CATEGORIES MoviesOf all the exceptional things about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the insanely talented young actor (who has appeared in "Inception," "Looper," and "The Dark Knight Rises") and director (whose debut feature film, "Don Jon," came out last year), perhaps the most exceptional thing about him, at least on the day that we met him in Beverly Hills to discuss his role as the preternaturally gifted card shark Johnny in the wildly anticipated sequel "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," was his socks.
They were really crazy and had a graphic of what appeared to be a geisha woman printed on them, against a background of a deep, nearly grape-colored purple. In fact, they were so amazing that I almost wanted to ask if I could take a photo of them for my Instagram.
But instead, I got to chat with Gordon-Levitt about what it was like playing in this crazy black-and-white world created by directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (whose comic book the two films were based on); a world that is almost wholly imaged after Gordon-Levitt finished his filming. We also chatted about his upcoming 3D feature "The Walk," which is helmed by "Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis and based on the true-life tale of Philippe Petit, a wire-walker who walked across the Twin Towers in 1974. Also on the agenda: his forthcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," which is being prepped for him to direct at Warner Bros, and his BFF Rian Johnson's new gig as direct of "Star Wars: Episode VIII." (So far, Gordon-Levitt has appeared in all of Johnson's films. He starred in "Brick" and "Looper," and makes a distracting cameo in "The Brothers Bloom.") So yes, you'll want to read all the way through. It's a good one. Even without his socks.
Moviefone: What was it like on-set for you? Was it you and a tennis ball? What was that experience like?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The actors were there. But that's just what's there -- the camera and the actors. And that's a beautiful thing because, to be honest, on a traditional movie set there's a lot of technical stuff that has to happen that you have to wait for, as an actor. That can kill your momentum, it can distract you, or you can break focus. But when you're doing a movie like this -- the production design and the location and all of that -- it happens later. So the focus is on camera and performance. And in a way it's really ideal for an actor.
Were you a fan of the "Sin City" comics?
Oh yeah. And those comics were my kind of comics. I love the stark, graphic black-and-white aesthetic. I'm no good at drawing but I remember when I was young, just having fun sketching stuff. But what's really fun, I don't know if you've ever tried it and Frank Miller is the master of it, but you cover a page with India ink and scratch out the white from the black. So you're not drawing in black lines, you're drawing in white lines. And it's so much fun. Then the light is the exception and the shadow is the rule, versus the opposite. Frank Miller is just the opposite of that!
Have you seen the final movie?
I have seen it, but I haven't seen it in 3D. So I'm looking forward to that.
What did you think when you saw this whole world visualized?
It just sucked me right in. When I watch a movie that I'm in, it takes me more than one viewing because I'll get distracted by the fact that I know it's me, it's not the character. The test for me is ideally when I watch a character on the screen I am not seeing me. I want to hopefully see someone else. And sometimes that takes a second. But for me this was that -- immediately I got sucked into other world, with another guy, and I was able to enjoy it like I enjoy Rodriguez's movies.
Did you get to learn any of these card tricks or coin tricks, or is it all movie magic?
It's a combination of both. I was being taught by somebody who knew how to do that stuff really well but, listen, there's no two ways about it -- it's movie magic. But if the actor doesn't properly know how to fake it then the movie magic doesn't work. So it's a mix of both. I did get much better at flipping a coin than I ever did before.
Do you gamble in real life?
Not in the conventional sense of the word.
What does that mean?
Well, that you have to take risks. And I do like taking risks, especially with the type of work I do. People will say, "Wait -- you're doing what?" Like last year I directed a television show called "hitRecord on TV" and that is not the most conventional choice that you would do at that point. But I loved it. It's paying off gangbusters. We're doing the second show now. We make it collaboratively, and we use the Internet and people from all over the world can contribute their writing or music or animation or videos and everyone works together to make stuff. The contributions we're getting in this year versus what we were getting in last year are in a different league. So it was a gamble. But it paid off.
Can you talk about what it was like working with Christopher Lloyd?
He's such a great actor. But what's cool is getting to see him do something dark. You know him from "Back to the Future" and I was in a movie with him called "Angels in the Outfield," which is not dark at all. So to get to see him to play this character, who is quite dark, and watch him get to apply that magnetism that he has, that energy and that voice, to a character who is this f*cked up "Sin City" doctor is really entertaining.
Actors are often known to tap the directors they work with for information or tips. And you're about to do a big comic-book movie. Is "Sandman" still happening?
We're working towards it.
So, did you take anything from these guys in terms of how to handle a comic-book movie?
Very much so. And the green screen methodology of "Sin City" -- I wanted to see how Rodriguez handled that. Because on my show we do a lot of stuff on green screen and if you watch the show with "Sin City" in mind, you'll see a commonality here in the approach to the filmmaking. How we do it is we film the actors against a green screen and then put that footage up on the site and so animators and illustrators can contribute their graphics and it all gets stitched together to create the world around the actors. There's a short in the first episode that's mostly black-and-white with splashes of color and we only did that a few months after I finished on "Sin City."
How did Rodriguez and Miller divide the directorial duties?
It wasn't really very formal. It just felt like friends who are having a good time and were stoked to be making a movie together. There wasn't a strict division of labor.
I wanted to ask you about something you've got coming up, which is the Robert Zemeckis movie "The Walk." That's in 3D too, right?
Yes. We just finished shooting it. It's definitely one of the most, if not the most, challenging thing I've ever done. And I mean that in the best way.
What was so challenging about it?
I'm not as good a wire-walker as Philippe Petit, but I did learn how to walk on a wire. And it's really hard. Plus, I'm playing a Frenchman so I'm speaking with a French accent and some lines I'm speaking in French and wanting to not sound like an American who is speaking French. So I really wanted to work on getting that accent just right. And just playing this guy with maniacal ambition, and I mean maniacal in the best sense. But he's just so intense. But Bob Zemeckis was just such a dream and the way he shot the whole movie is so inspiring. And you bring up 3D -- a movie like "The Walk," as well as "Sin City" -- these are movies where the 3D is in the bones. The movie is begging to be in 3D. It's not like, "Well, we'll make it in 3D so we can charge more for the tickets." The idea of a wire-walker, of a shot where, in the foreground you can have the guy's foot on the wire and deep, deep, deep down there, 1,300 feet below, is the city of New York. That should be in 3D. It's like "Gravity." It should be in 3D. Especially in the way that Zemeckis shot this movie -- if you have vertigo, you're going to have a physical reaction to this movie.
Did he talk to you about what it was going to look like?
Oh yeah. It's shot to make you feel like what it felt to be on the wire there. That's the thing -- there is no footage of the walk. The cops came just before his friend could shoot any motion picture footage. There's just a few stills. And we re-created the walk and collaborated with Philippe to say, "Okay -- what did you do on the first crossing? What did you do on the second crossing? Why? What did you feel like?" It's not a completely precise replica, because the walk was 45 minutes long and we can't put a 45 minute walk in the middle of the movie, but it's quite accurate and Philippe was there while we were shooting the wire-walking. So it's really going to be the first time we'll get to see what that was.
Did you feel extra pressure having him there?
Honestly, he was so positive to me, it didn't add pressure. It was encouraging. He just has this incredible bottomless pit of energy and was applying that to me -- making me feel great, making me feel inspired. He was the one who taught me how to walk on a wire. I spent eight days straight with him. At the beginning, I couldn't do it at all and at the end I was walking by myself with a pole, on a real wire, six feet off the ground.
Another one of your frequent collaborators just got a pretty high-profile job, with Rian getting...
Have you talked to him about being in the movie? Were you like, "I can be a stormtrooper that just walks by in the background"?
Not yet. But I am certain that they are going to be great movies. I remember when he told me about it, I felt so privileged because he told me about it before the announcement and I'm just so excited. I'm excited for two reasons: one, I'm excited for my dear friend to have this amazing opportunity, and I'm also excited that there's going to be these movies. These are going to be such good "Star Wars" movies. He's going to rock it.
So where are you with "Sandman" right now?
Right now we're working on a script. It's me and Goyer and the screenwriter and Neil Gaiman, as well as the good folks at DC and Warner Bros. It's a really cool team of people. It's a lot of the same people who worked on the Nolan "Batman" movies. It's really exciting. There's not a script yet, we're still kind of working it out because it's such a complicated adaptation because "Sandman" wasn't written as novels. "Sin City" was written as a novel. "Sandman" is 75 episodic issues. There's a reason people have been trying and failing to adapt "Sandman" for the past 20 years.
Do you have the right take to finally make it happen?
You know, we're still in the middle of it, so I don't want to make any claims, but I think we've got the right ideas.
Have you talked about a "Sandman" universe?
It's such a huge world. We're definitely talking about in terms of a whole world.
Would you be down for tackling other aspects of this universe?
Who knows man?! I'm flattered you're asking. But I can't say anything committal.
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" hits theaters Friday, August 22.