09/30/2011 10:43 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'50/50' Star Joseph Gordon Levitt Talks Working With Seth Rogen, 'The Dark Knight Rises,' And Why His New Comedy Isn't Exactly Funny (VIDEO)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a leading man in that other Hollywood, where "500 Days Of Summer" is the blueprint for romantic comedy, and "Inception" for blockbusters (rather than, say, "The Proposal" and "Transformers"). He's been a gay hustler, an amateur sleuth, a love-sick everyman, and, in real life, a Tiger Beat pin-up. Now, a quiver of varied movies in hand, Levitt's rightly starring in one with all the markings of a crowd-pleaser, "50/50."

In the film, Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27-year-old Seattle resident diagnosed with cancer (as was "50/50" screenwriter Will Reiser). The bulk of the plot deals with the ripple effect the diagnosis has on Adam's circle -- his girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), overbearing mother (Angelica Huston), stoner best friend (Seth Rogen, who is Reiser's real life buddy), and therapist/love-interest (Anna Kendrick). There are pat bits to be sure, but the cast is solid, and JGL plays his escalating illness with his signature quietly dimpled intensity. At its best, the movie skillfully blurs the comic with the tragic, like when Adam uses his cancer as a pick-up line, and the ensuing one-night stand has him writhing in pain from his illness. Gordon-Levitt and Rogen may be billing this as a comedy, but "50/50" -- and its leading man -- are more Oprah-friendly than any Rogen comedy yet.

The Huffington Post recently spoke with JGL in advance of "50/50"s release today. Read on to find out why Seth Rogen is the best, Chris Nolan is a circus-master, and stalkers can sometimes be funny.

A lot of the press we've read surrounding "50/50" bills it as a Cancer Movie, the way "The Big C" often gets billed as a Cancer Show. Is that a fair way to represent it?
It's a movie about relationships -- between friends, lovers, mother and sons. More than anything that's what it is.

Was it strange working with Seth Rogen, who's such a comedic actor? Did you ever feel pressured to be funny?
No not at all. One thing I want to stress is that Seth gave a nuanced, whole performance. It's not like he's just a funny man. And this wasn't the type of movie where we were trying to be funny. The laughs came because of feeling, because of just the honest human story. So no, I didn't feel any pressure to be funny. I think if we had tried to be funny it just would have been lame.

You've managed to pick a range of roles that all somehow seem right for you. How do you go about choosing them? Do you have a checklist or something?
(Laughs) I definitely don't have a checklist. I mean a lot of the checklist is just simply, it's got to have a good script and it's got to be working with people I want to work with.

That’s a checklist!
I guess that is a checklist then. Sure then! Ok, so I guess my checklist is, the script has got to inspire me, I have to feel really connected to the character at the time. And I've got to be working with people that I admire.

Was there any particular reason you felt connected to Adam's character? What drew you to that project?

First of all it's just a good script, which is just rare to come by. You know I read a lot of scripts and most of them are just sort of not so good. You know, the characters don't feel like human beings. They feel like plot devices, stereotypes. Especially scripts that make me laugh. It's very very rare to come by a well-written funny script. And so when I read "50/50," I was really taken with it off the bat. And you know, I've been a fan of Seth and Evan [producer Evan Goldberg], and so it just made sense.

Tell us about your upcoming projects. How will it feel to reunite with Chris Nolan in "The Dark Knight Rises" and Rian Johnson in "Looper"?
You're already on the same page. You already have that trust and that sort of shorthand. Rian was working with the same producer and the same cinematographer, and a couple of the same actors [from "Brick"]. And same with Chris. There's so many of the same people, we feel like a traveling circus or something.

In your video introduction for hitRECord (Levitt's collective production company), you mention a collaboration with "50/50." What's that about?
We called it a tragedy comedy. Basically the idea is, Will [Reiser] took this really horrible experience in his life but was able to look at it with a bit of a sense of humor, and write a story and make a movie with that outlook. So on hitRECord we asked people to do kind of the same thing, to contribute stories of theirs that were maybe hard, trying and tragic experiences, but to do it with a sense of humor. And we got lots of really great contributions. Where we're at now is one of the stories really resonated with everybody in the community as a great balance of a genuinely terribly circumstance, but with sort of a side to the story that made everybody laugh. Sometime in the next few months, we'll shoot that and turn it into a short film.

What's it about?
It's about this girl, this young woman, who, on hitRECord she goes by the name The Metafictionist, and she had this really horrible experience with a stalker. But she actually found a really funny angle of how to tell the story. It's not conventional directing, what we do on hitRECord, but it is working with hundreds and even thousands of elements, and I think we can make this funny.

Would you ever want to parlay your hitRECord experience into writing and directing in the industry?
Would I ever direct? I don't know. We just put out this anthology. It's the first anthology, like the first thing that we've really put out as like, OK, here's a bunch of stuff that we made. I'm so proud of it, and I do feel like -- you know, tons and tons of people collaborated to make this thing -- but I did direct it, and it does feel like kind of the first thing that I'm sort of in the author position. I love acting, but you know, the job of an actor is to provide the necessary ingredients for the filmmaker to make the movie. It's different than what I'm doing with hitRECord where it's not me telling someone else's story. It's really kind of the stories that I want to tell.

Check out the trailer for "50/50":

And now for something only a little different. Ladies and gents, JGL in the style of Axl Rose: