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5 things Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants you to know about "Don Jon"

It’s no secret we at Nightlife.ca are big proponents of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt school of thought (brush up on our top five reasons why here). Unlike so many other marquee-name actors who eventually fade away following a string of poor film choices, a complete lack of self-awareness, a frankly disappointing on-screen range, or (let’s face it) male pattern baldness, JGL is a smart guy with an unmistakable passion for the craft (see his blossoming open-collaborative production company, hitRECord), who above all else chooses his projects wisely.

Latest case in point? Don Jon, his clever directorial debut, in which he plays the titular protagonist, an Avicii-loving, New Jersey meathead who only cares about a few things in life: “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn." But what could have been a tasteless, by-the-numbers send-up of douchebag culture or (worse yet) a blatant rip-off of Steve McQueen’s harrowing Shame instead presents a holistic and humorous critique of our culture of entitlement and how it feeds into addictions of all stripes. Plus, Scarlett Johansson totally nails the part of Barbara Sugarman, the nail-painting, gum-chewing, Titanic-loving object of Jon's affection, who also isn’t immune to addiction.

Nightlife.ca caught up with the thoughtful actor-turned-director in March at South By Southwest to chat about feminism, reality TV and organized religion. Here are five things JGL wants you to know about Don Jon:

 

1. JGL is very critical of how pop culture skews our relationship expectations.
“I wanted to tell a story about how people objectify each other and how the media often contributes to that – especially when it comes to love and sex. We learn a lot of expectations from movies, TV shows, commercials, magazines, pornography, and really, those expectations are unrealistic and unhealthy. If we’re busy comparing our own lives and our partners to those expectations, we’re totally doomed!”

2. But JGL didn’t stop at depicting a guy who merely objectifies sex and women.
“I wanted to paint a picture of a guy who objectifies everything in his life. Women, for certain, but also his own body, his apartment, his car, the way he treats his family, the way he treats his friends, his relationship with his own church – it’s something that he’s not really present with. He’s really just going through the motions and doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. It’s not so much that I wanted to criticize the Catholic Church with this film; certainly a lot of people have very fulfilling relationships with organized religion. But I think a lot of people also just go through the motions, and I found that very applicable to this story.”


Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon

3. JGL considers himself a feminist.
“I think it’s important to think about gender roles for women and for men. It’s irrefutable that over the course of history, women have gotten the short end of the stick. No doubt. They’ve been oppressed and have suffered a lot. My mom and my dad were very active in all sorts of movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and feminism was definitely front and center. Whenever we watch the Lakers as a family, every time, to this day, the Laker girls will come on, and my mom will sigh. ‘So that’s what women can do, huh?’ She said it when I was 6; she said it last week. And she’s right! Let’s be honest: sometimes Hollywood really sucks for women. But I think that both women and men today are corralled into roles based on their gender, which isn’t helpful.”

4. Of all the characters he’s portrayed, Jon Martello is definitely not the one JGL relates to the most.
“But I love playing characters who are very different from me. In Looper, for instance, the character has a different face than I do, he talks and walks differently – I mean, he kills people for a living!

Jon Martello is a very different guy from me – very different values, brought up very differently from how I was. I really enjoyed putting myself in his shoes and not judging him. Even though at the beginning of the movie, he’s such a douchebag. Putting myself in that headspace and understanding it.”

5. JGL had never watched Jersey Shore until after he wrote the script for Don Jon.
“I did watch it after finishing the script, because a few people who read it kept bringing it up. I watched it, but couldn’t really get through more than one episode. I should say: I don’t think that’s the fault of the people on the show. The truth about reality TV is that it’s no more real than this [film]. It’s completely fabricated and fictitious.” 

Don Jon
Now in theatres