HC Talks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt About His New Film, Don Jon!

If you’re as obsessed with the incredibly talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt as we are, you probably already know that his new movie Don Jon is coming out this Friday, September 27. We’re always excited for a new JGL film, but this one is even more exciting because it’s also his directorial debut and the first film he wrote, directed and starred in! As if we weren’t already impressed with his diverse resume and his online collaborative production company, HitRecord, (and his smile!) now we’re definitely swooning.

Don Jon is the story of Jon Martello, a Jersey Shore-esque guy who loves the simple things in his life… but particularly porn and women. Jon's nickname stems from his ability to pick up new girls and bring them home every weekend, without fail. Then Jon meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who, in his words, is “more than a dime.” She flips the script and turns him down, so he gets her name from the bartender to find her on Facebook and invite her to lunch. Before you know it he’s sitting through rom-coms and they're meeting each other's parents. But as it turns out, not even Barbara can seduce Jon away from his porn, and he begins to realize that maybe no one ever will. Filled with smart, honest, and hilarious commentary about conventional relationships and what it really means to fall in love, Don Jon is sure to be one of the biggest films of the year.

Her Campus scored an exclusive interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt after a screening of the movie in D.C. earlier this summer. Keep reading for more about Don Jon, JGL’s inspiration for the movie and what it took for him to get buff for the role (yes, we went there!).

HC: I know Don Jon is your first writer/directorial debut. Where did the idea for the movie come from?

JGL: It came from the idea that oftentimes people treat each other more like things than like people. I’ve felt that way, I imagine you have felt that way, I feel like everybody sort of feels that way sometimes… like you’re talking to someone and they’re not really listening. They’re just kind of putting you in a box with a label on it. And I feel like media often contributes to that. I’ve always paid a lot of attention to the impact that television and movies and stuff have on people, probably because I’ve worked in TV and movies and stuff… and so I thought the idea of having a relationship between a young man who watches too much pornography and a young woman who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies would be a funny way at getting at those themes.

HC: In the movie, Jon and Barbara live up to these stereotypical roles - almost caricatures of those roles. What was it like to create them and how did their personalities formulate?

JGL: [Jon and Barbara] are two people who are very intentionally trying to fit into conventional norms… of what a man is a supposed to be and what a woman is supposed to be, and they learn these molds, certainly from their upbringing –from their parents, maybe from their church – but also definitely from the media that they consume. And so I’m certainly not saying in the movie that all guys are this way and all girls are that way; I’m saying that these two particular people very much want to fit into those stereotypes. And I think we all have that desire in us to one degree or another. Maybe not as extremely as Jon and Barbara, but we all have that desire to fit in, to be what people expect us to be. And I think we all have to confront that desire and be like, “Nah, f*ck that! I’m my own person.” And that’s a struggle I think that everybody goes through.

HC: What was preparing for the role like? I know in the movie you’re super buff and working out all the time – not that you’re not!          

JGL: No, I’m not! (Laughs)

HC: But what was that whole experience like?

JGL: I did gain a lot of weight for the movie. You know, Jon, like I said, has this very rigid idea of what a man is supposed to be and what a man is supposed to look like. He spends a lot of time and effort on his physique. That’s not so much my bag; I’m not really into bodybuilding, but I did it very dedicatedly…  it took a lot of time and a lot of effort both in the working out and the eating to put on that weight. And now it’s mostly gone 'cause I certainly did not keep it up.

HC: As far as directing and writing, was there a huge learning curve for you? Did it take longer than a normal movie might for you to film?

JGL: Well, sure. When you’re acting, you get the script usually a few months before you shoot. I’ve had as much as like eight months to prepare; on 50/50 I had like a week. … The first ideas of writing [Don Jon began] like five years ago, and [I] started really writing it in earnest as a screenplay like three years ago, and then we shot it all last year and edited it and continued to work on it through most of this year. So yeah, it’s a much, much longer time commitment.

HC: What would you like viewers to take away from the film, and specifically college viewers, since the character is a little older?

JGL: First of all, I would just like people to go and have a good time. But yeah, I think it’s worth thinking about the media that we all consume. I think we all have a tendency to be like “Okay, that was my day, I worked all day, now I’m just going to relax and watch TV or read a magazine. Or watch porn, or whatever it is, sure.” And we think of it as, “it doesn’t really matter; this is just me relaxing.” I think it does matter. I think the stuff that you consume, especially on a regular basis, will make its way into your mind and into your identity and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re consuming good stuff. But, I think it’s worth paying attention [to]. Even if a movie or a TV show or a pornography video or a commercial or a music video isn’t intentionally influencing you, it does. I know it does me. And I think it does everyone. And that’s just worth sort of being aware of.

HC: What is your one piece of advice for college students that are trying to break into the arts?

JGL: My advice would be do it now. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for someone to hire you. Don’t wait for the perfect job, or the perfect idea. Just start making stuff. Even if you make something that you don’t think is very good, finish it. And then make another thing, and you’ll have learned from the first thing you made. So you’ll get better, and then make a third thing, and make a fourth thing. And start small; you don’t have to make your masterpiece the first time out. Just go for it; don’t wait. The worst thing you can do is wait around for the prefect opportunity, because it never comes.