Joseph Gordon-Levitt found fame as a child star, but now the 32-year-old is showcasing different talents as the director, writer and star of ‘Don Jon’, a romcom with a twist. Also starring Scarlett Johansson, it’s the smart, funny story of one man’s efforts to put his porn addiction behind him. We caught up with the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ star to find out why he’s stepping behind the camera, what it means to be a feminist and whether it’s true he’ll be remaking the musical ‘Guys and Dolls’ with Channing Tatum.
How would you describe ‘Don Jon’?
‘It’s about people treating each other more like things than people – and how the media can contribute to that. I suppose I have always been very aware of the way that media influences the way we see things because I grew up working in TV and movies. I wanted to tell a story about that. And how it relates to our love lives and sex lives.’
At points it reminded me of Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’.
‘I love that movie! Choose life.’
‘Trainspotting’ showed us why people would take heroin. You’ve done that for porn: we can relate to Jon, he’s not a freak.
‘Yeah, I think it’s important to not judge a character. I guess I get that from acting. You have to still respect and love the person that you’re playing. Jon and I would disagree on a lot of things, but I wanted to show him respect.’
I guess you would fall out over Jon’s terrible hair…
‘Oh yes. Yes, we would definitely disagree on his hair [laughs].’
Do you remember when you first thought: Okay, I want to direct?
‘Really early. I was always fascinated with everything that was going on, on a set. Being a kid, seven, eight, nine years old, and having my own part to play as an actor, with this team, me relying on them, them relying on me – that felt exciting.’
What was your approach to filming the sex scenes?
‘I didn't want it to ever feel like the audience was just sitting there watching people having sex or watching him watch porn. I wanted it to be more inside his head as he’s making his argument, his case for why he does what he does. The sex scenes are all narrated from inside Jon’s head.’
The female roles are great, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore in particular. How did you get Julianne Moore to come on board? Was it easy?
‘She was my first choice, but when her agent handed her the script and said, “It’s about porn. Do you wanna read it?” she said “No. I don’t want to do another movie about porn.” But then, she started to read it and she was sitting next to her husband, and turned to him and said, “This isn’t really about porn at all.” She and Scarlett actually have a real uncanny ability to be funny but also be heartfelt and genuine and honest. They’re why the movie works.’
You describe yourself as a feminist. What does that mean for you?
‘That word “feminism” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I identify with it and my mom and my dad, who were very active in the ’60s and ’70s in movements about civil rights and peace and feminism. My mom always brought up my brother and me to consider men and women as equals and she would always point out to us when there was something on TV that was sort of demeaning or objectifying to women. A lot of what this movie is about is what my mom taught me.’
Channing Tatum has a tiny cameo in ‘Don Jon’. Is the rumour that you’re looking at doing ‘Guys and Dolls’ together serious? We want to see you guys in a dance-off.
‘Yeah, me too! Although he’s a much better dancer than I am. He’s sensational. He’s a sweetheart. We’ve done three musicals together and three shorts. And yes, we want to do a musical together and we’re trying to figure out what that is. I don’t know if it’ll be “Guys and Dolls”. That was one project that we were looking at, but we do both want to do a musical. So yeah, I think that’ll be a really great project, sometime in the future.’
‘Don Jon’ opens on Fri Nov 15.
Read our ‘Don Jon’ review
As a director, Gordon-Levitt demonstrates considerable technical flair through stylistic flourishes and coaxes great performances out of his co-stars, while he remains centre stage throughout. Be prepared for at least two shifts of gear in the story which mark the film’s clearly outlined three acts – but perhaps this is less a flaw in the film than in our expectations of where a movie like this might be heading.