Opening Sept. 30, 50/50 sees Gordon-Levitt marry his sitcom past to some of his more recent dramatic work. Based loosely on the real-life experience of screenwriter and Rogen pal Will Reiser, the dramedy follows an anxious public-radio reporter who sees standard quarter-life crisis fare topped off with a cancer diagnosis.
“Joe has to kind of cover every color in the emotional prism,” says 50/50 director Jonathan Levine, who previously plumbed the depths of white-boy isolation in The Wackness. “I think [he] is a rare talent in that he can do that. He’s this remarkable balance of a serious dude but also a very kind of funny, easygoing guy,” Levine adds.
Rogen, who plays the wisecracking best friend, recalls enticing Gordon-Levitt into the film as a last-minute replacement (James McAvoy left the production due to a family emergency) by flying him to Vancouver and getting him “super stoned.”
“I mean that character’s very uptight and regimented and kind of anal and quiet and doesn’t speak his mind, and the real Joe is not like that at all,” Rogen says with his familiar laugh. “He really speaks his mind. He’s very laid-back and experimental, one may say, and open to new forms of thought and ideology.”
In recalling his own excitement to work with Rogen, Gordon-Levitt sheds light on possible early inspirations for hitRECord. “When I saw Pineapple Express, I was just like, ‘This is me and my buddies. This is like what we do,’ ” he says with a grin. “Ever since we were in high school, me and my buddies would get together, get high and make fun little videos together.
"That’s what we do. Often about weed….It’s the same thing, but they did it professionally!” Should all go according to plan, Gordon-Levitt sees himself as a sort of field leveler between his bedroom auteurs and the entertainment industry. It’s starting to work. HarperCollins will publish a collection of illustrated short fiction from the site, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, in December. Shortly before 50/50 hits theaters, the site is shipping its first anthology, RECollection: Volume 1. The CD-DVD combo contains contributions from 471 collaborators, a number Gordon-Levitt takes particular pride in. “That’s about the size of an average hit Hollywood movie,” he points out.
And then, Gordon-Levitt—who has been acting in other people’s work for almost a quarter century—gets a little reflective.
“Literally over a thousand contributions went into this, the work of 471 different artists that I curated and directed,” he says. “I feel like in all my life, as much as I—and I really do love acting…but there’s a real difference. Movies are the directors’ medium, traditional movies anyway. My job is to help Chris make his movie or [Brick director] Rian [Johnson] make his movie or help Levine make his movie. RECollection feels like the first thing I’ve put out in the world that’s my authorial… that’s what I have to say.”
Well, what he and 471 of his closest friends have to say.