The star and writer/director talk about their latest film
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown up in the Hollywood light. His unforgettable performance in Angels in the Outfield made even the strongest men shed a tear. Then, along came Third Rock From the Sun where Joseph really showed his comedic side opposite John Lithgow and French Stewart.
After college, Joseph started doing more film, and his latest is the independent Brick, also starring Emilie de Ravin and Lukas Haas. He plays a street-wise teen, who wants to find the answers to why his ex-girlfriend is dead. The language in the movie is unlike you've ever heard before - sort of made up by writer and director Rian Johnson.
When we spoke to the two about the dialogue in the film, their answers were pretty surprising. Well, for Joseph, he was just happy he understood it. "I decided from day one that I wanted to say the script word for word, and I think everything I said was on the script. It was hard because we're not used to the style, but you try to be natural. In Brick, that's not the goal, so we had to figure out what was going on in the scene. It's about following a rhythm, and I took more of my cues from different musicians and their poetic language."
Rian said he was just trying to create a new way for kids to communicate. "It was really just whatever sounded cool. I'm so excited about it that it's so extreme that all the best movies have a very distinct dialogue; I hope that's there to some degree."
After Joseph got over the dialogue problem, he got cracking on carrying the character throughout the story. "When I got to set, it was so drilled into my head, I didn't have to think about it anymore. The emotions are genuine; if we don't nail this it's going to look really silly. I had no doubt the words were right, but it was just a matter of getting it out there."
It took almost nine years to get this movie made; Rian came up with the concept while he was still in school at USC. So needless to say, he was pretty happy when the final product was a feature length film. "I had lots of meetings with people who liked the script, but it was just a matter of someone picking it up."
But there was one major problem with most of the people who wanted to pick up the script. "They wanted to know if the kids had to be in high school and if they had to talk like that," says Rian. That's definitely an issue since that's the main difference of this film and any other. "Because I was a first time director, it was a long process of sticking it out. It eventually found its way to the right people, but with funding it ourselves, it was the best way to do it because we had creative freedom."
Joseph was chosen to head up the main character of Brendan; a task he normally jumps at. And this was no exception, he was excited to take on the role and create Rian's image. "There was a lot of pressure on me because I was pretty much in every scene. Brendan's in every scene, but Rian was never like 'Don't f*ck up my image' and he was all about the image. He told me to make it my own; he had so much humility and I think that it's that egoless attitude that makes this film what it is."
And Rian was so relieved to find an actor like Joseph who could command the screen, but at the same time help him with the character and story development. "It was actually really late in the game and we had finally been able to get the money together; I finally got to meet with Jo. And sitting down talking to him, we immediately bonded; instantly, he was about creating a world from the ground up. He really became a creative partner in this film, and I can't imagine working with anyone else except Jo in this film."
As far as that creative imaging, Joseph and Rian got together before principal shooting to figure out what was going on. "What Rian and I did, was go over every single shot; we sat on his living room floor, and told me everything he was going to do. But the whole thing was precisely planned; we didn't have the money to get to the set and worry about what to do."
Rian clearly had this movie in his head from the get go, and he went those 9 years without thinking about any other film. "The script was that out there, that it had to get made; all that time was prep time. I really felt it was my duty to get Jo in there to see his image, to get him involved on every single level. It was important for me to get him on that level that actors aren't normally in. There was no huge thing that he said that made a difference, like his character always has his hands in his pocket. I knew the character was going to wear a jacket, but he had a distinct pose and walk for the character."
The music in this film is almost Peter and the Wolf-ish; every character has their own tune, their theme, and their own cadence. "Rian and I talked a lot about the music from rehearsal to post production; the music in Brick is so intertwined in the story and the movie. The music isn't just 'oh, we need some violins;' in Brick, the music is another character taking you through the story and the character development."
There's a great final battle scene that really brings the story to an end. Rian knew this had to be a very important end to a film. "It was much more in the old style of getting small shots. We got in a Zen-mode; the key element was this thing slipping into something comedic and feeling just like a gimmick. The way for me to avoid that was to be very honest in creating a world of analyzing what was going on. It sounds very simple, but it's part of the reason why we were able to pull it off and make it work."
And it certainly does work, even if the language is a little strage. Brick is a smart and at times funny film; it opens in limited release in LA and New York on March 31st. It goes to wide release on April 7th. The film also stars Meagan Good, Nora Zehetner, and Noah Fliess; it's rated R.