Gordon-Levitt steps out of his comfort zone with 'Hesher'
Joseph Gordon-Levitt says he knows instinctively when to take a movie role.
"I read a lot of scripts, and I don't particularly connect with most of them," he says. "But occasionally, something makes me want to get up. I'll start pacing around, trying to figure out who the guy is, how he walks, how he talks."
That was the case with volatile drama "Hesher," which opens Friday in Austin. "I really had a visceral feeling for the material," he says.
It's easy to understand why.
The character of Hesher has to be one of the most unusual ever created for the big screen. He's a headbanger, spreading mayhem wherever he goes. But he's "a pretty righteous guy in his own twisted way," Gordon-Levitt says.
In the movie, Hesher takes up residence, uninvited, in the home of a dysfunctional family reeling after the death of the mother.
He meets the family's son during an incident at a house where he is squatting, and when he takes the kid back home, he decides to stay.
He raids the fridge, drinks beer, curses, smokes pot and swaggers around shirtless. And the grieving father (Rainn Wilson) doesn't seem to have the courage or energy to kick him out.
"It's fun to experience that kind of mayhem," Gordon-Levitt says. "But I wanted to do this movie because it's not just a simplistic, broad character as in a lot of movies. This movie has a human being under the shtick. The character evolves, and the pillars of his personality of not caring eventually fall, and he does care quite a lot for these people."
Gordon-Levitt says he "had as much fun on 'Hesher' as he has had on any other movie," partly because the character was so uninhibited.
"I get my kicks as an actor by playing a diverse variety of characters and doing something other than what I expect from myself and is expected of me."
Those instincts have led Gordon-Levitt down an unusual path for someone who was introduced to most American television audiences as George on "Roseanne" and Tommy on "3rd Rock From the Sun" in the 1990s.
"I've been lucky," Gordon-Levitt says. "There are a lot of roles that I'm proud of." He says one of his favorite roles was as the patient in a mental institution in 2001's little-seen "Manic." "It's a little movie that means a lot to me but not a lot of people have heard of."
He also points to the gay hustler role in 2004's "Mysterious Skin" and the lonely teen trying to figure out who killed his girlfriend in 2005's "Brick."
But his big movie breakouts came with 2009's quirky romance "(500) Days of Summer," co-starring longtime friend Zooey Deschanel, and last year's mind-boggling "Inception."
He says he wants to keep on working in smaller movies, carefully choosing roles, even though he was recently cast in the Batman tale "The Dark Knight Rises," which is directed by Christopher Nolan, who worked with Gordon-Levitt on "Inception."
"I want to be a chameleon," he says. "I want to play all sorts of people. I admire actors like Orson Welles, Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep. They're chameleons and disappear into a character."
The 30-year-old actor also wants to spend more time on his latest project, hitrecord.org, which aims to bring artists together from around the globe, making movies and other video projects.
"The way that technology is changing is just going to be really great and stimulating for creativity and self-expression," Gordon-Levitt says. "We're coming out of the 20th century where broadcast media, a small clique, got to say its piece. But no one else got to participate in the conversation."
He thinks such "hegemony" (yes, he used the word) will be ending because of technological advances.
"The truth about creativity is that it's a communal thing, from the dawn of humanity," he says. "Culture evolved with people gathering around fires, going to pubs, telling stories. That's what makes us human, that process. And the Internet is bringing us back to that kind of communal creativity."