Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt

From 'Rock' to 'Brick'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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"I've never seen anything else like it before or since," says actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt of his amazing new movie Brick, a clever, shockingly straightforward high school detective story with very little in the way of irony.

In the film, written and directed by newcomer Rian Johnson, Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, a teenage gumshoe. Receiving a cry for help from his ex-girlfriend, just before she disappears, he must call on all his underworld contacts and navigate a labyrinthine plot to come out in one piece.

"Rian constructed his world out of words," Gordon-Levitt says. "Just with his words, I could feel what he was doing. It was such a pleasure."

Though Gordon-Levitt had previously read Dashiell Hammett, he and Johnson decided not to immerse themselves in Bogart movies or detective pop culture before shooting. "The whole point was to get clean of that," Gordon-Levitt says. "I took more of my cues from music than movies: Tom Waits and Serge Gainsbourg and the Wu-Tang Clan, people who take words and create a world with them."

The 25 year-old actor is perhaps best known for his stint as Tommy Solomon, the youngest in a family of extraterrestrials, on the hit TV series "3rd Rock from the Sun."

During that show's final season, he went on hiatus to attend Columbia University. "All my friends were moving out of the house and going to school and could do anything they wanted to do, and that's what I wanted," he says. "I could be a physicist. I could be a journalist in Senegal. I came around [to the idea] that you have to do what you love to do, but do it for a reason. That's when I started acting again."

In a career that began at the age of six, Gordon-Levitt says he's met few truly impressive people. One was "3rd Rock" co-star John Lithgow, who taught him a rigorous work ethic. Brick co-star Richard (Shaft) Roundtree was another.

"We had been trying to figure out how to say these words," he says. "Normally, you just speak as naturally as you can. It didn't work that way for Brick. But Mr. Roundtree sits down, puts on his glasses and just says the stuff -- and it sounds awesome."

As for the future, Gordon-Levitt has no concrete plans. "I would like to keep working with people who care about what they're doing," he says. "And if people who care about what they're doing keep wanting to work with me, then I think it should work out pretty well."

February 10, 2006

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