Who'd have thought that the boy from 3rd Rock from the Sun would go on to have such an illustrious (and well-rounded) career? Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made the elusive leaps from child actor to teen heartthrob to serious actor. Perhaps most impressively, he's managed to demonstrate his acting cred in some pretty big blockbusters.
In fact, he's been in some of the biggest movies of the past few years, including Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. And now he's appearing in one of this year's most anticipated films: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Honest Abe, and JGL plays his feisty son, Robert.
He doesn't have a ton of screen time in Lincoln, but Gordon-Levitt's scenes are memorable -- especially when he's facing off against the famously even-tempered Lincoln. Robert just wants to fight in the war like a real man! Gordon-Levitt expertly portrays Robert's angst without coming off as bratty, and holds his own against acting legend Day-Lewis. (Again, no easy feat.)
With Lincoln under his belt, JGL has demonstrated that he really can pull off everything -- including political period pieces. No genre is beyond his range; he can do anything, from quirky rom-coms (500 Days of Summer) to big-budget action (Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises) to thoughtful dramedies (50-50), intense indies (Brick) and elaborate sci-fi flicks (Looper).
His career path actually isn't that different from Ryan Gosling's, when you think about it. Both baby-faced actors managed the tricky transition from teen heartthrob to respected performer, and both have diverse bodies of work behind them.
With that diverse body of work in mind, I've compiled a list of my top five favorite JGL roles thus far, including an oldie-but-goodie.
1. Adam in 50-50. This multi-layered role showcases JGL's depth well. He's funny, charming and vulnerable all at once as the 20-something radio producer battling a rare form of cancer. Don't you just want to reach through the screen and hug him? (Or bust in and yell at his super-bitch girlfriend, as Seth Rogen does?)
2. Arthur in Inception. OK, yes. Busted. It's totally the super-sharp three-piece suit that bumped this role up to the #2 position. But it's also how he handles the awesome fight scene, the cool action sequences and the tender moments with Ariadne (Ellen Page).
3. Wilee in Premium Rush. JGL usually plays the sweet, reserved guy who sticks to the rules, so it was refreshing to see him tackle something completely different as Wilee, the anti-establishment bike courier. Watching him zip haphazardly around Manhattan was totally enthralling. (Of course, having the amazing Michael Shannon playing the bad guy helped, too.)
4. Cameron in 10 Things I Hate About You. Before Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg, JGL was making nerdy smart guys cool in 10 Things. That jock Joey (Andrew Keegan) never stood a chance against sweet, funny Cameron. Nerds everywhere owe partial thanks to JGL for making them cooler than they've been since, well, ever.
5. Tom in (500) Days of Summer. JGL is adorable as the hopeless romantic in this quirky anti-romance. In lesser hands, Tom could have come off as pathetic and, well, kind of obsessive. Instead, he's sweet and endearing -- and you want to shield him from that insensitive Summer!
In "Lincoln," we see a folksy teller of tales who's remarkably approachable to the public but who's not averse to back-room meetings and even bribes to accomplish his goal of passing the Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln must work with divisive factions in Congress and his own Cabinet to secure the necessary votes. We also get a glimpse of his often rocky marriage to wife Mary Todd and his relationships with his two sons, Robert and Tad.
As <a href="http://news.moviefone.com/2012/11/05/sally-field-lincoln-mary-todd-steven-spielberg_n_2076190.html">Field told us earlier</a>, she had to fight for the role of the mercurial, often controversial First Lady. As we see in the film, she was still grieving the death of her middle son. She also suffered from debilitating headaches after a carriage accident that she was sure was an assassination attempt on her husband. Mary made a few enemies in Washington, especially Thaddeus Stevens, who threatened to jail her for overspending on the renovation of the White House.
The "Radical Republican" Congressional leader from Pennsylvania was a fervent abolitionist who was often at odds with the president. He was one of the few voices calling not just for emancipation of the slaves, but for the complete abolition of the slavery system. He was known for his fiery wit and sarcasm and some of the film's best moments come in the congress as he and rival Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) trade insults.
Lincoln's oldest son resented being kept out of the war by his overprotective parents, who had already lost one son to typhoid fever. Robert eventually joined the Union Army and was made a captain, serving in a non-combat position under General Grant. He went on to become a lawyer <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwVXokflE7o">and Secretary of War to President Garfield and President Arthur</a>.
Although we don't see it in the film, Seward was injured in a carriage accident nine days before Lincoln's assassination and he also survived <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Seward#Assassination_attempt">a dramatic attack on his own life the night Lincoln was shot and killed</a>. Seward had been Lincoln's political rival, having lost the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860 to him. As Doris Kearns Goodwin explains: “By 1865, he had come to love Lincoln and indeed had become his closest advisor and his great friend." As Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson, he authorized the purchase of Alaska from Russia, which at the time was referred to as "Seward's folly."
In the film, the Nashville lawyer is the most colorful of three lobbyists hired in secret by Seward to offer political perks in exchange for support of the Thirteenth Amendment. He's seen dodging bullets along the way as he pushes the unpopular issue.
Grant, who would go on to become President himself, commanded the Union Army from March 1864 until the end of the war. In the film, he is seen accepting the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 26, 1865.
Wood (the former mayor of New York City) was a Copperhead, one of the Democrats most strongly opposed to the war. He was sympathetic to the Confederacy and steadfastly against abolishing slavery. In the film, he clashes constantly with Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), frequently trading insults on the floor of Congress.
Stephens had served with Lincoln in Congress and initially voted against secession. He was one of the delegates who met with Lincoln on the steamboat River Queen in an unsuccessful bid to end the war through diplomacy. After the war, he was imprisoned, but eventually reelected to Congress. He went on to became the 50th Governor of Georgia.
Blair was an influential Republican politician who sought to end the war by arranging peace talks between the Union and the Confederacy. Lincoln was forced to listen to him, even though the talks might have derailed his efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. As Holbrook explains in the press notes, "Blair was more influenced by Southern attitudes, so he was not for total abolition.... I think his only priority was peace. He saw that the war could be ended and he felt that was the most important thing, rather than abolition.”
Ashley, a high-profile abolitionist from Ohio, introduced the first bill for a constitutional Amendment to outlaw slavery. Perhaps because of his staunch anti-slavery stance, he did not win reelection in 1868. Although he shared Stevens' passion for the cause, he saw the need to compromise to get the job done, as he urges the unyielding elder statesman in the film.
Hutchins broke with his party to cast a decisive vote in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. He was a Democrat who didn't support slavery, but knew it might be political suicide to support a Republican issue. Goggins says, “For some, it was about morality -- but my character was also faced with the threat of death if he went along with this vote. He had to take into consideration everything that was going on in the country, maybe the possibility of a peace offering by the Confederates and on top of that his personal safety, and finally doing what, in his heart, felt right.”
Clark is one of the soldiers who talks to Lincoln in the film's opening scene. He recites the end of the Gettysburg Address and salutes the President, a moment featured heavily in the movie's trailers.
Yeaman was a twice-elected Unionist who voted for the constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery. "He was defeated for a third term in 1865 because of his action," <a href="http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1908-02-24/ed-1/seq-7/">his obituary read when he died in 1908</a>.
Smith was Thaddeus Stevens's housekeeper, a widow who worked for him for 25 years. Historians believe that she was also a common-law wife to Stevens, who never married. The two also helped transport slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Smith became one of the first black businesswomen in the 1800s, likely thanks to Stevens's influence.
Nelson plays "one of three Northern congressmen instrumental in the writing of the Thirteenth Amendment," <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/scene/article.aspx?subjectid=282&articleid=20110520_282_D1_CUTLIN85225">as the actor told Tulsa World</a>. The character is "a hard-nosed businessman ... who had ulterior motives for getting the Amendment passed."
Keckley was a former slave who became a confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln. She is seen as Mary's frequent companion and so she is present for much of the heated debate in Congress over the Thirteenth Amendment.
Georgia native Campbell was a former Supreme Court Justice who resigned at the start of war to join the Confederacy, where he served as Assistant Secretary of War. He, along with Confederate Vice President Stephens, met with Lincoln in peace talks that were kept secret from Washington politicians.
Stanton didn't always agree with Lincoln: In the film, he loudly protests when the President launches into yet another rambling story. But, when the president was killed, Stanton spoke the famous phrase, "Now he belongs to the ages. There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen." He ruthlessly pursued those involved in the assassination, as seen in the Robert Redford film "The Conspirator," where he was portrayed by Kevin Kline.
Latham works with Bilbo to secure votes for the Thirteenth Amendment. Latham went on to found Lincoln College in 1864 in Lincoln, IL.