How 'SNL' Landed JGL This 'Premium' Gig
Regardless of the role, the one consistency throughout Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cinematic career is his full-bodied dedication to every role. But no part, to date, has required more from his body than Premium Rush, director David Koepp's energetic and sure-footed action-thriller that has JGL biking around Manhattan with a speed and consistency only matched by his professional output.
For his next role, Joseph put his body to another test as he packed on the pounds for Don Jon's Addiction, a film he stars in, wrote and directs! Luckily for the multi-hyphenate, he's got a stable of inspirational directors to draw from, including Koepp (the super-underrated Stir of Echoes). Peer-to-peer advice was just one of the topics discussed when David and Joseph sat down with TheInsider.com earlier this week to talk all about bringing Premium Rush to theaters!
TheInsider.com: Joe, what attracted you to Premium Rush?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I was in the middle of shooting 50/50 when I first read the script and in 50/50, I'm battling cancer and my body is giving up on me. So to do something where I could be healthy and confident in my body while getting in shape riding a bike around NYC all summer sounded perfect. The contrast was enormously appealing. As was the script.
Insider.com: David, what did Joe bring to the table that made him fit with the vision of Wilee you'd created?
David Koepp: Joe is one of the finest actors of his generation, so his name naturally comes to many people's minds. I had seen him in a number of things, and always thought he was a terrific actor, but he hosted Saturday Night Live and had performed Make 'Em Laugh – it was so vibrant and physical and really energetic. You don't see that level of physicality in a lot of people. So, an empathetic guy who is an incredible actor and very physical? That ticked all the boxes.
Insider.com: I was blown away by the sheer force with which the actors pedaled around the city -- what was the training like?
Joseph: I had been training, riding every day for six weeks, when shooting started.
David: It was endurance first. It was many hours on long hills. The thing all the actors had to deal with was they not only had to get in shape and learn to ride a bike to be convincing in the movie, but they were gonna work 12 hour days riding a bike while having to act. It's not just about doing a lot of exercise, it was about doing a lot of exercise and looking like it didn't bother them.
Insider.com: Logistically, how tough was this movie to make? I ask because I can't remember a film that spent more time on the streets of New York.
David: Neither could I and neither could the police [laughs]. We got exceptional cooperation from the city, exceptional cooperation from the cops and it still wasn't enough. Most movies come to NYC and you're on the street for six days and then you're on a stage. We were on the street every single day. And I mean on the streets, not the sidewalk, in moving traffic. We had intermittent shutdowns when we could and full on street closures when they could give it to us, which was usually 6-10 a.m. on a Sunday in July. Theoretically when people weren't around.
Joseph: One time we had both sides of Broadway shut down and that was trippy! I remember walking down Sixth Avenue, in the middle of the street and it just felt unreal. Like I was dreaming. Like we were making a movie [laughs].
Insider.com: But there had to be tough moments too -- I mean, New Yorkers don't like their flow interrupted.
David: David: At 6 a.m., you feel fantastic,. "We're gonna get so much done!" No one is around, no one seems to care. Around 7:30 a.m. people with dogs show up and they think you're interesting. By 8 a.m. the horns start to rise up and you feel this seething. By 9 a.m., everybody f*cking hates you. The city goes crazy because you're this obstruction in the artery and the body of New York is trying to flush you out.
Insider.com: Professionally, it's been fascinating watching the choices you've made, Joe. Is there a masterplan for your career?
Joseph: There's definitely no system or quantifiable reason why I pick the projects I do. It's a pretty intuitive thing. The most important thing is a connection with the filmmaker. Even more important than the script. As much as this character appealed to me and the script was well-written, it wasn't until we sat down and started talking that I realized I would enjoy coming to work every day and could trust in him. Because that's the thing, the performances in a film are created as much by the filmmaker as they are by the actors. If not more so. The actor gives the director the ingredients but the director cooks it into what the audience then sees.
David: Trust is huge because the actor has to trust the director to not make them look worse [laughs] – but mostly to remain true to the vision you talked about. I've always found that really great actors are like their character's lawyer. They represent their interest jealously.
Insider.com: Joe, you just directed your first film, Don Jon's Addiction. How was it going from actor to actor/director?
Joseph: Actually, Dave was one of the first people to read the first draft of my script.
David: It's terrific, I know this word is tossed around a lot and made fun of, but it's very brave. It's a remarkably bold script, as it should be for your first directing effort.
Joseph: One big difference I've noticed with directing and acting at the same time is on a typical acting job, you get the script several months before shooting. This is material I've been living with for years. That's really different and by the time we shot, I didn't have to think about the character and the dialogue very much. The actors, Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johansson, also came together and provided a lot of feedback for each other. It's different than a normal actor/director relationship but we would have certain conversations that were remnant I would normally have with my director. They were game and had a lot of useful thoughts and feedback.
Insider.com: You've worked with some amazing directors over the years, any pieces of advice become particularly helpful once you were behind the camera?
Joseph: Having spent so much time on so many sets with so many talented people certainly helped me feel equipped and able to do it. Watching people was more helpful than advice, per se.
David: Did you find that watching directors f*ck up was more instructive than anything else? Because I can watch a director, like [Steven] Spielberg, and say, "The way he composed that shot is so beautiful." But that doesn't mean I can do it. Whereas when I watch another director make, what I thought was a terrible mistake, I felt like I could learn from that.
Joseph: Recently, I've had the good fortune to just work with directors I like. But when I was younger, I worked with plenty of directors I thought weren't doing a good job, and I definitely learned from their mistakes. David not being an example, of course [laughs].
Premium Rush is now playing in theaters.