Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt (/’l?v?t/; born February 17, 1981) is an American actor and filmmaker. As a child actor, he appeared in the films A River Runs Through It, Angels in the Outfield and 10 Things I Hate About You, and as Tommy Solomon in the TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun. He took a break from acting to study at Columbia University, but dropped out in 2004 to pursue acting again. He has since starred in 500 Days of Summer, Inception, Hesher, 50/50, Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises, Brick, Looper, The Lookout, Manic, Lincoln, Mysterious Skin and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
He also founded the online production company hitRECord in 2004 and has hosted his own TV series, HitRecord on TV, since January 2014. In 2013, Gordon-Levitt made his feature film directing and screenwriting debut with Don Jon, a comedy film in which he also stars. He previously directed and edited two short films, both of which were released in 2010: Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny and Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo. He starred as Philippe Petit in the Robert Zemeckis-directed film The Walk and will star as Edward Snowden in the Oliver Stone film Snowden, set for release in 2016.
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Gordon-Levitt was born in Los Angeles, California, and was raised in its Sherman Oaks neighborhood. He is Jewish, from a family that is “not strictly religious”; his parents were among the founders of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. His father, Dennis Levitt, was once the news director for the Pacifica Radio station, KPFK-FM. His mother, Jane Gordon, ran for the United States Congress in California during the 1970s for the Peace and Freedom Party; she met Dennis Levitt while she was working as the program guide editor for KPFK-FM. Gordon-Levitt’s maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, was a Hollywood film director between the 1940s and 1970s, and directed the 1959 Doris Day/Rock Hudson film Pillow Talk. Gordon-Levitt attended Van Nuys High School and graduated with honors in 1999.
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Early acting work
Gordon-Levitt joined a musical theater group at the age of four and played the Scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz. Subsequently, he was approached by an agent and began appearing on television and in commercials for Sunny Jim peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs, Pop-Tarts, and Kinney Shoes.
At age six, he starred in several made-for-television films. In 1991, he played both David Collins and Daniel Collins in the Dark Shadows television series, and appeared in the movie A River Runs Through It . During 1992-93, he played in The Powers That Be, a sitcom starring John Forsythe, as a clever young boy named Pierce Van Horne. Also in 1992, he portrayed Gregory Kingsley in the made-for-TV film Switching Parents, based on Kingsley’s real life case of “divorcing” his parents. In 1994, he starred in the Disney film Angels in the Outfield as an orphan who sees angels. In 1996, he began playing Tommy Solomon on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. The series ran for six seasons. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Gordon-Levitt was a “Jewish kid playing an extraterrestrial pretending to be a Jewish kid”. During the 1990s, he was frequently featured in teenage magazines, something he resented. He has also said that during this time period, he did not enjoy being recognized in public, saying that he “hates being a celebrity”.
Gordon-Levitt starred in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and voiced Jim Hawkins in Treasure Planet (2002), a Disney adaptation of the novel Treasure Island. In 2000, he began attending Columbia University School of General Studies. He studied history, literature, and French poetry. He became an avid Francophile and a French speaker. He said that moving to New York City from his hometown forced him to grow as a person. He dropped out in 2004 to concentrate on acting again.
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Later acting work
Gordon-Levitt has said that he made a conscious decision to “be in good movies” after returning to acting. His films include 2001’s drama Manic, which was set in a mental institution, Mysterious Skin (2004), in which he played a gay prostitute and child sexual abuse victim, and Brick (2005), a modern-day film noir set at a high school, in which he had the lead role of Brendan Frye, a teen who becomes involved in an underground drug ring while investigating a murder. Brick received positive reviews, with The Minnesota Daily’s critic commenting that Gordon-Levitt played the character “beautifully”, “true to film’s style”, “unfeeling but not disenchanted”, and “sexy in the most ambiguous way.” Another reviewer described the performance as “astounding”. He also starred opposite Steve Sandvoss as a young judgmental missionary in Latter Days (2003), a film that centers on a sexually repressed Mormon missionary (Sandvoss) who falls for his gay neighbor. He had roles in Havoc and Shadowboxer.
His next role was in 2007’s The Lookout, in which he played Chris Pratt, a janitor involved in a bank heist. In reviewing the film, The Philadelphia Inquirer described Gordon-Levitt as a “surprisingly formidable, and formidably surprising, leading man”, while New York magazine stated that he is a “major tabula rasa actor … a minimalist”, and that his character worked because he “doesn’t seize the space … by what he takes away from the character.” The San Francisco Chronicle specified that he “embodies, more than performs, a character’s inner life.” His 2008 and 2009 films include Stop-Loss, directed by Kimberly Peirce and revolving around American soldiers returning from the Iraq War, and Killshot, in which he played a hoodlum partnered with a hired killer played by Mickey Rourke.
Gordon-Levitt played a lead role opposite to friend Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, a well-received 2009 release about the deconstruction of a relationship. His performance, described as “the real key” to what makes the film work, credits him with using “his usual spell in subtle gradations.” Variety’s Todd McCarthy praised his performance, saying he “expressively alternates between enthusiasm and forlorn disappointment in the manner Jack Lemmon could”. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said the movie “hits you like a blast of pure romantic oxygen” and credited both lead actors for playing “it for real, with a grasp of subtlety and feeling that goes beyond the call of breezy duty.” He was subsequently nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
He later played villain Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. On November 21, 2009, he hosted Saturday Night Live. In 2010, he replaced James Franco to star alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Christopher Nolan’s science fiction thriller Inception, which received favorable reviews.
In 2011, Gordon-Levitt began filming Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, in which he played John Blake, a police officer who emerges as a key ally of Batman. Also released in 2012, he played the starring role of a bicycle messenger in the action film Premium Rush; the younger version of the lead role, shared with Bruce Willis, in the time-travel thriller Looper; and the supporting role of Robert Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln.
Gordon-Levitt played a new character, Johnny, in the sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), described by the filmmakers as “a cocky gambler who disguises a darker mission to destroy his most foul enemy at his best game”. In October 2013, it was reported that he was one of the frontrunners to play the lead character for Marvel Studios’s superhero film Ant-Man, which eventually went to Paul Rudd.
In November 2014, it was confirmed that Gordon-Levitt would play National Security Agency surveillance leaker Edward Snowden in Snowden directed by Oliver Stone. The film is scheduled to be released in North America on September 16, 2016 and will co-star Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Nicolas Cage. In 2015, Gordon-Levitt also starred as Philippe Petit in the biographical drama The Walk, directed by Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis.
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Directing and producing
Gordon-Levitt’s first film as director, the 24 minute-long Sparks, an adaptation of a short story by Elmore Leonard starring Carla Gugino and Eric Stoltz, was selected for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as part of a new program for short films. In 2010, he directed another short film, Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo. It premiered at two houses during the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
He was one of the many producers of the Broadway show Slava’s Snowshow.
In 2013, Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and starred in his screenwriting and directorial debut, Don Jon. The film also stars Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. Following the premiere, the film was acquired by Relativity Media and Gordon-Levitt stated: “I always intended this to be a movie for a mass popular audience. Everyone told me it was a long shot … I couldn’t possibly be more grateful.”
HitRecord (pronounced /’h?t r?’k?:rd/; often stylized as hitREC?rd) is an online collaborative production company founded and owned by Gordon-Levitt. The company uses a variety of media to produce such projects as short films, books, and DVDs. HitRecord has produced such short films as Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny and its sequel Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo.
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Gordon-Levitt’s older brother, Dan, who was a photographer and fire spinner, died in 2010 at age 36.
In October 2013, Gordon-Levitt identified himself as a feminist, giving credit to his mother: “My mom brought me up to be a feminist. She was active in the movement in the ’60s and ’70s. The Hollywood movie industry has come a long way since its past. It certainly has a bad history of sexism, but it ain’t all the way yet.”
In December 2014, Gordon-Levitt married Tasha McCauley. They have a son born in August 2015.