"Yeah, it’s a bizarre thing. Two years of work all ended up with the movies releasing within the span of a few months. It’s uh… IT’S NOT MY FAULT!” Joseph Gordon-Levitt is shouting at ShortList. In mock anger, it has to be said. But shouting nonetheless. The man known as ‘JGL’ to fans, and to friends simply as ‘Joe’, can offer no explanation as to how 2012 became the year he seemingly owned cinema.
Starring in four films released from July (The Dark Knight Rises) into 2013 (Lincoln), the 31-year-old actor also pedalled more miles than Bradley Wiggins in Premium Rush and will soon be seen in Looper as a hitman who becomes his own worst enemy after encountering his future self in the shape of a wizened Bruce Willis. He’s come a long way from playing a pubescent alien in Nineties comedy 3rd Rock From The Sun. But depicting a certain grubby-vested action icon still proved to be a stiff challenge...
In Looper, you play a younger version of your co-star, Bruce Willis. How gruelling was the process of becoming him?
It was three hours every morning in the make-up chair. But then I’d sit up, look in the mirror and have a face different from my own. It was enormously inspiring. My favourite thing about being an actor is transforming, becoming someone else. A lot of my favourite performances are the ones where the actor disappears. Someone like Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis or Meryl Streep. You don’t see the actor on screen, you see the character.
We take it Bruce wasn’t up for being made-up to look like you, then?
[Laughs] Er, no. But it’s only proper that the junior defer to the senior.
How did he react when he first saw you in the make-up?
Well, he’s a very understated guy, which I admire. It means you know he’s being honest. But we were doing a scene where we were yelling at each other and between takes he said, in his off-the-cuff manner, [adopts Willis-esque voice], ‘Ah, you sound like me.’ That was a moment of glorious victory for me. I kept it cool, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but I was grinning ear to ear on the inside.
What else did you do to become more like Bruce? Did you spend weekends rewatching Die Hard?
I watched his movies a lot, but I focused on the recent ones. I was less interested in coming off like a young Bruce Willis – I was interested in matching him now. Making sure audiences understood that these two are the same man. I would also rip the audio off the movies so that I could listen to his voice on my iPod. In fact, he even recorded himself doing some of my voiceover monologues and sent them to me, so I could hear what it would sound like in his voice.
We hear you did your own stunts when filming Inception and Premium Rush. Are you a bit of a thrill-seeker?
Well, let me make a correction. I did do that on Inception, but I did not on Premium Rush – I had four doubles. I rode the bike all day, every day and when you see me on the bike, it is me, but there are four other guys performing the bike stunts. This still didn’t prevent me from having 31 stitches when I gashed my arm.
And on Looper?
I did have a double on one or two things, but it was actually my 30th birthday [when] we were shooting a scene where I fall off a three-storey building. And I did get up on a wire and I did have to jump off backwards from a three-storey building. I highly recommend it as a way to celebrate your 30th birthday.
Speaking of action heroes, you must be relieved you can finally talk about The Dark Knight Rises. [SPOILER ALERT] At what point did Chris Nolan tell you about the Robin twist?
He told me before I read the script. I was one of a handful of people who had a complete script for the last pages, so I knew all along.
Did you go to long lengths to keep it under wraps?
Well, I was happy to keep it a secret. It’s such a fantastic ending, I think. And I certainly didn’t want to spoil it. It’s a movie that I’m enormously honoured and proud to be a part of and the last thing I would want is to contaminate anybody’s experience of it.
Would you be interested in a Robin spin-off film?
That’s not up to me. I don’t have the rights to that character, but I pick my projects the same way. If there’s a script I find inspiring and a filmmaker I have a connection with, I’m interested.
You’re only 31, but you’ve been acting for 25 years. Are there any adverts from your early years you hope never see the light of day?
Oh they have seen the light of day, on YouTube. But I don’t mind, it’s what I had to do. When you do something professionally, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to. And I have – there’s been plenty of times over the past 25 years where it’s not my favourite part of the job, but I do it because the parts that I love are worth it.
Outside of acting, you’re also a one-man media empire with your production company hitRECord. For the uneducated, what exactly is it?
We make all kinds of things – videos, music, art, writing – and we use the internet to collaborate. Anybody can come to our site and contribute to the projects. We’re just putting out an album of music, called Move On The Sun. Out of thousands of contributions we narrowed it down to the work of 78 musicians and 15 songs. I’m really, really proud of it. Whenever we can turn a profit with our productions, we split those profits in half. Half go back in the company and half go to the artists.
So if P Diddy invented the remix (as he claims), does that make hitRECord remix 2.0?
[Laughs] Well, first of all – he didn’t invent the remix. I wouldn’t give any single person credit for inventing that. To me, it’s less important who did it first. What’s important is, are you being honest? Are you being sincere to your own individuality? And that’s what hitRECord is about. Everybody coming together, expressing themselves and putting that together to make art.
It sounds like you’re far too busy to have them, but how do you like to spend a day off?
I actually like to go to the cinema.
What films are you into? Thinking about it, these days it must be hard finding one that you’re not in…
Oh no, I only go to see movies that I’m in [laughs].
Looper is at cinemas nationwide from 28 September
(Image: All Star)