This summer we saw him pounding through city streets on a messenger bike in "Premium Rush" and helping Batman protect Gotham City in "The Dark Knight Rises." But turns out that's just the warm-up act in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's spectacular year.
Next up he can be seen as the lead in one of the fall's most anticipated movies, the hip sci-fi thriller "Looper," opening Friday, in which he plays a hit man assigned to rub out his older self. Then in November he pops up again, this time as the 16th president's firstborn son in Steven Spielberg's upcoming Oscar juggernaut "Lincoln."
Which is why right now, he's seemingly everywhere -- including "Saturday Night Live," where he showed off his abs in a raucous "Magic
Oh yeah, he's also directing and starring in a movie he wrote -- "Don Jon's Addiction" -- about a porn addict.
You'd think he might be exhausted. But on his recent stop in San Francisco to promote "Looper," the 31-year-old actor looks fit, confident and happy. As well he should. This has been an energizing stretch for the philosophical and creative Los Angeles native, who is as comfortable in a glitzy mega-blockbuster as a quirky indie
"I'm very lucky," admits Gordon-Levitt, dressed in a crisply starched, light green button-down shirt. "I'm very grateful. ... I get to work with people I really admire on material that's really intriguing and inspiring."
"Looper" is his second collaboration with filmmaker Ryan Johnson. His first was the high school film noir "Brick" in 2005, which got him rave reviews and revealed the former child and teen actor's ability to carry a feature film. (He also had a cameo in Johnson's second film, "The Brothers Bloom.")
His decision to do "Looper" typifies the actor's attraction to roles that require heavy lifting and are not exactly typecast.
"That's what I love the most about being an actor, transforming ... becoming somebody different from myself," he says. "Whenever I see a movie that I'm in, if I kind of catch myself -- something that reminds me of myself in a movie -- I always feel like I messed the moment up, that I want to see a thorough and consistent other person."
In the film, set in a not-so-distant dystopian future, he plays a callous hit man who tangles with his older self, played by Bruce Willis.
Johnson, who's good friends withGordon-Levitt, wrote the part for him, knowing his friend would relish portraying a character who confronts a 30-year-older version of himself.
"He's a leading man with a heart of a character actor," Johnson said. "He loves vanishing on film."
When Willis signed on, Johnson and Gordon-Levitt gave each other a high five, then realized a new set of challenges came with it: How in the world do you make Gordon-Levitt look like a younger Willis?
Hours of prosthetics helped, but to adopt the mannerisms of the action star, Gordon-Levitt ripped audio from Willis' movies and replayed it on his iPod. The two also hung out. The results are a bit uncanny, especially with his voice.
The challenge was something Gordon-Levitt fully embraced. He, after all, has specialized in playing a wildly eclectic range of characters, from a sweet, love-burned guy in the charming "(500) Days of Summer" to a hustler in the NC-17-rated "Mysterious Skin."
While intriguing characters and well-written screenplays draw him to projects, what seals the deal are the filmmakers attached.
"I think the most important thing, actually, even beyond the script, is the filmmaker and having a real connection with whoever is going to be directing."
Finding an audience
Box-office potential doesn't figure into his decision-making.
"Rian said something that I really love. He said: 'Judging a movie by the box office is like judging a woman by her bra size.' "
In other words, budget size doesn't matter.
"You can find big-budget movies that have sincerity to them -- like a Chris Nolan movie -- and you can obviously find big-budget movies that lack that," he explained. "And you can find indie movies that have that sincerity and also find indies movies that lack that. ... What's important is the movie itself."
Even if "Looper" doesn't live up to its hype at the box office, Gordon-Levitt thinks it will attract a big audience like some of his other less commercially dramatic films -- over time.
"You can never tell how a movie's going to do," he said. "Whether it finds an audience upon theatrical release or whether -- like "(500) Days of Summer" -- it takes a few years for people to discover it. I think nowadays, if a movie is as good as this one is, it does find an audience."