ENTERTAINMENT
01/20/2013 10:58 am ET

Joseph Gordon-Levitt At Sundance: 'Don Jon's Addiction' Director & Star Discusses New Film With Co-Stars Tony Danza & Julianne Moore

The Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the Sundance Film Festival is different from the Joseph Gordon-Levitt you've seen in films like "Looper," "Lincoln," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Premium Rush." Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and stars in "Don Jon's Addiction," an early hit at the prestigious film fest, and his emotional stake in the film's end result was apparent in our interview from the get-go.

I've spoken with Gordon-Levitt before, and he has always been cordial, if slightly restrained. I don't mean this with any overt negative connotations; Gordon-Levitt has always done a nice job of maintaining a business-like approach to his interactions with the press. Thanks to "Don Jon's Addiction," however, it appears that may become slightly harder. During our chat Sundance, he was animated about "Don Jon."

In the film, Gordon-Levitt plays the title character Jon, a bartender who lives in New Jersey. His prowess with the opposite sex earns him the nickname "Don Jon," yet he's addicted to Internet pornography, which Jon finds more enjoyable than actual intercourse. Strangely, this is a comedy, and it went over very well at the Sundance public screenings.

I met Gordon-Levitt, co-star Julianne Moore (who plays one of Jon's many love interests -- Scarlett Johansson plays another) and Tony Danza (who gives a hilarious performance as Jon's father) in a studio off of Park City's Main Street. Here, Gordon-Levitt discusses his directorial debut -- oh, and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, whose "Good Vibrations" plays a prominent role in the film.

I was not expecting to hear Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch in this movie.

Danza: [Laughs] Yeah, you know, nobody mentioned that the soundtrack's fabulous. I really love it.

When did you decide, "Man, I just have to have 'Good Vibrations' in this movie"?

Gordon-Levitt: I was just, when I was writing that scene ... you know, at first I had a version of the script where that scene was kind of more calm. Because I wanted to show that, whereas, normally, he's road raging, now, he's sort of just like relaxed in the car. And I decided, "Nah, that's not really enough." Something more needs to happen in this scene, and that's when I had the idea. This is definitely from ... people have been asking me, "So is this about your real life?" And the answer is, "No." But this scene is very much about my real life -- because I sing in the car a lot and people catch me and it's embarrassing. That is very much real life.

Moore: That's cute, that's cute.

I'm assuming you're not singing a Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch song?

Gordon-Levitt: Absolutely, that song. That's a great fucking song. Yeah, I was just looking for a song that ... I don't know. I don't know. How do you pick the right song?

Well, the references in the movie are great. I wasn't expecting to see a "Titanic" poster in Scarlett Johansson's character's bedroom either.

Moore: That was so funny.

Danza: Wasn't that funny?

Moore: It was great.

Gordon-Levitt: I'll give credit to my editor, Lauren Zuckerman, for coming up with that idea. My original idea for that poster was "Gone with the Wind." And we had a "Gone with the Wind" poster there.

I don't know if that would have gotten a laugh like "Titanic" did.

Gordon-Levitt: No. And Scarlett was the one who said, like, "Nah, it shouldn't be 'Gone with the Wind.' She wouldn't have a 'Gone with the Wind' poster. She wouldn't know what this movie is." And I was like, "Ah, shit, you're right." But I just loved the image -- that image of the two profiles of, you know, the "Gone with the Wind" image. But Scarlett was right, so I was like, "All right, fuck." So we just left it blank and comped it in later.

Moore: Oh, no kidding?

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. And then we were thinking, like, all right, so what movie should it be? And our editor, without telling me, just put "Titanic" in one day. And I was like, "That's hilarious."

Moore: [Laughs] I had forgotten the poster's in the shape of a heart.

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah!

Moore: It's so over the top.

Gordon-Levitt: But I was like, "They'll never let us use it." But it turned out, really, the main permission we had to get was from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Oh, really? I just assumed it would be the studio, and not them.

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. Well, the studio just has a fee you have to pay. But, permission-wise, it's the faces that are in the film. And so, Leo's a friend, and he was really generous to do it. And Kate was, too. You know, and their names are both in the special thank yous [during the end credits].

Are you pleased with the buzz so far? I mean, it has to feel good with the reaction so far.

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, it does. It feels great.

Moore: [Laughs] But we've been down here in the basement!

Danza: I was really pleased with how well it played. You know, somebody came in today and said that after the first five minutes that he just let himself go and took the ride. You know that Joe knows what he's doing and he's gonna take care of you. And I think that's what happened with the audience. I think they just threw themselves in and said, "All right, let's see where this takes us."

Gordon-Levitt: I think also both that they laughed when we wanted them to laugh, but also, they were quiet when we wanted them to be quiet, in some of our scenes later.

Moore: It was kind of amazing, yeah.

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, because the movie gets the audience feeling rambunctious, and it's something to then get them sort of reverent and quiet.

I was really happy to see Tony Danza's name in the cast credits. But why and how are you in this movie? It's been awhile since we've seen you in a role like this?

Danza: It was him. We Skyped, yeah. I just got a call. But, you know, it's a thrill to get that call. I said to him last night, "Hey, Joe, thanks for the opportunity. I really appreciate it." He said, "No! You came -- you took a chance on me!"

Gordon-Levitt: That's true, man!

Moore: Awww.

Have you not been getting calls? Beause you were so good in this, why haven't you been doing more stuff like this?

Danza: Listen, that's another situation [laughs].

Is it too early to start the Tony Danza 2013 Oscar campaign?

Danza: Hey, take it easy, pal. We were taking you seriously a minute ago [laughs].

Moore: You guys looked good. That is honestly what that guy was saying before, that the two of you were like this [crosses fingers together] at the table. It was amazing.

Danza: It was those matching wife beaters.

Does the movie mean more to you because it's screenwriting and directing and then starring? Does it feel different than something like "Premium Rush" or "The Dark Knight Rises"?

Gordon-Levitt: It does feel different. I mean, I feel very close to certainly all the movies I've had the luck to do recently. I've been lucky enough to get to do movies that I really care about and want to do. But this is different, because I came up with it. And when you're an actor, you know, you certainly have to put yourself into it and bring your own input. But you're also, I think, my perspective when I’m acting is I want to understand as best as I can what the director has in mind and get that from him or her. And then sometimes I'm like, "Are you sure that's what you want? Because maybe you want this." And that happens too, of course. But, making this movie was something that was in my head for a couple of years before anybody else knew anything about it. And then watching other artists come in and begin to collaborate and bring their own ideas and input was when it really got exciting. The writing process, it was fun, but it was hard and a lot less rewarding than once you're working with great artists like these two. It's like it just never ceased to make me feel great. When they would do something, I was like, "I didn't think of that. That's so great, wow."

So how do you pitch Julianne Moore to be in this movie? When you got the call, was it like, "Oh, Internet pornography?"

Moore: Well, you know, all your scripts are emailed to you. So I'm sitting there with my computer and I get this note saying that here's this movie; it's about porn. I was like, "OK! Here we go! Another dirty movie!" And I was sitting there and I read it, and it became more and more interesting and more and more intriguing and more and more surprising. And I turned to my husband and said, "This isn't about porn! This is great! I'd really like to do this." So, right away, I was very intrigued and interested in the script. And my character certainly is a more authentic representation of that state of being than I had ever read. And so, I was very, very touched by it. And I emailed Joe and said, "You know, I'd love to do it." So it was that easy, actually.

This is your first time directing. What director that you've worked with in the past most influenced you? Was there any part where you thought, Mark Webb did this on "500 Days" and I might try something like this?

Gordon-Levitt: Sure, well, you know in 2011, leading up to this while I was writing it, I was lucky enough to work with Rian Johnson and then Christopher Nolan and then Steven Spielberg.

Danza: {Sarcastically] Does that answer your question?

Gordon-Levitt: But one thing I noticed about all three of those guys -- and they're very different, people and they're very different filmmakers -- but the one thing they had in common was they were really good at balancing sticking to their original vision versus being open to spontaneity.

Oh, that's interesting.

Gordon-Levitt: Stuff that would arise on the day. And that's, I think, right at the crux of what a director does. Those decisions. You have to do your homework and you have to come in with a very solid idea, but when these guys do something that I didn't expect, you have to be ready to be like, "Oh, wow, yes. Right, let's do that. We won't shoot it this way; we'll shoot it that way to accommodate that." And, like, I mean I remember Steven was particularly astonishingly good at that. He could watch what the actors were doing and be like, "Oh, yeah, that's good. Don't move for a sec." And lickety-split, set up a "Steven Spielberg shot." You know what I mean? And it's one thing to, like, bring a handheld over here and record it. It's another thing to make it look like how he makes movies look. Like, he was so deft at doing that. He could just so quickly, like, "Bring the camera here, here, here. Little lower. Little to the left. Mr. President, can you take one step to your right?" And there you have this gorgeous shot. And I watched carefully {laughs].

Danza: And I just want to finish the thought before about this being a different thing for him. I've heard him say this, that I think you're trying to build this kind of a career where you get to do this kind of stuff.

Gordon-Levitt: Sure! [laughs]

Danza: And that's why this particular movie and this particular experience, I think, is so important and so different.

Well, it's a nice first entry into that new career.

Danza: It sure is! It works for me!

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

Sundance Film Festival 2013

Subscribe to the Entertainment email.
Home to your favorite fan theories and the best movie recs.

CONVERSATIONS