posted by lizzybennett
Don Jon is about New Jersey boy Jon Martello, Jr., whose objectification of women not only applies to his weekly conquests but also his addiction to pornography. This obviously creates problems with his new girlfriend, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson).
Upon entering the conference room in the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, Gordon-Levitt was standing at the door and greeted each of us with firm handshakes and “hello.” There were many crinkles around his eyes, probably from years of flashing that disarming smile on screen. He was wearing a fitted long-sleeve checkered button-down shirt, dark skinny jeans, black leather shoes, and colorful funky socks. I saw the socks because I sat down right next him. His hair still seemed like it was growing out a little from Don Jon (Jon had the late 90s throwback hairstyle of hair on top of the scalp, shaved on the bottom), as it was longer on top and short around the sides, but not quite as gelled as his character in the movie.
Gordon-Levitt has a deep voice that despite having heard it many times in films, I am still slightly taken aback by, given his boyish looks (he’s actually 32). He describes Don Jon as “a comedy about a boyfriend and girlfriend that enter their relationship with unrealistic expectations – the guy because he watches too much pornography and the girl because she watches too many Hollywood romantic movies.”
In case you were wondering, the film was indeed based on personal experiences. Yes, JGL had a porn addiction problem. No, not that. Gordon-Levitt sought to create two characters that anyone could identify with: “We all have a tendency to be selfish. We have a tendency to use people rather than connect with him, because it’s easier. It takes more effort to actually pay attention to the person in front of you and learn what makes them a unique individual…we all have the tendency to think we already know the person and put them in a box with a label. I’ll admit I am guilty of that sometimes. I do my best to stay present and treat everyone like an individual. But yeah, it’s hard.”
And to be clear, the movie is most definitely NOT about pornography addiction. It’s “about a guy and his narrow mindset and how he grows out of that.” Asked whether pornography addiction is indeed a problem with modern couples, Gordon-Levitt responds, “It’s an age old problem…to compare our significant other to preconceived expectations rather than appreciate and embrace who they really are in the present moment.” So there you go, great relationship advice from JGL.
In describing his first feature-length director experience, Gordon-Levitt honestly says that he actually found himself to be quite well prepared. It wasn’t an easy process but “I didn’t feel like a first-time filmmaker. I have just been on so many sets for so many years.” Nothing about the process really shocked him much except “the actors surprise me everyday.” He describes filmmaking as a “multi-geared process” with “thrilling moments.”
In 2011, the year before shooting for Don Jon began, Gordon-Levitt worked with Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Rian Johnson (50/50). From the three directors, he noticed something in common that he tried to keep in mind throughout his directing process: “a balance of having a thorough plan but also being spontaneous…if you go too far in either direction, you can really mess up a movie. If you are too married to a plan, you can end up with something stale. But if you don’t stick to your plan enough and are too easily lured away to new ideas, then your movie can lack a strong unified voice.”
Gordon-Levitt has always been fascinated with all the different parts of filmmaking: “For my 21st birthday I bought my first copy of Final Cut, the video editing software and when I first started doing it, I loved editing so much. When you start editing, you’re really making movies, more than you can when you’re just shooting stuff.” He’s made hundreds of short films, all building up when he was ready to make his first full-length film. Don Jon “is a story that resonates with me b/c I’ve always paid attn. to how the media influences how we see the world. That was what started me writing it and the writing kept going well until I saw something finished.”
When asked why he chose to make his protagonist the ultimate guido (there really is no other apt word to describe Jon Martello, Jr.), Gordon-Levitt winces at the reference to Jersey Shore. He does admit that since making the film, he has indeed seen some of the reality show, though all similarities end with the accents and gym obsession. Don Jon “is a movie about a guy who is very much trying to fit into a mold—here’s what you’re supposed to be, now be it. I wanted a specific mold and I thought of an East Coast womanizer with a gym body, shiny hair.” Great casting choice though in having Tony Danza in the role of Jon’s dad, Jon Sr.
But New Jersey natives, please do not be offended: “I hope that people don’t think that I am saying that everyone in Jersey is the way Jon Martello is and there are many characters in the movie that are not that way…and that’s the point. Jon and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) are very much intent on fitting into what they are supposed to be. And Esther (Julianne Moore’s character) doesn’t give a f***. That’s what creates the contrast and humor…putting a character like Jon with a character like Esther, both of whom are from and live in New Jersey.”
To prepare for the physical aspect of the role, Gordon-Levitt worked out everyday like his character and ate pounds of protein, in particular chicken. He has since stopped sticking to that regimen though, sorry, girls.
Gordon-Levitt definitely lit up when asked about his online collaborative production company, hitRECord.org. They are currently making a television show that is fully open and collaborative. Gordon-Levitt is directing it but many others are contributing. He clarifies that the project “is not people contributing finishing stuff and me picking things. We have collaborative projects, people contribute their parts, then I direct it and put out feedback by being on the site and writing comments.” They have made short films, songs, cartoons, and short documentaries, hoping one day to make a full-length feature film. Fans, expect to see the first eight episodes of the television show in January.
I left the interview not really thinking I knew that much more about Gordon-Levitt than I did before (except he’s taller than I thought he was?). He certainly did not disappoint or surprise. The guy is very polite. When we parted ways, he shook everyone’s hands again and thanked us. Whenever anyone asked him a question, he made direct eye contact with the interviewer and was particularly enthusiastic when discussing the people he worked with. Yet I had the sense that in “real life,” he’s quite the guarded introvert. That lovable silly persona film audiences find so endearing is probably generally saved for the set or for those lucky enough to know him well.