The Wrap talks to the actor about Obama’s effect on Hollywood, his short film “Sparks” and the importance of new media.
Though already a mainstay within the indie film world, 27-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt establishes his leading man potential in “500 Days of Summer,” which is being hailed at Sundance this year as Fox Searchlight’s next smash hit. Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a dopey-yet-endearing greeting card writer who becomes entranced and consequently obsessed by his co-worker (Zooey Deschanel.) The Wrap sat down with the actor at the MySpace Café on Tuesday, hours after crowds on Main Street celebrated the inauguration, to talk about Obama’s effect on Hollywood, his short film “Sparks” and the importance of new media.
The Wrap: Barack Obama became the President of the United States today – what impact do you think he will have on Hollywood?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It was a beautiful day. One thing I’m excited about with Obama is his attitude towards the Internet. He seems to be the first President who understands how important it is and how much it’s gonna change the world. BarackObama.com is one of the most effective websites in the history of sites, and Change.gov is really exciting to me. I think the way the media is going to work in the future is less something that the population consumes and more something that the population creates. And Obama’s all about that. He’s about encouraging people to voice their opinions and get involved and collaborate and not just sit back and let it happen to us. So I think Hollywood, as it’s been, will have to change because the model of Hollywood is “we’ll make this content, and you guys buy it,” but I don’t think that’s the future.
TW: You’ve been in a number of independent films, but “500 Days of Summer” seems to be the darling of this year’s festival. How does it feel to be a part of something with so much hype?
JGL: It’s lovely. Sundance means a lot to me. This is my third one. People that come here who love movies. Everyone has the attitude that movies aren’t just disposable entertainment – they can really mean something. I love that, because that’s the way I feel about films.
TW: “500 Days of Summer” was already being distributed by Fox Searchlight before it came to Sundance. Are film festivals relevant even when so many of the movies have already been purchased?
JGL: In this case, it’s because it’s the right crowd for it. “500 Days of Summer” isn’t just a product that panders to an audience to try to make money. Fox Searchlight has proven they’re really good at putting out movies that are works of art – “The Wrestler,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Borat…” they put out really great movies. And that’s what Sundance is about. It’s about movies. So I think it’s a perfect place for it to be.
TW: The film also has bigger stars and it’s a romantic comedy – what about the movie carries an independent spirit?
JGL: It’s not trying to just work a formula to get butts in seats. In the end – because it’s being honest in that way – more people will like it and go to see it. I think our culture is sick and tired of fluffy nonsense and they want something more sincere and heartfelt. I think that’s why “The Dark Knight” is the biggest movie ever. It’s not because it’s Batman or because it has lots of special effects. There are lots of movies with big stars and special effects. “The Dark Knight” was so good and so successful because it was a genuinely told story and a well-made work of art. So, to me, it’s less about whether you call it indie or studio – if the inspiration is genuine and it’s coming from the right place, that’s what I like and want to be a part of.
TW: Since you’re a Sundance veteran – what changes do you notice at the festival this year?
JGL: You know what I think is happening this year? I think it’s getting better. The quality of the films has always been good. But the last time I was here, there were almost two worlds going on. There was the world of the movies – which is awesome and the screenings were all sold out – and then there was this other parasitic beast that latched on – this Hollywood, material, excess culture world. There were all these people who came here just to do that and they didn’t even go to or care about movies. That whole side of the story has shrunk a lot this time, and that’s very encouraging to me. The screenings are all still sold out, but I think more people are more like “nah, no thanks” to the gifting.
TW: So you don’t head to the swag suites?
JGL: I won’t say I’ve never been to one, but I haven’t been this year. I’d much rather go to a movie.
TW: You have a short, “Sparks,” showing at the festival this year as well. How has the reception to that been?
JGL: It sounds like a cliché, but it’s kind of a dream come true. I first knew what Sundance was when I was, like, 16 and got my driver’s license and could first drive myself to the movies. All of these amazing films were coming out – “Reservoir Dogs,” “The Usual Suspects” – all of these great independent movies, and they all came through Sundance. So Sundance became the promised land to me. To have something that I made be playing here and be well received…it means a lot.
TW: I saw you had your camera out filming the audience during the Q&A at “500 Days of Summer.” How big a part of your life is making your own films versus acting in other people’s movies?
JGL: It’s all the same, I think. I think all those boundaries are blurring. I love getting to act in the traditional way. But I love doing the other stuff too. I have a website – www.hitrecord.org – and I’ve been recording stuff on my video camera throughout Sundance and putting it up. We’ve been putting about one video up a day.
TW: So you’re a big proponent of new media?
JGL: Oh, for sure. It’s all gonna change. It’s got to change because it all works differently now. The media used to be something that we consumed, and it’s become something we create. And that’s how it belongs. The term ‘popular culture’ always used to mean what the people do – pop songs, folk songs, music in general used to live because people would sing these songs and tell these stories together. Then in the twentieth century, all of these new technologies came out and it became the work of professionals. So we, as a generation, were born into it and never knew anything different. It was like, “music is something that professionals do and not something that I do.” That’s not natural. Music belongs to everybody. Having a little clique of the industry tell us what our culture is…I don’t think that’s healthy. And the Internet is helping us get away from that.
TW: Would you consider being in a film that was solely distributed on the Internet?
JGL: Go to my website, that’s all that it is! I put stuff I make up there all the time.