Berlin 2013: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Why 'Don Jon's Addiction' Is 'Sort of Wholesome'
The busy actor discusses his racy directorial debut, which, after premiering at Sundance, will play in the Berlinale Panorama.
Who says every promising child star is doomed for a Lohan-esque second act? Although Joseph Gordon-Levitt has worked steadily in Hollywood since his toddler days, including a six-year run on 3rd Rock From the Sun, his red-hot career appears nowhere near its peak. After working with elite directors from Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) to Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), the 31-year-old decided to jump behind the camera for Don Jon’s Addiction, a film he wrote that delves into the porn-addled male brain. The film became the talk of Sundance in January thanks to its semi-graphic sexual content and a whopping price-tag (Relativity Media bought U.S. rights to Don Jon for a record-setting $4 million upfront and a $25 million P&A commitment). Voltage Pictures is handling international territories at the Berlin market. Gordon-Levitt spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his inspirations, his upcoming projects and why, despite the sex, Don Jon is actually “sort of wholesome.”
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the genesis of this project?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I wanted to tell kind of a love story, and what I’ve noticed is when it comes to sex, people objectify each other. It becomes this thing, this object of consumption and acquisition, and I think both males and females do it. I felt that having a story that was centered around a woman who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies and a young man who watches too much pornography would be a really hilarious way to get at this theme of objectification. We learn to objectify things and each other from all sorts of places. We learn it from our family, we learn it from friends, we get it from church, and we also learn it from different kinds of media. And that fascinates me.
THR: Why did you choose to take a more humorous approach?
Gordon-Levitt: I find comedy is oftentimes the most effective way to make commentary. I wouldn’t exactly call it “movie light;” it’s more of a dark comedy, and I very much did want it to connect with a really broad audience. It’s funny how all sorts of people have responded to the movie. My mom really likes it, which means a lot to me since I was brought up on a lot of the ideals that she was active in, the feminist movement of the ’60s and ’70s. But I think a fun, entertaining and funny movie oftentimes is the most effective way to try to say something. Like one of my favorite movies ever is Dr. Strangelove. It makes me howl with laughter, and yet it’s so smart.
THR: Where else have you drawn inspiration?
Gordon-Levitt: I love the Coen Brothers. I love Tarantino. I thought Django Unchained was a really brilliant, hilarious and extremely entertaining, popularly appealing movie about some really substantial issues like race and class and brutality in America.
THR: Have you picked your next project?
Gordon-Levitt: No. Right now, I’m doing a part for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which is so much fun. I just admire Robert so much. He has created this whole world and a way of doing things that is so custom-tailored to his taste and his abilities.
THR: Did you ever second-guess the extremes that Don Jon went to, or did anybody try and talk you out of some of the more sexually graphic sequences?
Gordon-Levitt: It has been a process figuring out the best way to do it, and I imagine it will continue to be a process. Most of the movies that I’ve been in that played at Sundance and were acquired continued to evolve until either the filmmaker or the distributor -- or both, hopefully -- considered it ready for wide distribution. In this case, dealing with Relativity has been excellent. They really believe in the movie and believe in me and won’t force me to do anything I don’t want to do. So it will be worth figuring out the right balance, because I think it is important to have the visceral reaction you can get out of an audience with real snippets and samples of these actual pornography clips. What we do is select them extremely carefully, and we cut them meticulously. It’s all very quick shots that are specifically worked into the editing and the voice-over and the music to achieve a particular effect and make a specific point in the story.
THR: So is there a mandate from Relativity that you have to bring this film in with an R rating rather than NC-17?
Gordon-Levitt: I have a mandate for myself for that. In fact, there was a director’s note at the very beginning of the script that said, “This will be a rated-R movie.” [This could even] be a PG-13 movie. I believe we’ll get rated R because of its mature themes and language. With the Sundance cut, everything was cropped very carefully so you don’t see anything explicit, even though you sort of feel like you’re seeing explicit things.
THR: Do you expect an even more enthusiastic reception in Berlin, given that Europeans are generally less uptight about sexuality?
Gordon-Levitt: I think people everywhere have been really receptive to it. When people hear what the movie is about, they assume it’s going to be much more scandalous than I think it is. In fact, I think the movie is actually sort of wholesome. There is a wholesomeness in the moral of the story. There was one article I read in a Salt Lake City magazine that said it was a more compelling anti-porn argument than your standard moralist argument. I really appreciated that.