Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way since playing the dorky, hormonal teenage alien on “3rd Rock from the Sun.” Although he does play a teenager in his new indie flick, Brick, it’s not quite the light-hearted comedy you would expect from the actor.
Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, an angst-ridden reclusive teen. Brendan’s ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Raven) unexpectedly contacts him, sounding desperate for help, then she mysteriously vanishes. Brendan becomes obsessed with finding Emily and quickly finds himself entangled in a dangerous investigation, which sends him spiraling through a dark world of strange and unusual characters – all of them suspects in Emily’s disappearance.
One of the most unique qualities of the film is the type of dialogue that director/writer Rian Johnson created exclusively for Brick. Its highly stylized, fast-moving language was one of the first hurdles Gordon-Levitt conquered. “[The dialogue] is hard for several reasons; one, because we’re not used to it. Acting nowadays has gone in another direction – that you try to be natural and that’s always the goal, but [in] Brick that’s not the goal. You have to figure out, ‘What am I trying to do here in this scene?’” explains the actor.
Gordon-Levitt concludes, “The answers came in a lot of music actually. It’s more about establishing a rhythm and making it fun to listen to in that way, not trying to make it real. So I took more of my cues from musicians like Tom Waits.” As he thinks back to the beginning of shooting he chuckles, “I remember thinking if we don’t nail this just right it’s going to look really silly. But that’s part of it. I had no doubt that the words were right.”
Like the dialogue, the carefully orchestrated music in Brick was something that Gordon-Levitt and Johnson spent a lot of time discussing. “The music in Brick is so tightly intertwined with the story. The music is another character that is completely equal in taking you through the different worlds and different twists of the story,” explains Gordon-Levitt.
Brick can be described as containing elements of film noir, spaghetti western and detective genres. Gordon-Levitt talks about some of his favorite films, “I love Bogart. I love The Big Sleep and Maltese Falcon. I love especially the women in those movies like Lauren Bacall. [She] has something that I think very few movie star actresses nowadays have. The three young women in Brick [Nora Zehetner, Meagan Good and de Raven] floor me.”
He continues, “I mean nowadays it seems like most girls that are offered up in movies and music [are] all about being common, like you’re hot if you’re just this average girl. Whereas all three of the girls in Brick are far from average. They’re so special in their own ways. They’re so sharp in their own ways, or sweet or scary, all the different things they are. They’re characters, they’re not just blank.”
Being an actor who has worked in both the independent film and the studio film arenas, Gordon-Levitt won’t pick one over the other. For him it’s more about the specific project, “The most important thing is, is the stuff good? Is the script good? Are the people doing it good and are they doing it for good reasons? Do they believe in the movie they’re making? And that can happen within the studio system, it’s rare but it happens. And it can happen in the indie world, it’s also rare but it happens.”
Gordon-Levitt elaborates, “I don’t think intentions are generally that much better in the indie world than they are in the studio world. There’s a lot of people chasing whatever they’re chasing just like in any other walk of life that I’ve experienced. Ultimately I don’t think it matters whether it’s studio or indie. What matters is do you believe in it or are you chasing something?”
Why then did Gordon-Levitt select Brick as a project, an independent film to the core? “There’s very few good scripts in either indie or studio world and in the studio world they wouldn’t have hired me for anything. They would have put me in a horror movie maybe or they would have put me back on TV. I didn’t really have their ear yet. But all I was looking for was a good script. I just wanted to do stuff that I believed in, that I loved because I’ve always loved acting.”
Despite being part of a highly successful television show for many years, the “3rd Rock”alum hasn’t felt the pressures of typecasting that many TV stars endure. “A lot of people that interview me construct “3rd Rock” as if it’s this disadvantage that I had to get out of and I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe some executive-type people would try to put me in a box or whatever but who cares really?” says Gordon-Levitt. “I learned so much on “3rd Rock from the Sun” and actually I think Brick more than any project I’ve done since was a place that I could apply a lot of that knowledge.”
Most actors put some of themselves into each role they play, whether it be a miniscule “tell” or a more prominent personality trait. Gordon-Levitt is no exception when it comes to portraying Brendan. “When I was in high school I, similarly to Brendan, had a superiority complex. Which is easy ‘cause so many people in high school are such dumbasses,” laughs Gordon-Levitt. “But Brendan thinks he’s better than everyone because he’s smarter than everyone, and in many respects he is. But he falls victim to the same thing that happens to anybody with that kind of superiority complex and it happened to me too – you get knocked down. Because nobody’s smarter than everyone and nobody’s better than anyone else. When you put yourself on a pedestal you’re not helping yourself, you’re destroying yourself. I think I learned my lesson in a slightly less destructive way than [Brendan] did, no one ended up dead. But eventually I kind of figured out I don’t think I am actually smarter than anybody else. Come to think of it, everybody seems to have something good to say and a pretty valid point of view. I think Brendan might just be approaching learning that kind of thing by the time he’s done tearing the whole world down in is anger over the fact that he’s just another person like everyone else.”
Brick releases in select theatres on March 31.
Film: Interview [Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Brick]
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Shoots far Past the “3rd Rock from the Sun” in Brick
By Amy Dunn
Article posted on 3/21/2006
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