Joseph Gordon-Levitt relives his career, from early cereal adverts to his role as a high-wire walker traversing the Twin Towers
For your new film The Walk, did you actually learn to wire walk?
Yeah – I’m decent. I can walk on a wire and balance using a pole. I got good enough so a lot of the shots in the movie are of me. Although a lot of the shots are of my double.
Was it terrifying to begin with?
I loved it. It gets addictive. When you find that sweet spot and you’re in balance, you get a rush, making you want to stay in that zone.
How high did you dare go?
I learned at only a couple of feet.
Which sounds sensible…
Yeah! But when shooting we were 12ft off the ground, which doesn’t sound very high…
It sounds high enough.
That’s the thing – it really is. At “only” 12ft off the ground your body knows it’s high enough to cause serious harm. I don’t like to be one of those actors who claims to have done more than they did, so I’ll admit I had a safety line on.
Again, that just seems sensible.
Exactly. But the thing is, the safety line doesn’t help you – it throws you off balance. Even though I knew I had a safety line on, it didn’t matter. The fear is something deeper than your conscious mental intellect gets to have any say in. It only understands what it can see. In your DNA, in your blood, you are scared.
If you want fame and fortune, be prepared to be an unhappy mess
Was it nice to show off that you speak perfect French?
I wouldn’t say perfect. I speak it all right. I think I’m sensitive because I recently read a quote that said I said I speak perfect French, and I didn’t say it. I wouldn’t have said that. I guess that’s just the trials and tribulations of doing press, so I’d like to take this moment to specify I do not speak perfect French.
I will strive to quote you warmly and accurately.
[Laughs] Well, thank you: I speak French pretty well for a native English speaker.
Presumably it gave you a head start with the accent?
Very much. The accent was still a ton of work in the refinement stage, getting into the level of detail that makes it sound like a real French accent.
The real test is with actual French people – have they responded well?
They have. I sat through a rough cut of the movie with a native speaker dialect coach – we went through it word for word, syllable for syllable. Anything that jumped out to her, we’d look for another take or do a new recording. I wanted to get it right.
While I only did two years of pre-GCSE level French lessons, it sounded pretty good to me.
Well, good. And you’re both right across the pond – you’re close to them.
How big a factor was Robert Zemeckis directing in making you want to do the film?
He’s a master filmmaker. Telling Philippe Petit’s story with any lesser filmmaker – I’m not sure I’d want to.
You must have grown up watching his films…
You’re 100 per cent right. I know I’m not alone when I say Back To The Future is one of my favourite film-watching experiences when I was young. So many people say it’s their favourite film. I don’t think you can really point to another movie that’s better. I love it. And so many others such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or a lesser-known one that I rewatched – Death Becomes Her. So good.
You were a child star, what’s the secret of making a successful transition to adult actor?
I’ve always had good people around me. My parents didn’t emphasise the fame and fortune. You keep your eyes on what matters – not the glitz and glamour. If you want fame and fortune, be prepared to be an unhappy mess [laughs].
Do you find it odd that people can go on YouTube watch you aged 10 in a cereal advert?
I really like that about growing up as an actor, although it’s been a while since I watched the cereal commercial. But the funny thing is, because people can now take videos so easily, I just experienced a little bit earlier what everyone growing up now will experience. Everyone growing up today has photos and videos taken of them every day. And a lot of those parents are posting them on the internet for everyone to see.
There are going to be some p*ssed off people in 10 or 15 years’ time, aren’t there?
I think that might be true. I’m very curious to see how that goes, with a generation going, “What do you mean you’ve been posting photos and videos of me? I never said I wanted to be on a world stage spitting up my peas and carrots.”
How often do you see people you’ve worked with? Do you still meet up with the guys from the cereal advert for a beer or a bowl of Coco Pops to reminisce?[Laughs] You know, I don’t think I stayed in touch with the guys from the cereal commercial.
That’s a shame.
But I am still friends with some of the people I worked with. It’s nice to have a balance of friends you’ve worked with and normal friends. Maybe that’s the answer to your previous question – having friends who aren’t in showbusiness. To help you maintain your sanity in a somewhat insane line of work.
The Walk is at cinemas nationwide from 2 October