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Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Koepp talk “Premium Rush” bicycles, bruises, and Batman

Joseph Gordon Levitt

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“Premium Rush” wheels into theaters this weekend, and it’s a fun, fast-paced thriller that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a bike messenger who’s pursued from one end of Manhattan to the other by a vicious, crooked cop played by Michael Shannon.

The film is directed by “Mission: Impossible” writer David Koepp, who co-wrote the script with John Kamps.

IFC spoke with Gordon-Levitt, Koepp, and Kamps this week, and discussed the movie’s impressive stunts, its innovative visual elements, and the always-present threat of crashes (including one that put Gordon-Levitt through a taxi’s rear window). We also got some updates on the trio’s upcoming projects, including the live-action “Spy vs. Spy” movie, as well as the next Jack Ryan movie, and Gordon-Levitt’s uncertain future with the Batman franchise after “The Dark Knight Rises.”

IFC: Before we get into anything else, why bike messengers? What brought you to the world of bike messengers as the angle into this story?

DAVID KOEPP: I live here and see bike messengers a lot. You can’t help but think about them as they go by like that, missing you by 6 inches. [Laughs] But I’d had in my head that I wanted to do what’s called a “map movie,” where it’s all about a guy getting from point A to point B in a limited amount of time. So then John [Kamps] and I started talking and we wanted the guy to be on a bike, because it was uniquely cinematic. We’d seen a million car chases in movies, but hadn’t seen too many bike chases. And with the way cameras and technology have evolved, the ability to have a small camera in the middle of something like this is much greater than it used to be. It kind of grew from there.

IFC: What about you, Joe? What was the appeal of this character and the story for you?

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: I was in the middle of shooting “50/50” when I read the script for “Premium Rush.” I was playing a guy whose body was giving up on him, so the idea of playing somebody who was strong, confident, and healthy in their body and getting fit and riding around New York City all summer felt like the perfect contrast to battling cancer.

IFC: One of the elements of the film that really impressed me was the “Wilee Vision” scenes, when the camera freezes and we see Wilee decide which route to take through an intersection. He sees all of the terrible things that will happen to him in each route he takes until he finds one that gets him through safely. What was the genesis of that storytelling element?

KOEPP: That was the one time when we were allowed to use effects — allowed by our own rules, that is. We wanted the movie to be a stunt movie, not a CG movie, and wanted it to be about what well-trained actors and stuntmen can do physically, and to have that joy of watching something like an athletic performance as well as the usual performance. So we didn’t want to use effects, but in those scenes, because we were in his head space and it was a fantasy anyway, we decided to give ourselves some latitude and figure out a cinematic way to show the decision-making process a person goes through in those moments. Obviously there are several different components in those shots, so you shoot bit-by-bit and assemble the shot.

JOHN KAMPS: It was like giving Wilee a super power. [Laughs] He’s got a super-active brain and he’s able to process these scenarios.

IFC: On the subject of stunts, there were photos of Joe floating around online that showed him bleeding from his arm after taking a nasty fall during filming. It seems like you really invested yourself in the messenger lifestyle…

GORDON-LEVITT: Well, I trained for six weeks leading up to shooting, riding every day, because I wanted to be in shape so that I wouldn’t be making a film crew wait for me while I caught my breath. I wanted to look natural and real on a bike, and I wanted to learn how to ride a fixed-gear bike — which is different from a bike you grow up riding. I actually grew to prefer the fixed-gear bike.

IFC: So you ended up taking the gears and brakes off your own bike?

GORDON-LEVITT: Well, there’s actually a difference between a fixed-gear bike and a bike with no brakes. A fixed-gear bike only has one gear, but you can have a fixed-gear bike with brakes, too. It’s common, though, especially amongst messengers, that they have a fixed-gear bike and take their brakes off. I rode around for a while without brakes and then got into an accident and got 31 stitches, so from that point on we put the brake on the bike and just figured we’d hide it. Because it’s an important character trait that Wilee rides without brakes, and I think it’s a clever metaphor for the whole story and who he is.

KOEPP: Crashes were a part of it, though, they were a part of it for everybody. Joe, because he’s the star, he had the worst crash. [Laughs]

KAMPS: [Laughs] He bleeds for his art.

KOEPP: Everybody went down at one point or another because bikes fall over. They’re dangerous. One day, I think we were talking about helmets during prep. In reality, maybe 2/3 of messengers wear helmets, and we were trying to make all our decisions based on what’s real. But on that day, I remember we were shooting some tests and someone fell, and I said, “Fuck it, they all have to wear helmets.” It’s the only area I think we depart from reality a teensy bit. And the day Joe went through a cab window, I was like, “Damn, I’m glad they all wore helmets.”

IFC: There were a lot of bike messengers on set, from what I’ve heard. What was the interaction like with the real-world bike messengers you used as extras and stunt doubles?

GORDON-LEVITT: There were five of us who played Wilee in the movie — me and four different doubles. And one of the doubles is a working bike messenger, arguably the fastest in the world, and he happens to look like me, too. Austin Horse is his name. We became friends, and I told him, “Anything you see, anything at all that seems odd or that I could be doing that’s more accurate, just tell me.” And he did. It was hugely helpful — right down to the details of where your bag sits or how you would take an envelope out of the bag.

KAMPS: And where do you put your helmet…

GORDON-LEVITT: And where the pen goes…

KOEPP: It’s not that you’re obsessing over details, either. You just want to make sure you have the details right so you can not think about them and the audience won’t, either. You want to make sure all that stuff is cold, so you can do your job.

IFC: The music in the film really stood out, too. There was a nice rock n’ roll tone that seemed to match up well with certain scenes…

GORDON-LEVITT: I agree.

IFC: The score could have gone differently, with a techno theme or something like that. Why rock n’ roll?

KOEPP: Well, that’s the work of a great composer named David Sardy who’s been a rock n’ roll producer for many years. When we were writing it, we just thought it felt like two guitars, a bass, and a drum. It felt like rock n’ roll was what it wanted to be. Then Dave came in and did a great score.

GORDON-LEVITT: And let me add that movies almost never get rock n’ roll right…

KOEPP: Yeah, it’s usually a Hollywood composer adding a little “rock n’ roll”…

GORDON-LEVITT: Exactly.

KOEPP: So instead of that, we got a rock n’ roll guy who only did one other score, the one for “Zombieland.”

IFC: Michael Shannon is fantastic in the movie, and Joe and Michael seem to play off each other really well in their scenes together. Give me some background on your interaction with him, Joe…

GORDON-LEVITT: He’s one of the best actors alive, and he’s a beast. He’s so much fun. There’s a real tradition of movies like this with villains played by extremely fine actors like Dennis Hopper in “Speed” or Alan Rickman in “Die Hard.” To me, he’s one of those types: a classic Hollywood heavy.

IFC: Do you guys find yourselves looking at bike messengers a little differently after filming this movie?

KOEPP: Absolutely — especially when I see them in the rain. You do a movie about somebody and you start to think about things the way they think about them and you develop a lot of sympathy for their way of life. I notice them a lot more now, and I know it’s really hard work, and perilous, too.

GORDON-LEVITT: I notice anybody on bikes now. This movie definitely reinvigorated my love for bicycles. I remember when I was a kid going to see “White Men Can’t Jump,” and coming out of the theater wanting to play basketball. I really hope this movie does that for cycling. The truth is, if more people rode bikes and fewer people drove cars, the world would be better for it, and the individuals would be better for it, too. It’s such a good, positive thing all around. I love that “Premium Rush” is a popcorn flick but it’s glorifying something so healthy, like bicycles — it’s not guns or cars or any of those destructive machines. Bikes are great, great things. You’re going to get healthy if you ride a bike a lot…

IFC: As long as you don’t crash…

GORDON-LEVITT: [Laughs] Hey, it’s better to crash on a bike than in a car…

IFC: So I just wanted to catch up with you guys about your next projects, too. David, you and John are working on a “Spy vs. Spy” movie based on the MAD Magazine strip, right?

KAMPS: I’m working on the draft now, actually.

KOEPP: Yeah, where is that draft?

KAMPS: Uh-oh. I have to get out of here… [Laughs]

KOEPP: We’ll be turning in a new draft in a couple weeks and hopefully we’ll get the go-ahead after that…

IFC: It’s going to be a live-action film, right?

KOEPP: Yes, it’s live-action.

GORDON-LEVITT: So they don’t have the crazy noses?

KAMPS: Nope!

IFC: And what about the Jack Ryan movie you’re working on, David?

KOEPP: We start shooting next week. It’s really good, I think. Kenneth Branagh is directing it and playing the villain. Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, and Keira Knightley are some of the other fine actors in it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. They shoot here for three days and then in Moscow and London.

GORDON-LEVITT: Wow. You’re shooting in Moscow?

KOEPP: For a week, yeah. Have you been there?

GORDON-LEVITT: Yeah, I was there in the dead of February. It was really intense, but it’s beautiful.

IFC: And what’s next for you, Joe?

GORDON-LEVITT: I’m currently editing a movie I wrote and directed and acted in, called “Don Jon’s Addiction.” Scarlett Johansson is in it, and Julianne Moore is in it, too. I had a ball doing it. Dave’s one of the first people who read my first draft of the script. I was writing it when we were shooting “Premium Rush.”

KOEPP: It’s a great script.

IFC: So I have to ask — and I’m not even going to try and find a clever segue into this question — what are the odds of us seeing you in the Batman universe again, Joe?

GORDON-LEVITT: [Laughs] I love being in the movie, but I don’t know. It’s not a decision I get to make.

IFC: Is it something you can see yourself doing, though?

GORDON-LEVITT: If there’s a great filmmaker and a great script, that’s what dictates all the choices I make for any movie.

IFC: Fair enough!

“Premium Rush” hits theaters this weekend.

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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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