was really paying enough attention to tell me no, so I always made sure the props department had one ready for me.
You closed out the event last night with a few cover songs. Are we ever going to see you on tour performing music?
I’ve always played music but I’ve always been very hesitant about that because there’s a stigma about actors playing music. We’re going to do a hitRECord tour and music will definitely be a part of it.
There was also a cute little short story you read last night about heartbreak that you said really touched you. Have you ever had your heart broken?
I’ve been brokenhearted before in my life, sure. I think a lot of us have. I thought that story really encapsulated it.
Are you in Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED? I’ve heard casting rumors.
I hope so! I really want to do it, man. Tarantino has always been one of my very, very favorites, and just getting to know him a little bit has been such a thrill for me. He’s exactly who I wanted him to be, and that doesn’t always happen when you meet your heroes. He’s totally that guy! He’s so enthusiastic, good-natured, and just loves fuckin’ movies.
Presented by Sundance Channel and The Daily Beast. Check out all of The Daily Beast's dispatches from the Sundance Film Festival.