Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Don Jon

He’s into porn! She’s into rom-coms! Together, they’re like chocolate and peanut butter — unless they’re like oil and water! Find out in Don Jon, a new movie written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also stars, with Scarlett Johansson, and briefly discusses his craft below.

Hey, what do you think about the apparent recent proliferation of movies about sex addicts?

Well, I don’t really think that’s what Don Jon‘s about. I don’t consider Jon a sex addict. [Note: Don Jon’s Addiction was the film’s original title, but this answer is consistent with JGL’s stated reason’s for shortening it.] He’s a womanizer, for sure. The story’s really about it being a one-way street — he doesn’t connect with anybody. You see that everywhere: Everyone in his family talks over each other; with his friends it’s always some kind of pissing contest. Even in his church he’s just sort of going through the motions. He’s certainly a creature of habit. We all have our routines. That’s always just been something that fascinates me. What I do, what other people do. He has this pretty rigid routine in his life. That makes him comfortable. I think there’s a real strength in routine and regularity. But it’s a double-edged sword. It’s good to ask: Why am I doing this, again? If it’s because I always do, it’s maybe not a good enough answer.

So where did Don Jon come from? 

I’ve been working as an actor since I was a little kid, so I’ve always paid attention to how the media affects our view of the world. We often develop some unrealistic expectations of love and sex. I thought it would be funny to make a movie about that.

Funny, in particular?

Traditionally, the literary figure of Don Juan is royalty, and he’s also a tragic figure who’s destroyed by his shortcomings. But I didn’t want to make a film about royalty, and I didn’t want to make a tragedy. I like to think of myself as an optimist. I like to think that people can change. So it’s a guy who is beginning to break out of his mold. I wanted the movie to be provocative. But I thought, as a general rule, humor is good. There are some provocative movies that are even better because they’re funny. Whether it’s Dr. Strangelove or Harold & Maude. I love making people laugh. Don Jon is really funny, and audiences laugh their asses off.

What’s different when you write a part for yourself and also direct it? 

So much of it had to do with the writing. I spent a couple of years with it. By the time it was done, I had more than just a script. I had an idea of what I was going to do. And I’ve made, I don’t know how many, maybe hundreds, of little short films and videos, many of which had me in them. So that practice, that experience, was huge.

You’ve also worked with some pretty fancy directors. Did they teach you anything?

Yeah, in 2011, the year before we shot Don Jon, I worked with Rian Johnson on Looper, and then with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises, and then with Steven Spielberg on Lincoln. They’re all obviously very different. But what they all had in common was a balance between having a thorough plan and being open to spontaneity. All day every day, you get these little moments of: That’s not working, but what about this? If you’re too married to your plan, you can end up with something lifeless. But if you’re too easy to lure away from your plan, you can end up with something kind of spineless. So finding that balance is not easy, but it always seems to make a big difference.