If you’re looking for Joseph Gordon-Levitt these days, you should start in Wellington. Originally, New Zealand’s North Island was simply meant to be a backup plan: Mr. Corman, Gordon-new Levitt’s show, was stalled three weeks into production in Los Angeles because to the epidemic, so A24 producers proposed relocating the entire thing last October. “I’m still here,” Gordon-Levitt recently acknowledged on the WTF With Marc Maron podcast, despite the fact that the program is already done, edited, and due to be broadcast in weekly episodes on Apple TV+ beginning Friday.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Maron’s follow-up inquiry was “would you ever come back?” Because Gordon-Levitt has an uncanny ability to disappear. During what appeared to be the pinnacle of his career in 2016 — the culmination of a decade-long record of releasing at least one highly praised film every year — the actor unexpectedly took a two-year hiatus, his longest time away from performing since he was six years old.
Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand, vanishes in different ways. Despite having worked with a murderers’ row of contemporary directors — Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Robert Zemeckis, Rian Johnson, and Aaron Sorkin — he appears to be perpetually overlooked for lead roles, and awards juries never seem to notice that he’s in the cast. With almost three decades in the profession, he has never been nominated for an Academy Award, and his most notable award to date may be the Golden Globe nomination he received for his performance in 2009’s (500) Days of Summer (which he ultimately lost to Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes).
But Gordon-disappearances Levitt’s are precisely what make him interesting to track down. Historically, he has tended to portray everyman roles, those who serve as stand-ins for the audience: approachable, unthreatening, and attractive but not unreasonably so. They aren’t the types of parts that produce superstars — Gordon-Levitt, for one, isn’t interested in being one — but they serve as the narrative salt that brings out the flavours of others. An harsh or unobservant reviewer could label them as unchallenging roles, but they’re quite the opposite: the most difficult thing an actor can do is vanish before your eyes.
Gordon-Levitt appears to be unconcerned by the external demands of Hollywood for someone who has spent his whole life on set. Before his break from new releases between Snowden in 2016 and 7500 in 2020, he’d already taken a break from the cameras to attend Columbia University in 2000 and study History, Literature, and French Poetry — a decision that gave him a definitive separation from his child (3rd Rock From the Sun; A River Runs Through It; Angels in the Outfield) and adolescent (10 Things I Hate About You). When he returned to the profession, he made “the intentional decision… that I wanted to be in excellent movies,” he told MoviesOnline in Canada.
During the interval, he appeared in films ranging from rom-com (500 Days of Summer) to noir (Brick) to robbery thriller (The Lookout) to historical drama (Lincoln) to biographical (Snowden), comic book film (The Dark Knight Rises), and sci-fi mind-bender (The Martian) (take your pick). Gordon-Levitt, while being recognisably youthful when not wearing prosthetics to make him seem like a young Bruce Willis, effortlessly melded into each character, a quality that might win him the title of “chameleon” if he were, ironically, a bit more visible.
Anyway, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Gordon-Levitt looks to be returning to form, having appeared in the Oscar-nominated ensemble picture Trial of the Chicago 7 in 2020, as well as another sci-fi mind-bender, Netflix’s Project Power, in which a new street drug grants users superpowers for five minutes.
In promoting the latter picture, Gordon-Levitt told The Hollywood Reporter, “I enjoy the concept of extreme empathy, where you could truly see and hear and feel and smell and taste what someone else is feeling.” Although, based on his acting career, in which he completely inhabits other people, I’d say that he already possesses it. But that’s Gordon-Levitt for you: despite appearances, he hasn’t found what he’s searching for.