Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Aaron Sorkin, ‘Project Power’ and Why He’s “Eternally Grateful” to John Lithgow

When asked what superpower he would like to have for five minutes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt answers: "Power of Empathy."

In what has become a semi-regular occurrence to promote his projects, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything with the release of his latest film, Netflix’s Project Power. As is usual with AMAs, Gordon-Levitt answered a variety of questions, including sharing his advice for aspiring directors, working as a teenager on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and sticking to the script in an Aaron Sorkin project.

Regarding what advice he would give to people who want to direct (Gordon-Levitt directed the 2013 film Don Jon), Gordon-Levitt recommends that aspiring directors learn another important filmmaking craft: “Learn to edit. Doesn’t have to be fancy. You can use iMovie on your phone, or whatever. But so much of what you’ll think about when you’re directing is how you’re going to cut together what you’re shooting. So spend some time editing.”

As a teenager, Gordon-Levitt played Tommy Solomon on the popular sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. The star of the series was Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor John Lithgow. Gordon-Levitt shares his memories of working with Lithgow and credits the cast and crew of the series for grounding him as a young actor. He recalls:

“People sometimes ask about growing up as a child actor, and they ask ‘why aren’t you f—ed up?’ Which, first of all, is flattering, also makes me a little uncomfortable, but that aside. Of course I give most of the credit to my family, my mom dad and brother, my close friends, etc. But I really do give a ton of credit to the people of 3rd Rock. Everybody, cast, crew, writers, directors, etc. But it’s worth singling out John, because he really did set the tone. He was the High Commander. Every day he brought so much joy, fun, he would laugh his ass off all the time in rehearsal, but also professionalism, generosity, kindness, positivity. And nowadays, when I find myself in any kind of leadership role, especially on set, but really anywhere, I think the example he set is a huge part of what I try to bring. I’m eternally grateful to him and everyone from 3rd Rock.”

In Project Power, people can take pills to grant them superpowers for five minutes. When asked what superpower he would like to have for five minutes, Gordon-Levitt answers: “Power of Empathy. The ability to see through someone else’s eyes, hear through someone else’s ears, touch, taste, smell, everything. Really put myself in someone else’s shoes. Which is always what I’m trying to do as an actor, playing a character who’s different from myself. But if it were a superpower, and I could actually experience life as someone else, I think I’d learn a lot. And maybe add on the ability to give it to others as well. Maybe that’d help some things these days.”

Gordon-Levitt stars in The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin — one of the few “name” screenwriters in the industry. Because of that renown, actors in projects written by Sorkin are known to stick to the script. Gordon-Levitt speaks about that, indicating how he feels about it as an actor:

“Aaron’s known for being a stickler about his language. It’s uncommon on a movie shoot for the actors to deliver the dialogue as written verbatim. Actually ‘uncommon’ is an understatement. It never happens, I’ve almost never seen it happen. (The other four times I’ve made a point of doing it are with Rian’s two movies, Brick and Looper, Scott Frank’s The Lookout, and Spielberg/Kushner’s Lincoln. But that’s four out of I don’t know how many movies I’ve done.) I love when the writing is so good that it feels right to stick that closely to the script. Personally I think Mr. Sorkin has every right to insist on it. Like I said, it’s quite rare, so it’s unexpected, and at times challenging, but I love it.”

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