A captivating heist starring Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, and Isla Fisher
In The Lookout, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a guy who, after a serious car accident, must rebuild his life from the ground up. Suffering from major brain damage, he's forced to take a night job at a bank as a janitor. That catches the eye of some thugs, who take advantage of Joseph, and force him to help them rob the bank.
This is a very strong role for Joseph, acting opposite Jeff Daniels, as his roommate and Matthew Goode and Isla Fisher as part of the team of bank robbers. The former teen actor spoke with Movieweb.com about working with such a talented cast, as well as with writer/director Scott Frank, who makes his debut behind the camera. Here's what he had to say:
How much research did you do into conditions like short term memory loss?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, I did a fair amount of research; I did some reading; my favorite book I read was called The Man With the Shattered World which was about a veteran coming back from World War II. The guy in that book suffered an injury far more severe than Chris Pratt's, but the more fruitful preparation I did was just hanging out with different people who had been through similar things to the character. What I kind of figured out was they all were individuals and trying to put any of them in a box or a category was about as fruitless as trying to put anybody in any box or category based on any label that you can put anyone under. That led me to really want to make the character not just a stereotype - not, 'Ok, here's the disabled young man' but to make him a person.
How much are you like this guy in real life?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Plenty, I get lost all the time; my sense of direction sucks. I remember time real well; I think everybody's mind works really differently. I remember time real well and remember space pretty poorly.
What did you like about the character?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: What I like is that he doesn't give up, he doesn't quit; I think that's kind of the most charming thing about him. Even though it's really difficult for him to do a lot of the things that we just take for granted, like waking up in the morning, like following a conversation and driving to work - things that we can do without thinking about them, he has to focus on them real hard. And, by the end of the day he's exhausted; he has to work really hard but he doesn't quit. He continues to try and that's really admirable.
When you talked to some of these brain damaged people, what did they tell you about this sort of trapped element?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: We didn't really talk that much about it and I wasn't really that interested in talking about it. We talked, here and there a little bit but mostly we just hung out and talked about music or girls or anything else I would normally talk about with a buddy.
What did you get from hanging out with these people that helped you play the character?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It just sort of osmodically seeps in that way; I don't know, it's hard to describe because I don't really know exactly how it works when I'm trying to come up with how to play a character. Reading and speaking explicitly about specific character traits I think can often lead to being too self-conscious whereas just hanging out with somebody, just getting a feel for them and then thinking of them, that's kind of more what I did in this particular case.
Before the accident, this character had a lot of friends in high school -
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: That's what makes the character so interesting; I almost had to come up with two characters. There's the guy before his accident and there's a guy after his accident; you can see flashes of his old self come through now and then. Scott Frank, the director and I talked a lot about the balance between when to see the little flashes of his old self. I actually did a lot of work even though there's only a few scenes in the movie where you get to see younger Chris before his accident but I did a lot of work thinking about that other guy because that's who the present guy is always thinking about.
What about your physicality? Did you get that walk from somebody?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I got it from walking next to somebody; one of the guys in particular, I tried to snap his walk up directly. And, I did ask him about it actually; he said that that part of how he got hit effected the part of the brain that helps you balance and so he doesn't go up on his toes when he walks so much as his whole foot would hit the ground at once. It's a little, subtle thing that you wouldn't notice unless you were looking for that sort of thing.
You seem to be drawn to young roles.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I just am drawn to good stuff; it's not so much whether it's conventional or not. The Lookout is quite conventional in a number of ways, it's a classic heist. Does it break with convention? Sure, but I think that's what makes a good work of art is something that honors certain traditions and breaks with others.
You seem comfortable in that kind of work.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: There's the oldest tale in the book, the hooker with the heart of gold and the same with the detective story but, then deviate in ways and I think that's part of what makes an interesting script. What traditions it chooses to follow and what traditions it chooses to break with, if there's a good piece of writing and a filmmaker that inspires me, then that's the kind of part I want to try to get. I don't so much think about 'Well, what are people going to think of this?' Or 'Is it going to obey the proper rules?' I just try to concentrate on whether or not I think it's good.
What was your initial reaction to Scott's script and what drew you to him as a filmmaker?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The script drew me to him as a filmmaker. My initial reaction was I was just damn excited; there's very few good scripts, I read a lot of scripts and most of them suck. This one, I was immediately up and pacing around and thinking about things and feeling things and then I met him and we immediately started talking about it. He started telling me how he wanted to shoot it; he started telling me about how he wanted to put guitars in the score. We started talking about issues of responsibility and forgiveness and I could tell that he was really excited with what he was doing and in love with this baby of his that he'd been working on for so long and that's the kind of thing I want to be involved with. Luckily, I was able to audition for him too and was lucky enough to get the part.
What did you think of Scott as the director for this?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I think he did perfect; I think he was born to make movies. You talk with the guy about movies, he's seen so many movies; he thinks in cinematic stories, that's how his mind works. It's a good thing that he's started directing; I think his movies are going to keep getting better and better.
Did you have a different relationship with Jeff than you had with Matthew while you were shooting.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: That's interesting, yes; I think I really bonded with Jeff in rehearsal. It was 'Hi, how are ya' and that was all cool but once we started going over the stuff, the scenes themselves, that's when I really started to feel like I was getting to know him. Matthew, I think I got to know at the bar, inebriated.
Who was the better drinker, you or Matthew?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Matthew.
What about working with Isla?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The sweetest girl, the thing about the set was it was a pretty masculine thing. A story about a guy, who was a jock and his roommate's a guy, and it's a bank robbery with a gang full of guys and there's guns. The thing about the set was it was a pretty masculine thing - a story about a guy who was a jock and his roommate's a guy and it's a bank robbery with a gang full of guys and there's guns. It's a pretty manly movie, so when Isla would come, it was such a gentle and lovely relief just to be able to have a female around. It meant so much; she would draw me out through a sarcastic remark on an observation about somebody. She would draw me out and I would find myself talking how I didn't mean to be talking, and she called me on it and say, 'Joseph, you're not retarded enough.'
What do you have next?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: There's another movie called Killshot, a ride in a blue Cadillac with Mickey Rourke; we shoot up 7-11 stores. Then there's another one called Stop-Loss made by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) about soldiers coming home from Iraq. We did a simulated boot camp; it was really rewarding and enlightening and very hard.
That film promises to be controversial.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I think people will create controversy out of it and I think most of the people that do will probably not have seen the movie. The movie itself is actually not about a controversial subject; it's about what it's like to be a solider. It's not about any politics or governments; I think everybody's going to agree that the guys actually going over there having their lives threatened are simply brave guys that are going through a lot and that's what the movie is about.
How big a fan are you of hockey?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I've become a fan; I never really used to watch it, it was funny. There's only a little scene in the movie with hockey in it and I got really into it; I trained much more than anybody really asked me to and it wasn't so much that I wanted to look good for those scenes although I did, but it was because, for whatever reason, it just got me in the mood and really became a key part of my preparation leading up to playing the character, how hard it is. It's probably the most physically demanding sport I've ever played; you're sweating your balls off after you're done with it. It hurt, and you have to keep going and that reminds me of Chris for the same reason we've been talking about, that he never gives up. I think maybe he gets some of that instinct from his athletic trials.
Can you talk about the transition you made from when you were working as a kid and a teenager and the track that you've taken and choices you've made?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, the conscious decision was that I wanted to be in good movies; that's what I always wanted to do but the difference is that, when I was young I was kind of a selfish person. When I was a teenager, I mostly just cared about my own pleasure and, as I grew up, moved out of my parents' house and moved to New York, went to college and quit acting for a while. I started to feel a connection to the world around me in a way that I hadn't as a teenager. When I started acting again, I wanted the acting to engage with that connection whereas, when I was younger, I was really unnerved when anybody would recognize me for something I'd done. Now, I'm delighted if someone says to me, 'Hey, Mysterious Skin, that movie meant a lot to me' or Brick or even '3rd Rock from the Sun makes me laugh.' I love that now, whereas when I was younger, I couldn't handle it; it's changed. The reason I do it has changed but I still also just do it because it's fun and as far as different types of roles, as you say, I'm just trying to do stuff that I think is good and those are the jobs I could get that I thought were good.
What about the scenes with Jeff Daniels, did you two ever ad-lib?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: No, we didn't ad lib anything, especially me and Jeff; that's where the least ad libs were. He comes from the theater, and in theater there's a real ethic of saying the script word for word and, sometimes, that's appropriate on a movie set and sometimes, it's not. When the writing is as good as Scott's is, then it's appropriate. He's such a pro; he's my favorite kind of actor. He's someone who just loves and enjoys the creative process of working out a scene. He kind of reminded me of John Lithgow and I think they've worked together before; they both come from the theater, they're both actor's actors. They've both been in a million plays and they both just know how to make a scene work; it's a pleasure to collaborate with them.
When you first read the script were you glad that Chris made the decision he did? Were you hoping he would?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Usually when I watch heists or who done it's or crime stuff, or read it, it takes me until the second time that I watch it to really follow the story. Usually, it's the characters that interest me, which is why so many of the heists nowadays that are kind of more about plot twists and car chases, don't interest me that much. I think they're kind of boring whereas, The Lookout, the suspense comes from the people rather than the story. That's what I remember about reading the script first and that's what I always remember every time I see the movie, just each character intrigues me and attracts me and I'm curious who they are and why they're doing what they're doing.
You can see Joseph in The Lookout, in theaters March 30th; it's rated R.