Birth Name: Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt
Date of Birth: February 17, 1981
Place of Birth: Los Angeles, California, USA
Height: 5′ 7″ (1.70 m)
Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt (born February 17, 1981) is an American actor whose career as both a child and adult has included successful television series, acclaimed theatrical films, and stage performances.
Beginning in commercials as a young child, he went on to appear in a number of television films and series, including a lead role in a television revival of Dark Shadows and a film debut in 1992’s Beethoven. An appearance in A River Runs Through It followed, along with a starring role in the 1994 movie Angels in the Outfield, as Roger Bomman. Gordon-Levitt subsequently co-starred in the television sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, as the young Tommy Solomon, and had a major supporting role in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You.
After a hiatus during which he attended Columbia University, Gordon-Levitt abandoned television but returned to film acting as an adult, appearing in various independent films, beginning with the 2001 film Manic. Critically acclaimed roles in 2004’s Mysterious Skin and 2006’s Brick led to his being described as “one of the most interesting leading men in independent film, a thoughtful performer, simultaneously outspoken and introverted, who specializes in playing troubled characters at war with themselves and the world.” In 2009, he played the lead role in the well-reviewed comedy (500) Days of Summer, which gained him a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. He appeared in the Christopher Nolan film Inception alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, and Ellen Page.
Early life and family
Gordon-Levitt was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Sherman Oaks. His family is Jewish. His father, Dennis Levitt, was once the news director for the Pacifica Radio station, KPFK-FM. His mother, Jane Gordon (daughter of director Michael 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 has an older brother, Dan (born 1974), who is a photographer and fire spinner.
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.
Gordon-Levitt began his acting career at the age of six, appearing in several late 1980s made-for-television films and two episodes of the series Family Ties. After having a lead role on the short-lived 1991 revival of the television series Dark Shadows as David Collins, he made his feature-film debut with a background role in 1992’s Beethoven. Later that same year, he played a young version of Craig Sheffer’s character in A River Runs Through It. At the age of twelve, Gordon-Levitt took the lead role of Gregory in the film Switching Parents, which was based on the true story of Gregory Kingsley, a boy who won the right to legally divorce his parents. In 1994, he played a Hutterite boy in the comedy Holy Matrimony and appeared in the lead role of the successful Disney film Angels in the Outfield. From 1993 to 1995 he had a recurring role on the sitcom Roseanne.
In 1996, Gordon-Levitt began playing Tommy Solomon on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, a role that put him on the map and for which he is most well-known. The San Francisco Chronicle noted the irony that Gordon-Levitt was a “Jewish kid playing an extraterrestrial pretending to be a Jewish kid”. In 1998, he was a guest star in the first season of That ’70s Show, appearing in the episode “Eric’s Buddy” as a gay schoolmate of Eric Forman’s. During the late 1990s, he also appeared in several films, including The Juror (1996), Sweet Jane (1998) opposite Samantha Mathis, and the Shakespeare-based teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), in which he and Heath Ledger had the male leading roles. He performed the voice of the main character Jim Hawkins in the Disney animated feature Treasure Planet (2002), which he recorded in four years, from age 17 to 21.
Gordon-Levitt was attending Van Nuys High School while acting on 3rd Rock from the Sun. 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, specifying that he “hates celebrity.” As part of starring in 3rd Rock, Levitt appeared in five of NBC’s public service announcements, The More You Know. His topics covered drinking while driving, peer pressure, hate crimes, staying in school, and violence prevention. He also appeared in the annual White House television special Christmas in Washington during the Bill Clinton administration in 1996, the thirteenth season of Celebrity Jeopardy! in 1996, The Daily Show on March 18, 1999, and in the Fox Family television special Dear Santa in 2002.
Gordon-Levitt left 3rd Rock from the Sun during its final season, becoming a recurring character and appearing in only half of the season’s episodes. For the two years following, he quit acting and attended Columbia University (the only university to which he had applied). He entered in 2000 and attended from 2001 to 2004, studying history, literature, and French poetry in General Studies. Since his study at Columbia, he has become an avid and self-confirmed Francophile, and a speaker of the French language. He has said that moving to New York City (he currently resides in Manhattan’s Lower East Side) from his hometown “forced” him to grow as a person. Gordon-Levitt dropped out of the university in 2004 to concentrate on acting again.
Return to acting
Gordon-Levitt has said that he made a conscious decision to “be in good movies” after returning to acting. Since the early 2000s, he has appeared in what has been described by the Boston Herald as a series of “acclaimed and underseen indies” that “pegged him as a rising star on the indie film circuit.”
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 (San Clemente 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.”
Gordon-Levitt’s next role was in The Lookout. He played Chris Pratt, a janitor involved in a bank heist. The film was released on March 30, 2007. 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.” Several critics suggested that his role in The Lookout would turn Gordon-Levitt into a mainstream actor. His 2008 films include Killshot, in which he played a hoodlum partnered with a hired killer played by Mickey Rourke, and Stop-Loss, directed by Kimberly Peirce and revolving around American soldiers returning from the Iraq War.
He played a lead role opposite Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, a 2009 release about the deconstruction of a relationship. The film received a 88% fresh aggregate rating at Rotten Tomatoes. His performance, described as “the real key” to what makes the film work, credits Gordon-Levitt with “work[ing] his usual spell in subtle gradations.” Todd McCarthy of Variety praised his performance, saying “Gordon-Levitt expressively alternates between enthusiasm and forlorn disappointment in the manner Jack Lemmon could”. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3½ of 4 stars, saying it “hits you like a blast of pure romantic oxygen”, crediting Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt with playing “it for real, with a grasp of subtlety and feeling that goes beyond the call of breezy duty.” Gordon-Levitt was subsequently nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The same year, he played Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and had a supporting role in Women in Trouble, in which Carla Gugino, his co-star from The Lookout, also appeared. Gordon-Levitt hosted the November 21, 2009 episode of Saturday Night Live.
Gordon-Levitt has received praise and positive reviews for his performances. Observing Gordon-Levitt’s acclaim from critics and audiences alike, Showbiz notes that Gordon-Levitt has “defied the cliched fates that befall most underage actors when they grow up,” while The New York Times has described him as “one of the hottest young stars in the indie firmament.” Although he regularly researches his roles by exposing himself to real-life versions of the character before shooting, Gordon-Levitt does not label himself as a method actor.
In 2010, Gordon-Levitt starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in the Christopher Nolan-directed thriller Inception. His upcoming roles include Live With It, opposite Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, and Hesher, an independent drama co-starring Natalie Portman.
In 2001, Gordon-Levitt made his stage acting debut in the off-Broadway premiere of Austin Pendleton’s play, Uncle Bob opposite George Morfogen at the Soho Playhouse.
Gordon-Levitt was one of the producers of the Broadway show Slava’s Snowshow, a job he shares with, amongst others, Jared Geller, who acted as the stage manager during the production of Uncle Bob. In 2009, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event as one of the show’s producers.
Gordon-Levitt’s side project, hitRECord.org, is an online collaborative production company. According to the hitRECord website, “we create and develop art and media collaboratively here on our site; we use my position in the traditional entertainment industry to turn that creativity into money-making productions; and then we share any profits with the contributing artists”. Gordon-Levitt has owned the website hitrecord.org since 2004, when it hosted six videos and short films. Beginning in 2009, he opened the website to host films by others. In a 2007 interview in Salon, he was attributed as describing his website as “[an] alternative outlet of where [he] get[s] to be a little less professional and just freak out a little bit.”
The site has since expanded, with more than 10,000 participants collaborating to make songs, images, stories, and short films. According to a 2010 article in Details, Gordon-Levitt oversees the site from a bank of computers in his home studio.
Gordon-Levitt’s first film as director, the 24 minute-long Sparks, an adaptation of a short story by Elmore Leonard, was selected for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as part of a new program for short films.