Exclusive: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Inception

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Not only does Joseph Gordon-Levitt run the acting gamut, moving from indie dramas like Brick to major blockbusters like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, he’s an actor in tune with the filmmaking process. Through his own production company, hitRECord, Gordon-Levitt aims to get at the collaborative nature of film, establishing an online community focused on shared works and combined artistic contributions.

For Inception, Gordon-Levitt pulled a double duty. Not only does he star as Arthur, a member of the Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) team of extractors, but, behind the scenes, hitRECord contributed to a dream-focused documentary directed by Roko Belic.

In an exclusive conversation with ComingSoon.net, Gordon-Levitt discusses Inception, hitRECord’s work behind the scenes, and the dreamlike quality of working in a world of music and movies.

ComingSoon.net: Is there a feeling of relief in finally being able to talk openly about “Inception”?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt:
Oh, sure. Yeah. I just want people to see it. That’s why it’s worth talking about. It’s funny, people have been asking about the secrecy surrounding the movie. It’s just, to be honest, I think that’s the most enjoyable way to watch a movie. That’s what Chris [Nolan] thinks also. But it’s true. When a story is so well thought-through and the story is so meticulously crafted, your best experience will be to watch it in the order in which he wrote it. To have other information about it before that will really only diminish the experience of watching it. Personally, when there’s a movie I’m really looking forward to, I avoid trailers. I avoid reading anything about it. I like to read reviews of movies after I’ve seen them. To see what other people think. But before I see a movie, I like to know as little as possible about it.

CS: Tell me about how Chris came to you for “Inception.”
Gordon-Levitt:
He just asked to meet me. I didn’t know anything about the project when he did. I just went and had a meeting with him. They ended up hiring me. It sort of came out of nowhere and I’m really just grateful.

CS: You have a lot pretty strenuous physical scenes in this. You shot for three-weeks on wires?
Gordon-Levitt:
Wire is only part of it. There’s lots of different techniques they used to create this sequence where gravity goes kind of dreamy. None of which, by the way, are digital. None of it is greenscreen. It was all kind of real in a way. My favorite one, probably, was the first one where they built one version of the set which spun 360 degrees. So the floor really was spinning out from under me. I had to try to keep balance and the stunt guy had to try and keep balance during this fight sequence. But there’s also other stuff on wires. They had one version of the set which was just normal, one version of the set that spun and one version of the set that they turned on its side 90 degrees so that the floor was this wall. They hung us down wires and shot upwards. There were lots of techniques. It was certainly hard and painful at times, but also just about as fun as anything in my life.

CS: While you were acting, you were also involved in the behind the scenes, weren’t you, through hitRECord?
Gordon-Levitt:
Oh! You’re referring to the documentary. Where did you hear about it?

CS: From your Twitter account, actually.
Gordon-Levitt:
So you heard about it from me! Great! It’s working. So, yes. They produced this documentary in conjunction with “Inception” to get at some of the science behind dreaming and sleeping and they hired a filmmaker, Roko Belic. He’s a documentary filmmaker. He made one called “Genghis Blues” that was nominated for an Oscar. He’s made a lot of documentaries and he’s old friends with Chris. They asked if I wanted to participate and I said yeah and suggested that I run a collaborative production company so we all can participate. So hitRECord made all these visuals and pieces of music and little bits and pops that Roko has cut into his documentary. So rather than just an interview-based documentary, he’s constantly cutting away to these various visuals, some of which are created on a very professional level and some of which are just created in people’s bedrooms. That’s hitRECord for you. We really run the spectrum between everyone who just has a laptop in their kitchen to someone who has a full home studio.

CS: How is it getting released?
Gordon-Levitt:
That is not set yet.

CS: Any chance for theatrical?
Gordon-Levitt:
I’m not allowed to say.

CS: Living a Hollywood life, I’m sure there’s a parallel there to the feelings of unreality examined in the film. Do you have an equivalent to a totem in real life that keeps you grounded and reminds you this all really happening?
Gordon-Levitt:
That’s a good question. I would say that I think every human being has that question, no matter where you live or what your job is. My job does get surreal at times, but so does life itself, if you think about it. It’s kind of a relative thing. It is all created. Your cognitive experience is a created one. I actually learned this in the dream documentary. Neurologically, what’s going on in your brain when you’re dreaming is very similar to what’s going on when you’re awake. We’re awake. We’re sitting here right now having a conversation. I can see you and hear you. My ears and eyes are certainly bringing in some information, but that information then gets sent to another part of your brain. A storyteller part of your brain. That part takes the information you had and connects the dots, fills in the gaps and then creates what you then experience as, “This is happening right now.” Same thing happens in your dream. Same thing. Same storytelling part of your brain is connecting those experiences. So I would just say that just being human puts you in the position of having to question what is real, exactly, and what am I making up? And do I have a real-life totem? I would say, actually, that movies and other sorts of records serve as that. Whether it’s a book or a song or a photo or a movie. Something that’s a record that stays still. And when you play it again, it’s the same one that you played before. Except you’re different. So that comparison is illuminating. Always illuminating and often grounding when I’m feeling a little disoriented or I’m losing track of reality, say. Some of my favorites will often be the best medicine.

CS: Do you find that grows or shrinks in watching one of your own films? Is that experience more or less involved with something you acted in versus something, say, you loved growing up?
Gordon-Levitt:
Well, they’re just different. If I watch something I made like a movie–a professionally done movie that I acted in as a professional actor–that’s one thing. I’m probably going to spend a fair amount of my experience thinking about what it was like to shoot it and all that. And then I guess the same goes for a little record I might recorded that wasn’t “professionally” done. And I guess that is different than playing a movie or hearing a record I wasn’t involved in. But I don’t know if there’s any relate-able difference. I don’t know if it’s quantifiable. Every record is different. It’s a good question, but I think both serve the same purpose.

CS: What’s coming up for you. The rumor is that “Hesher” has been retitled.
Gordon-Levitt:
No, it hasn’t! Yeah, it’s a bummer that that rumor got out at all. The movie is called “Hesher.” There was an international sales convention where an international sales company put the name “Rebel” on some brochure, but that is not the title of the movie at all. It’s called “Hesher.” It doesn’t have a release date yet, but it got picked up at Sundance by Newmarket who put out “Memento,” incidentally.

CS: And you’re about to start working with Rian [Johnson] again?
Gordon-Levitt:
Yes! “Looper” is going to be fantastic. I’m really, really looking forward to that.

CS: And Bruce Willis is involved?
Gordon-Levitt:
Yep. I can’t wait. It’s something that [Rian] has actually been talking about for years. It’s great that now it all seems to be happening now.

CS: Of course Marc [Webb] is going to be busy with Spider-Man for awhile, but has there been any discussion about reuniting?
Gordon-Levitt:
I’d love to do a movie with Marc again one day. We’ll see.

Inception hits theaters on Friday, July 16.