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DID YOU READ

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on “The Lookout”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt in “The Lookout,” Miramax, 2007]

By mainstream standards, the widest exposure 26-year-old actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has yet received was as the youngest of four wise-cracking aliens on TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun.” But those in the know (meaning you, since you’re reading this) have likely been following Gordon-Levitt’s below-the-Hollywood-radar blip for the last couple of years, be it as the troubled hustler in Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin” or the neo-noir brooder in Rian Johnson’s “Brick.” The talented Californian can be seen this weekend alongside Jeff Daniels, Isla Fisher and Matthew Goode in “The Lookout,” the directorial debut of screenwriter Scott Frank (“Out of Sight”). In this crackling heist thriller, Gordon-Levitt finds himself in the titular role as Chris Pratt, a former high school star athlete who works as a bank janitor after a car accident leaves him with irreparable brain damage. I briefly yakked with Gordon-Levitt down in Austin, TX, where “The Lookout” was premiering as the opening-night film at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

You could easily have the Hollywood meal ticket if you wanted it. What makes you choose smaller and independent projects instead?

It sounds simple, but I just want to be in good movies. I’m not so concerned with whether it’s studio or indie so much as “Is it a good script?” or “Do I like the director?” “The Lookout” is far from an indie movie, y’know; it was made by Miramax. But even though it was produced by a corporate studio that’s ultimately owned by Disney, it has the integrity of an independent because Scott Frank cared so deeply about it and was given the power to make the movie he wanted to make. That, to me, is ultimately much more important than where you’re getting financing.

What’s the difference between a worthwhile script and a waste of your time?

That’s a good question. It’s hard to put your finger on what makes something good. I can just tell if, while I’m reading it, I’m inspired. If I get excited, stand up, pace around, if I start wanting to read the words aloud, if it makes me think or laugh, things like that. It’s the same criteria, I guess, as what makes anyone like a good movie or book. I read a lot of scripts and most of them are bad. [laughs] It’s always funny to see where that point is that I’ll be like, “Okay, maybe this is going to turn around.” I read a little bit more: “This could be good, maybe if…” Read a bit more: “No, it’s bad.”

I don’t know exactly what it is, but I guess if it’s boring, fake or simplistic. Or a gimmick. Or I feel like it’s shamelessly pandering to money instead of genuinely trying to say something.

“The Lookout” is a very screenwriterly film, even referencing the art of storytelling within an otherwise unrelated heist set-up. When you collaborated with Frank, did he come across as a writer first, then director?

Well, yes. It’s easy for a director to get caught up in moment-to-moment visions, what’s a great-looking shot, things like that. Scott’s prime concern every day was telling the story. Every single scene in the movie moves it along — it’s very tight that way. And he needed to make sure all those moments landed while we were shooting. As far as how I should be feeling or looking, he mostly left that to me because he wanted it to happen naturally. Still, Scott had a very specific idea of what he wanted the movie to look like. When I first met him, he started showing me books of photographs of grand vistas from the middle of the country. The movie is shot in a wide aspect ratio, and that’s been his vision, that’s what he wanted to make.

So many actors would have superficially hinged everything about this character on his brain trauma, but I think you’ve done well in fleshing out Chris without making his injuries the crux of his personality. How did you approach this?

Thank you. Isla was telling me I didn’t look “retarded” enough. [laughs] Well, I spent time with people who had suffered traumatic brain injury like Chris had, which meant everything to me. I couldn’t have done it without the help of these guys — Darren, Dan, Ryan — all of whom had very different experiences so you can’t make any generalizations. Every time you try to draw a boundary around somebody, [then] examine it closely, you find that those boundaries are arbitrary illusions. I hung out with this one guy named Dan, whose injury was quite a bit worse than the character I was playing. The first thing I noticed about him was that he wouldn’t stop cracking jokes. He had a real sense of humor about the whole thing, making fun of himself, his arm that didn’t work, his accident… I don’t even want to go into the details of what happened to him. It was a horrible, tragic thing, and he would laugh at it. That really struck me.

I think “The Lookout” could’ve been a really morose, dark, terrible movie, and I’m really glad it’s not. Scott always kept an eye on that, too. He wanted it to be a fun thriller, and I think he really accomplished that. It’s funny, actually: when I finally saw the movie, I was surprised by how entertaining it was because my subjective experience of shooting it was a struggle [with] a lot of pain, darkness, hard, slow life for three months up in the Winnipeg prairie. I was like, “This isn’t slow. This isn’t a struggle. This is fun. I’d go see this with a girl on a Friday night.” I did not expect that.

I’ve heard you’re a bit of an audiophile. What have you been listening to lately?

These days, I’m trying to listen to nice, pretty music because for the last year, I did three movies where I was listening to nothing but hard, hard — and I don’t mean metal — music about aggression. With “The Lookout” — I hadn’t done before — it somehow worked for me to only listen to one band. For the whole three months, once I got to work until we were done at the end of the day, I’d only listen to Pearl Jam. Maybe it was because I’ve been listening to them since I was 12, or maybe it’s because they really strike a perfect balance between having that hard, aggressive, manly thing and also being emotionally expressive, kind of vulnerable.

I think it did something to me to only ever hear that one voice. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is, but it somehow worked with what I was trying to achieve in making this guy whose brain doesn’t work like ours does, to have it just repeat and repeat and repeat like that. They have eight albums, so it’s not like I was listening to the same songs over and over again, but it really worked; it helped me keep my focus. When I finally saw them on tour, it was a big part of allowing me to shed some of the layers that I had put on myself to play the character.

What do you think is missing between the interaction of film and music?

Let me tell you, I’m glad you asked. [hands me a card for his website, HitRecord.org] This is the first time I ever made business cards. That’s my idea; it’s some stuff I made, some videos, films, writing, songs. The coolest thing on there, I think, is a little short where I made the audio first and put visuals to it afterwards, based on a resuscitation poem. I think movies are inseparable from music, and the way they make movies nowadays where you shoot, then the guy comes in, watches and scores it — it works sometimes, but it’s also gotten old. [Director] Rian Johnson’s cousin Nathan made the music for “Brick.” Rian’s making his next movie right now in Europe, and Nathan’s there with him. The composer of the score is there on set working on the music as they’re making the movie. That’s cool.

“The Lookout” opens in limited release on March 30th (official site).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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