Arts interview

Lessons from the good love stories

College Press Roundtable Interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt

6180 jgl 2
Joseph Gordon-Levitt with co-star Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon.
Daniel McFadden
6190 jgl 1
Writer/Director/Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the set of Don Jon.
Daniel McFadden

Hey, you. Yes, you, at MIT with the glasses and the projected science degree. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has relationship advice for you. And it is nerdy.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new movie, Don Jon, will be released in theaters on Friday, September 27. In the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Don Martello, an attractive, hyperconfident guido from New Jersey, whose life revolves around just a few things: “his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls…and his porn.”

Having created a movie with this tagline, it seems like JGL would understand little about life as an MIT nerd. But Don Jon is not his directing debut. In 2005, JGL founded hitRECord, an online collaborative production company with a mission statement right in line with Kickstarter. With hitRECord, JGL produced CD’s (#oldschool), books (I highly recommend The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, which is available at the COOP), and short films that gave him prior directing experience. Especially when it came to music.

The Tech: For me, many of the scenes in the movie wouldn’t have been the same without the soundtrack. Could you talk a little more about how you came up with it and how you constructed it?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: [The music] was one of my favorite things about directing the movie. Because when you’re an actor, that’s something that happens without you there at all. And you don’t know what’s going to be happening in these scenes and you see the movie and there’s another actor you didn’t know about. Sometimes it’s a great surprise, sometimes it’s a not-so-great surprise. When I was writing Don Jon I got to work with Nathan Johnson, who was the composer on Looper and Brick and a couple of short films. And really, Nathan was a collaborator beyond music. He’s a very good friend of mine and a brilliant artist. I really wanted the movie to have a rhythm to it and be sort of a piece of music in and of itself. He was instrumental in making that happen… and we definitely made some bold choices with the music that are not traditionally what you do — like changing the vocabulary drastically a couple times.

The first act is all these sort of big shiny synth sounds, the middle of the movie is this traditional Hollywood orchestra, and the end of the movie is sort of these sparse guitars. I think it worked out pretty seamlessly, and I’m really pretty proud of it. And in fact, if you listen closely you’ll hear, the way Nathan composed it, there are melodies that recur throughout, even in these different palettes. It’s really intricate and really great what he put together. I’m so proud of the music.

Interviewer from Boston University: Why do you think humans are so quick to objectify?

JGL: A really good question. I think it’s something that’s always been around for sure because it’s easy — and arguably, at times, useful. If you’re, you know, living life out on the savannah, you’re going to objectify the lions who might eat you. And even though there’s a nice lion now and then, you’re not going to give him or her the time of day. You’re just going to go, “That’s a lion. Fuck that.” And that’s probably where it comes from ­— it’s a biological thing. But now that we live this more civilized life, this nuanced thing — that can really get in the way of us being happy. It’s so much easier to [objectify], to say, Oh, I know what that is! And that’s what Jon does, and that’s what Barbara does. But as you can see, it keeps disappointing him… He keeps wanting [life] to live up to this checklist of expectations that he’s learned from pornography…or from Carl’s Jr. commercials. And when you’re comparing your real life to those very static expectations, it’s a recipe for disappointment.

I actually think there’s a lot of similarities between 500 Days of Summer and Don Jon, even though the two characters have very different styles. They’re both kind of selfish dudes. The character in 500 Days Of Summer, Tom ­­— it’s funny because people often ask me, “Why did she break up with him? How could she, she’s terrible!” — he was really selfish, he wasn’t listening to anything she (Summer) said. I think he sort of deserved to be broken up with, and he was doing something very similar to what Jon does. He was projecting his fantasies, his simplistic fantasies onto this girl, rather than paying attention to who she really was.

By the end of the movie, he’s starting to grow up a bit and starting to realize, okay, I can’t just project my fantasies onto a woman and expect that she’s going to make my life; I’m going to have to figure it out for myself. And there’s a similar progress in Don Jon. He projects these fantasies onto women in his life rather than paying attention to who they really are. And hopefully by the end of the movie he’s starting to connect more and actually listen and pay attention.

Interviewer from UMass Boston: What is your favorite movie about love?

JGL: The Matrix Trilogy. There’s a line in the third movie where this program says to Neo, he says, “Love is a word. What is important is the connection that it implies.” And I just love that. Neo and Trinity have this connection based on what they’re trying to do ­— they have a mission that’s in line with each other. And neither one of them could accomplish that mission without the other. They love each other and they would do anything for each other. I like that love story. What’s another good one? There’s obviously the more kind of clear — like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, I really like that one. I like 500 Days Of Summer. I think that’s one of the good love stories recently.

The very last question in the interview fell to me, and with all this talk of love and computer programs, I just couldn’t resist.

TT: So I go to MIT, and I know a lot of guys who would just be going crazy to hear you talk about The Matrix and love in The Matrix that way. So a little selfishly, I want to ask: what love advice you would give the nerds in the world, given that you understand them?

JGL: It would be the same advice I would give anybody. As far as love advice, this is one of the things in Don Jon — that everyone is unique and that’s really important. It’s especially important for an engineer at MIT who is, you know, really good at quantifying things. But you can’t. You cannot quantify human relationships because quantification is all based on the idea that if you repeat an action, you’ll get the same result.

Well, that doesn’t work with human beings. Every single one is completely different. And so every single relationship is going to be completely different. Whatever relationship you have with one person is not going to be the same relationship as you have with another person. So the most important thing is to pay attention to what’s going on right in front of you right now. And not think about the rules or the past or the future, but just pay attention to what’s happening right now.

1 Comment
Anonymous about 10 years ago

Cool article, Sophie! and great final question!