Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt was born on February 17, 1981 in Los Angeles, California to parents Jane Gordon and Dennis Levitt. Joseph was raised in a Jewish family with his late older brother, Dan Gordon-Levitt, who passed away in October 2010. His maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, had been a well-known movie director. After working for several years as a child actor, Joseph became better known for starring on the hit television series "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996), for which he earned two Hollywood Reporter Young Star Awards. In addition, the show earned three Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Outstanding Peformance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. Prior to his success on television, Joseph had already worked steadily in feature films, debuting in the Robert Redford film A River Runs Through It (1992).
Following his work on "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996), Joseph took time off from acting to attend Columbia University. In the early 2000s, he broke from the mold of his television and film comedy supporting roles by appearing in a string of intense dramatic roles, mostly in smaller, independent films such as Mysterious Skin (2004), Brick (2005), The Lookout (2007), and Stop-Loss (2008). By 2009, Joseph was officially established as one of the leading men of indie cinema with his Golden Globe-nominated role in the comedy-drama (500) Days of Summer (2009), for which he also received an Independent Spirit Award nod. In 2010 he headlined the indie drama Hesher (2010) and also established himself as a mainstream star in Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010). Balancing both independent and Hollywood film, Joseph scored another Golden Globe nod for the cancer drama 50/50 (2011), worked again with director Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises (2012), snagged leading roles in both Premium Rush (2012) and Looper (2012), and played Abraham Lincoln's son Robert in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012).
Dimples and youthful, boyish looks
Joseph's parents, Jane Gordon and Dennis Levitt, met as activists in California. Gordon ran for Congress, in 1970, with the Peace and Freedom Party.
Graduated from Van Nuys High School with honors in June 1999.
Began acting at the age of six with auditioning and landing small roles in commercials and television until he landed his breakout role in "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996).
His maternal grandfather was Michael Gordon, who directed such films as Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) and Pillow Talk (1959). Gordon's career was crippled when he was blacklisted during the Red Scare of the mid-Twentieth Century.
After spending six seasons on "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996), Joseph attended Columbia University in New York City, New York. He studied history, literature, and French poetry.
Auditioned for the role of Elder Aaron Davis in Latter Days (2003) before winning the role of Elder Paul Ryder.
He appeared in a preschool production of The Wizard of Oz before he began acting professionally.
Was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, but moved to New York City after attending college at Columbia University.
Was ranked #6 on Entertainment Weekly's '30 Under 30' the actors list (2008).
Joseph had an older brother, Dan Gordon-Levitt, who passed away in October 2010. He was a photographer and a worldwide known fire spinner.
Joseph was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009 for Best Special Theatrical Event with his fellow producers of the Broadway show "Slava's Snowshow".
Originally, James Franco was set to play the role of Arthur in Inception (2010); however, due to scheduling conflicts, James was forced to drop out of the film and the director of the film, Christopher Nolan, later gave the role to Joseph.
Enjoys playing the drums and the guitar.
Joseph is often said to bear a striking resemblance to his 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) co-star, Heath Ledger. Both actors also played significant roles in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy with Heath as Batman's nemesis, The Joker, in The Dark Knight (2008) and Joseph as Batman's ally, Officer John Blake, in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
He has said that he has been told many times by producers that he needed to pack on some weight because he appeared "too skinny" on screen. He did bulk up recently, but only to more greatly resemble a young Bruce Willis in their film Looper (2012).
The whole concept of celebrity pisses me off. While I'm not a celebrity, it's such a weird concept that society has cooked up for us. Astronauts and teachers are much more amazing than actors.
Most scripts are bad. I read a lot of them. Brick (2005) was a good script just to read. It was like, "Oh my God, these words feel so good in my mouth". A lot of movies try to set up a world with cool sets, costumes, camera work. In Brick (2005), the world is born from the words.
To me, a sex scene in a movie generally means a gratuitous scene that doesn't serve the story but gives a kind of excuse; we've got these two actors, we want to see them naked, so let's bring in the music and the soft light.
Actors didn't use to be celebrities. A hundred years ago, they put the theaters next to the brothels. Actors were poor. Celebrities used to be kings and queens. Then the United States abolished monarchy, and now there's this coming together of show business and celebrity. I don't think it's healthy. I don't want to sound self-important, but all these celebrity shows and magazines - it comes from us, from Hollywood, from our country. We're the ones creating it. And I think it works in close step with a lot of other bad things that are happening in the world. It promotes greed, it promotes being selfish and it promotes this ladder, where you're a better person if you have more money. It's not at all about the work itself. Don't get me wrong. I love movies. But this myth of celebrity has nothing to do with movies.
At the heart of the movie, to me, is there's these two characters that can have one horrible, traumatic experience but react to it in opposite ways and it shows how different people see things differently. Well, today, there's a president in my country that doesn't understand that and he thinks that if you don't see it exactly his way, you're wrong and evil. And that's not the way the world works. There can be one event but everybody who sees it sees it a little different or sees it a lot different and that's what the movies about and that's what damn "Dubya" needs to understand. Or let him not understand it and go about his ways and go back to his ranch and never bother us again. (about Mysterious Skin (2004)).
My dad never blew anything up, but he probably had friends who did. He and my mom have always preached that the pen is mightier than a Molotov cocktail. [on his parents' activist youths.]
I don't blame the people for the fact that so many movies are bad. I think there's a corrupt, perverted, lazy and sloppy attitude that's pervasive in the movie business. The whole entertainment business is kind of crumbling around us.
Success is not important to me, nor are power or money. If the script feels good, then I'm in. It's that simple.
My advantage is that I know the system. Big budgets don't impress me. They might've done when I was 13, but I've been working since I was 6.
One of the hardest things about playing a soldier is kinda acknowledging that I've never done, and might never do anything that brave.
The Lookout (2007) was by far the hardest thing I've ever done. Partially because both Brick (2005) and Mysterious Skin (2004) were four to five week shoots, and The Lookout (2007) was nine or 10. So there's the marathon aspect, as well as the fact that Chris Pratt is having a harder go of it than either of the other two characters ever did. You know, waking up in the morning is difficult for him. Putting a sentence together is difficult for him. Getting dressed properly, driving a car, all these things. He can do them fine, but it's just much harder than it is for a normal person, so I had to try to make it hard for myself somehow. So it was challenging.
[About the violence in Mysterious Skin (2004)] All that violence is there to tell a story that comes from an honest and genuine place, and that's what's important.
I've played the smart kid, the funny one, the nice sweet one, even the angry one, but never the sexy one.
It's a very ritualized practice: First they say 'rolling' and then they say 'speed' and then they say 'marker,' and they clap the marker, then the camera says 'set,' then the director says 'action.' I've heard that sequence of words ever since I was 6 years old. It's powerful. I need that.
That's what life is: repetitive routines. It's a matter of finding the balance between deviating from those patterns and knowing when to repeat them.
The traditional Hollywood sentiment is contempt for the audience. I've heard executives say, 'Audiences are stupid, kids are stupid,' but that's not going to fly anymore. I think Obama is great evidence of that. This is maybe a sort of pretentious parallel to draw, but it's the same with how love stories are told in movies. 500 Days of Summer wouldn't have made sense in our parents' generation. It reminds me so much of 2009.
Most love stories that are told in Hollywood are just bullshit, and everyone knows it. You go there expecting to be sold a bill of goods that you know is wrong. And sometimes you go anyway, like if a girl drags you or something.
I've had a select set of really beautiful, powerful, psychedelic experiences on certain drugs but I never got into just doing it at a party: 'Oh let's get f-ed up and drop acid'. That's so retarded and disrespectful to your body and the drug itself. Mushrooms, acid and ecstasy can offer you a new perspective. They can also offer you nothing.
I just feel really lucky to get to do what I do and I love it. I love acting, I love making movies and that's why I do it. This is a job which I try to get involved with as much as I can. The movies I watch are being made by film lovers. That's the thing about Uncertainty (2009). All that "Uncertainty" has going for it is the film itself. We don't have an advertisement budget or something; it's really just made by people who love movies for people who love movies. ... I'm happy to get to talk to someone like you who obviously really loves movies for the movies themselves because some of the other ways that tend to putting audiences into a movie have less to do with an actual movie and more to do with all sort of other marketing.
I take that as a big compliment for you to say that that you thought of me as an indie guy just because it took a long time to get anybody to think of me that way 'cause I was on a TV show for so long. (Laughs) But yeah, I mean, to me, I don't really make such a distinction based on indie or studio or any of that. What's important to me is the work itself, the script, the other people I'm collaborating, and I think that kind of could happen to me in the big studio world and it could happen in the indie world. I got just done working for Chris Nolan which was a real honor. He brings as much artistic integrity to what he's doing as anybody and he's making these enormous, enormous studio movies. Then there's "Uncertainty" where they bring the same artistic integrity to it. There's the other way on both sides. There's plenty of low budget indie movies that are kinda doing it for the wrong reasons just like there's some great, huge studio movies.
Hesher is easily one of the most fun parts I've ever gotten to play, because he is really liberated from a lot of the anxieties and stresses that we all carry around. So to play the part right, I have to do that, and it was liberating.
I'm lucky enough, I made money on television when I was young, so I don't have to do parts to support myself. I just do stuff because it'll be fun and challenge me.
My favorite kinds of actors are the chameleons, like Daniel Day-Lewis or Peter Sellers, people like that. To me, the highest compliment you can pay to an actor is, "Man, I didn't recognize you". So yeah, "Hesher" is really different from "Tom" in (500) Days of Summer (2009)" and you know, that's what keeps it spicy for me.
I just love to act. It's my favorite thing to do in the world, and what keeps it interesting to me is the creative challenge. So different kinds of characters, that's what I just love to do.
Acting's really difficult to talk about. If you could talk about it so easily then you wouldn't have to act.
To be honest, I sort of feel like 'movie actor' isn't of this time. I love it. But it's a 20th-century art form.
The most valiant thing you can do as an artist is inspire someone else to be creative.
[on facing fame and the paparazzi] Look, I've met some nice guys who take pictures like that. I don't want to demonize anybody. But I do think that this notion that certain people are in a higher class than other people is unhealthy. We would be healthier as a people if we quit paying attention to that kind of bullshit and paid more attention to more pertinent things and more beautiful things.
I spent a lot of time - most of my days - thinking about what it would be like to be facing death while I was shooting 50/50 (2011). But to be honest, I think about that all the time anyway.
[on his transition from television to film work] I'm sure luck has a lot to do with it, I wouldn't deny that. For a while, after ["Third Rock From the Sun"] no one wanted to hire me to do anything but a TV show, and I didn't really want to do that again. I'm grateful to a few filmmakers who took a chance on me, like Gregg Araki, who made "Mysterious Skin," or Rian Johnson, who made "Brick." These are guys who were able to see that I could play these other roles. I really owe them all my subsequent opportunities.
(April 2011) Beijing, China: Promoting his upcoming movie, Looper (2012).
(May 2011) London, England, United Kingdom: Filming The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
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