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Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Uncertainty

Fresh off the success of 500 Days of Summer, the refreshingly sincere Joseph Gordon-Levitt explains how creativity shaped the making of his kinetic new film, Uncertainty.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt is simply one of the most exciting twentysomething actors working at the moment. Whether he's playing a moody hustler in Mysterious Skin, his breakout role, or a lovestruck boyfriend in this summer's absolute pleasure, 500 Days of Summer, his performances are all united by an authentic intelligence and actorly committment. It makes him a joy to watch on screen, even when he's unrecognizable (save for that excellent, resonant voice!) as Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, or a goofy teenage alien in the long-running sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. Who knows what will happen when he's in Christopher Nolan's next film, the hotly-anticipated Inception.

In Gordon-Levitt's latest film, Uncertainty, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End), have created an intriguing world for him and actress Lynn Collins (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), playing a couple called Bobby and Kate. They start their day on the Brooklyn Bridge, and, with the flip of a coin, take off to Brooklyn and Manhattan, where the narrative splits into a family drama and a kinetic, paranoid thriller, respectively.

What's striking about the film is that, despite the high concept, Gordon-Levitt and Collins keep the proceedings grounded and real, playing a believable couple on the verge of something momentous. McGehee and Siegel are wonderfully adept at keeping the two stories entwined together, and New York thrums with a realness that's a tribute to the city. The process of making this film was particularly collaborative, as McGehee and Siegel had a script, without any dialogue, and they worked closely with Gordon-Levitt and Collins to fill out this world. The results are entertaining and thought-provoking.

Tribeca Film had the chance to speak to Gordon-Levitt over the phone from Los Angeles this week. He wasn't in Los Angeles for long, though; New York was calling, for Uncertainty screenings (at the IFC Center) and a hosting gig for the November 21st edition of Saturday Night Live.

Tribeca: Can you talk a little bit about the way that Uncertainty was shot? I'm really curious about (Director of Photography) Rain Li, who's worked closely with Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love), right?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Rain Li is a special, special person, and so it also plays into just the way that Uncertainty was made. Her involvement in the way that we played these scenes probably had a greater impact on my performance than any DP I'd ever had.

(Gordon-Levitt then takes a moment to clarify that his comment wasn't a slight on other cinematographers: "I just got shot by Wally Pfister, for Inception, and he's the man...")

Tribeca: How did she impact your performance?

J G-L:
Just the way we were shooting Uncertainty, we were improvising, and so Rain couldn't just roll the camera and point it in the right direction. She had to be as involved in the scene as we were. She had to follow what we were doing. [The camera] felt like another performer, more than like—

Usually when I'm acting, you usually draw this barrier around you. With Uncertainty, that barrier wasnt there as much, it's different. I think that's a real credit to Rain and her artistry.

Tribeca: One aspect of the movie that I really dug is that even though it was improvised, you and Lynn were really eloquent and present in the scenes, and there wasn't this sort of half-handed dialogue with all these "likes" and "ums..."

J G-L: Uncertainty has a lot of improv in its process, but it's really different than a normal improvised movie, and I think it's a real credit to Scott and David. They wrote a script, and the script didnt have any dialogue in it. All of the scenes were very thoroughly written. We knew exactly what the scene had to accomplish, but we didn't know exactly what we were going to say, or where we were going to stand, or how it would go. We were telling a story that was very well written already.


Tribeca: It's a really interesting way to make a film, and I think it keeps it very fresh.

J G-L: This is the first time that they tried this, and I was really honored that they let me be a part of it. Dave and Scott were so generous on this thing they were thinking about and constructing for years. They embraced us as cocreators of what was happening. It's really to their credit. I think they're extraodinary filmmakers.

Tribeca Film: I interviewed Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (the screenwriters of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's last film, 500 Days of Summer) over the summer, and they had this to say about you: "You know what's the best part about [Gordon-Levitt]? He cares. He really cares. He wants to do good work very, very badly, and that's so good because [actors] are in it for other things." How does that caring extend to your work and even projects like your website,

J G-L: That's a really high compliment, and I guess it is true. I do care. I get to do my favorite thing in the world. I'm really really lucky to get to do what I do and to get to work with beautiful artists. It's my favorite thing.

HitRECord, it's a lot of things. It started out as something I was saying to myself. The record button. That round, rec, red button kind of became a metaphor in my mind for gertting started, for being creative and doing it. I started it as a website a little over four years ago, it was when Mysterious Skin came out, and I put up a video that Scott Heim (the writer of the novel the movie was based on) and I did.

Over the next four years it evolved into not just a place where I put up stuff but a collective, creative, and collaborative community of people who remix their RECords (which is the site's name for videos). We collaborate to put things together and that kind of collaboration is so exciting to me. It can happen all over the world, there's no geography to it.

Yesterday we were celebrating the day 11/11 and made this whole art project celebrating repetition. The most recommended result was from this girl whose name is Pauline, who's been on the community for only a couple of months. She used little samples from more than twenty different individual RECords, and remixed them all into a new thing and those different components came from Europe and Asia and Australia and North America and South America, using samples from younger people and older people. I just love it. It all happened yesterday. It all happened in this one moment in time.

Tribeca: That's so great. It's all so immediate!

J G-L: It's really different from a movie like Uncertainty. We shot that in 2007 and because the way the media works it takes a long time for it to get in front of an audience. There's also something very nice about that delay. Now all that time has passed and I'll get to watch it with an actual New York audience. It'll be a trip and a half to watch what happened two years ago. There's sort of two sides of the creativity that I'm lucky to engaged in.

Tribeca: And then there's the methods of distribution and the many ways that's changing. It'll be interesting to see how websites like hitRECord play into it...

J G-L: For creative people like you and me and our generation, there's a reason to get really excited about that we got to be born now. The rate at which things are changing are also getting faster. The next paradigm shift, it's not going to be another generation, it's still going to be us because things are just changing so rapidly. We get to see this crazy step for humankind and how connected we all get to be.

opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday, November 13. Click here for ticket information.

Gordon-Levitt, co-stars Lynn Collins and Olivia Thirbly, and directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel will appear in person at the 7:25 pm and 9:45 pm shows tonight, Saturday's shows (7:25 pm and 9:45 pm) will have Gordon-Levitt, McGehee, and Siegel, and Sunday's 7:25 pm will have McGehee and Siegel and a special screening of Gordon-Levitt's short Sparks.

Buy tickets now, as these special screenings are selling out (according to @IFCcenter on Twitter)!

Uncertainty is also available through Video on Demand, and it has a fun presence on Tumblr (worth a look!) and a Facebook page.


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