Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks porn, muscles, 'Don Jon'

The Fresno BeeSeptember 25, 2013 

If an actor is lucky, a script for a new role will arrive a month or two before filming starts. Often, it's only a day or two. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had years to get ready to play the title role in the new feature "Don Jon."

You get that kind of prep time when you write and direct the project.

The story, which he worked on four years, is about a New Jersey ladies' man who can bed almost any woman he wants. His problem is that sex isn't as pleasing as the porn he watches on his computer. When he meets the woman of his dreams (Scarlett Johansson), she catches him and is so disgusted she walks out of his life.

Because he worked on the project for such a long time, Gordon-Levitt refined every detail.

"While I was writing, I was thinking what the camera would be doing in a certain scene. When the script was done, I could see the movie like I wanted it to play," Gordon-Levitt says. "I have worked with hundreds of directors over the years and learned a lot from all of them. The beautiful moment was when I finally showed the script to a few directors and the support they showed me."

Those directors just happened to be Steven Spielberg (while Gordon-Levitt was working on "Lincoln"), Christopher Nolan (during "The Dark Knight Rises" filming) and Rian Johnson (while shooting "Looper"). He got encouragement from Spielberg and Johnson, but it was the reaction from Nolan that convinced Gordon-Levitt he had a script that would work.

Gordon-Levitt describes Nolan as the kind of person who speaks his mind. Instead of handing out praise, Nolan started asking Gordon-Levitt questions about the budget, shooting schedule and other aspects of filming. Gordon-Levitt knew those questions were a sign Nolan saw his script as a viable project.

What spawned the project was Gordon-Levitt's interest in telling a story about how people objectify each other. He thinks that comes from how he's spent his entire life working in TV and film, which gave him a firsthand look at how our culture has a "weird tendency" to objectify celebrities. To make the story more universal, he had the character's obsession with porn be nothing more than an emotionless objectification of women.

Gordon-Levitt went through a slight case of obsession over a woman as he started putting his cast together. He had written the script with Johansson in mind as the lead and never thought of anyone else for the role.

"As a producer, I was supposed to think of a backup plan in case she either couldn't do the movie or didn't want to do it," Gordon-Levitt says. "I didn't think about that. I wanted Scarlett in the movie."

He went so far as to fly to Albuquerque, N.M., while Johansson was filming "The Avengers" to hand-deliver the script. They had a long talk about the film, including how the media portrays men and women. That conversation won over Johansson. Gordon-Levitt turned to friends and actors he had worked with over the years — including Tony Danza to play his father — to fill out the cast.

Having so much time to get ready for the film helped him get into shape for the role. He spent months in the gym shaping his body into a lean, mean, loving machine.

"When I started writing the script, I was trying to think of who is a contemporary of Don Juan. That would be an East Coast womanizer who spends most of his time creating this perfect gym body," Gordon-Levitt says. "I had never played a character like that before, but I had lived in New York City for many years and I was familiar with the accent and the way these guys act."

Don't look for Gordon-Levitt to keep the chiseled body. He's not a big fan of gym work. And he won't need the muscled look for his next project as host of the series "HitRECord on TV!," a half-hour variety series that will debut on the cable channel Pivot in January.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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