Joseph Gordon-Levitt on How Black Lives Matter Is Changing Hollywood - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because you’ll see a new side of this movie star.

By Pallabi Munsi

Since the mid-1990s, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been a fixture on screens both big — the box-office hit Inception — and small (3rd Rock From the Sun). He joins The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his journey and his reactions to the craziness that is 2020. Below you’ll find the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can listen to on the podcast feed.

Origin Story

Carlos Watson: How did the acting start?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I think being in Los Angeles was a big part of why it ended up being a professional thing. The other important thing to say is my parents never pressured me to do it. I consider that really lucky.

Watson: When you look back at your story, what were some of those lucky moments? 

Gordon-Levitt: Well, 3rd Rock From the Sun is one of the first things that comes to mind, which was a hugely formative experience for me. I started that show when I was 13; I finished when I was 19. John Lithgow, who was the star of that show, as well as a lot of the writers, producers, directors and the other cast members really looked out for me and they were really intent upon the kid of the set not getting maladjusted. They really played a mentorly, familial role in my life.

Watson: If you were going back and you were going to tell young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Hey, here’s what’s going to surprise you while you’re in the game,” what are two or three things that are going to surprise him, that really would make you step back and go, “Oh, even though I’ve thought about this, even though I’ve wanted this, I would not have known X or I would not have expected X”? What would surprise people about what it means to be a high-level professional actor?

Gordon-Levitt: I’m going to give a probably not-sexy answer, but if I were going to talk to my younger self, one of the things I would say is, “You know what’s going to help you most is nothing you learned from all the great actors that you’ve had the opportunity to work with, but actually something you learned from your dad, which is just a really strong work ethic. That you don’t give up and you keep doing it, and even when it sucks, and even when it’s boring and even when it’s mundane, or even when it’s disappointing, you keep doing it and you keep a positive attitude and you are good to people and you don’t get frustrated with people and you show up on time and you’re reliable and you do the things you say you’re going to do. You’re a grown-up about this.”

Talking Politics

Watson: Did you ever seriously think about politics yourself — running for office or doing something like that?

Gordon-Levitt: I haven’t really ever thought about it seriously because I really like privacy and it seems that part of politics is opening up your house and your family and your kids and everything to the public conversation, which makes me uncomfortable personally. 

A Crazy 2020

Watson: Do you feel like you have changed a lot over the last year? Are you still in many ways the person I would’ve met a year ago or five years ago?

Gordon-Levitt: I always think about that. I always feel like there’s both, because in a way I feel like I’m still the same person I was when I was 12. And then in a lot of ways I’m completely different than I was when I was 12. But yeah, I mean, this year has been so extraordinary and I think I’m only beginning to understand the ways that it has impacted me. I think we’ve all together undergone, and are continuing to undergo, some real trauma. I hate to be melodramatic about it, but I think we’re probably all suffering some PTSD, or you can take off the P because it’s not post-traumatic yet. And that makes me sad to be honest. But then again … I have many things to be grateful about. 

Watson: Joseph, tell me a little bit about your new film The Trial of the Chicago 7. And tell me a little bit about what you learned in making that film, if anything.

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, sure. What’s funny is this is a story about 1968, but when you watch it, it feels like you’re watching something about today.… If you look back in history, the way the American government conducted themselves, it was disgraceful. 

Watson: Do you think, as a result of all the Black Lives Matter conversation, are you yourself hearing more open and productive conversation around race and racial change in Hollywood? Is it actually starting to filter into conversations that you’re a part of, or not yet?

Gordon-Levitt: For sure. I think it’s much more prevalent than it was. And it should have been prevalent for all this time. I think even before the tragedies of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the recent round of protests, there’ve been more conversations since what happened in Ferguson. But I do think that, yes, I think this year this sort of reckoning that’s happening in our country is definitely being heard by Hollywood. Now, I also think that there’s a certain amount of people acting out for, I guess, appearances, like how it looks, or optics or whatever you want to call it. Like, “Well, I have to make sure that I don’t look racist,” or something. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. And there’s also a desire to try to fix the problem quickly, when there’s no real quick fix to this problem. 

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