The Hot Seat: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The Hesher star loves Metallica and Mary Poppins.

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Illustration: Dan Park


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I have to start by asking about Batman: You were just cast as John Blake in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Anything you can break to the geeks out there?
[Laughs] All I can say is Chris Nolan is one of the great storytellers of our time, and I'm delighted to be working on this story with him.

Urban Dictionary describes a hesher as a long-haired, mulleted person who listens to metal or thrash music, and who often has a creepy mustache.
I guess that could be considered a definition from a fashion point of view. I think a real hesher doesn't actually give a shit about what they wear. The character Hesher in the movie Hesher—it's sort of ironic that he calls himself Hesher. He never tells anyone his [real] name, and he calls himself Hesher, but in fact, he does a lot of things that would be totally unexpected from someone who would be described that way, someone who would fit neatly and cleanly into that box.

Hesher is kind of a vessel—we know very little about him; the film is more about how he affects the other characters' lives. Did you create your own back story for him?
I did, but I hesitate to talk much about it. It's intentional—the character is one who's sort of about his present. He's unattached to his past or his future.

Did you listen to a lot of metal before or during the film?
Yeah, for sure. I was listening to Metallica, the older stuff especially. The character of Hesher was largely inspired by their old bassist, Cliff Burton. And the cool thing was, when the band saw the movie, they actually brought that up: Oh, the character is a lot like Cliff. That was a huge honor for me. Like, yes! Perfect! I did it right! [Laughs] They're letting us use their music, and they never let anyone use their music in movies. I've honestly been touched that they did that.

There's one image in particular that sort of stuck with me: Hesher's in his van with T.J. They're stopped at a light, and Hesher turns a Motrhead song up really loud and starts banging on the steering wheel.
When we were shooting, I told Spencer, "I want to drum along to this, so it has to be this song. Because if you change the song the drumming will be totally off." It's usually quite difficult to do stuff in movies, with a song that syncs up, because it's this whole rigmarole of getting the rights. Spencer made sure that we could use that song before we shot it, so I was able to drum along to it. It's fun stuff. The chorus literally goes, "Rock out with your cock out." [Laughs]

Hesher talks to T.J. as if he's an adult, instead of a 12-year-old who has just lost his mother.
I think Hesher identifies really strongly with T.J., even though he might not be aware of it. And the parallel was, I really personally identified with Devin Brochu, the actor who plays T.J. He had more shooting days than I did, and he was doing school at the same time. I remember when I had to do that shit.

The chemistry between the two of you was so important. It was sort of a nonfriendship.
Yeah, it's a family dealing with a death, and there aren't a lot of good words for the shit that goes on and the feelings that get felt. Hesher shows up and it's like, what? [Laughs]

Can you talk a bit about Hit Record?
Oh yeah! Hit Record (hitrecord.org) is an open, collaborative production company that I started and direct. I love doing the work that I get to do in the traditional, Hollywood-dominated entertainment industry. But there are so many other great artists, all over the world, doing great things. Whether it's on their laptop, in their kitchen or in their home studio, wherever. I just wanted to [say], "Here's a bunch of projects that I'm working on and they're open. So if you want to contribute to them, you can go to the website." We make short films, we make music, we do writing. We just published a book, we're going to do a DVD in the fall. People are always asking, "How can I get you a script blah blah blah?" Write something and put it on Hit Record! It's much more likely that I'll work with that than a script that is sent through the traditional channels. There's stuff that all sorts of people have written that goes on Hit Record that I'll do a voiceover for, or I'll act it out, and then I like to direct stuff, too. We've made all sorts of little things I'm really proud of. Over the holidays, we published our first book. It's a beautiful book called The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories.

Spencer Susser, the director, has described your character as a heavy-metal Mary Poppins. Do you see the story as a fantasy?
Mary Poppins is a worthy analogy. I love that movie, and I used to read those books with my mom. But I think you can see that character a lot of different ways. One of the things I really liked about the movie is that when I saw the script, I saw, in fact, quite a rich and complicated human being there. If you just watch the trailer, of course, it's 90 seconds long and you'll just see, you know, the surface of a dirty-looking guy blowing shit up. But if you watch the whole movie, I think there is quite a human being there who's much more that meets the eye.

Hesher opens Friday 13.

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