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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…