Cuteness will carry an actor or actress a long way in Hollywood, usually right into those awkward teen years.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 31, wasn’t just a cute kid, though. He was a bright, talented one who grew into a television star and a movie actor who opted for projects quirky and big-budget or, sometimes, both.
Today, he rides back into theaters with Premium Rush, even as The Dark Knight Rises continues to fatten its $901 million worldwide gross. His list of movies is a long one, but here are some of the notables so far:
‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ 2012
As policeman John Blake, Gordon-Levitt is all boyish energy and earnestness as an observant (and orphaned) cop promoted to detective during the story. He has a nicely played scene with Christian Bale in which he recounts how and why he suspected Bruce Wayne was Batman. The cop becomes a protege of Commissioner Gordon, and if anyone is going to reprise a role in another movie, it could be him.
In 2005, writer Will Reiser was diagnosed with a rare cancerous tumor growing along his spine. He fictionalized his experience for this dramedy – funny, insightful, tearful and uplifting – starring Gordon-Levitt as a Seattle resident who learns he has cancer and Seth Rogen as his bawdy but steadfast best friend.
Gordon-Levitt was a last-minute replacement for James McAvoy, called away to England because of a family emergency. A mutual friend got the script to him and he had just a week to prepare but went all in, shaving his head on camera on the first day of shooting and turning in a performance that deserved more acclaim.
Christopher Nolan directed this brilliant sci-fi action picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio as an American thief who can steal secrets from others when they are asleep. Gordon-Levitt is his most trusted colleague, the point man who is all about the details. He was part of some of the most dizzying and dazzling action scenes in which he seems to defy gravity as he moves around a hotel room and corridor.
In fact, when promoting The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway said Nolan told her, There’s going to be a lot of fighting, and when we did Inception,’ Joe got in really good shape. Joe went to the gym for months so that way, when we did his fight sequence, he did all of his own fighting. I really liked that. (She got the message and did likewise.)
‘(500) Days of Summer,’ 2009
Gordon-Levitt is Tom, who believes in lightning-strikes-once kind of love, and Zooey Deschanel is Summer, who does not, in this unconventional romcom or anti-romcom. As we said at the time, the movie is more a post-graduation coming-of-age tale laced with enough humor, clever dialogue and unconventional art direction to leave audiences satisfied.
Gordon-Levitt appeared alongside Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum in this drama about stop-loss, sometimes called a backdoor draft as tours of duty are extended. He was Tommy Burgess, an Army soldier who boozes and brawls in this movie from director Kimberly Peirce.
Her younger brother enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was sent to Iraq. Stop-Loss arrived on the heels of the Iraq War’s fifth anniversary.
‘The Lookout,’ 2007
This is an unconventional, imperfect but intriguing little crime thriller featuring Gordon-Levitt as a former hotshot high-school athlete. I just wanna be who I was, he says, but that’s not possible given the head and other injuries he sustained in a horrible accident.
He works as a night janitor at a bank in a tiny town in Kansas and is ripe for the picking by a band of lowlifes, who figure he’s their ticket to the vault. It’s a role that demands he abandon his appealing smile and ability to confidently banter, and he pulls it off alongside Jeff Daniels as his blind roommate and Matthew Goode as a former schoolmate who preaches, Whoever has the money has the power.
Writer-director Rian Johnson won the Sundance Film Festival’s special jury prize for originality of vision with this strange little detective story, set in high school and starring Gordon-Levitt. He is a teenage loner whose ex-girlfriend is found murdered, not long after placing a brief hysterical call to him.
‘10 Things I Hate About You,’ 1999
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, this romantic comedy was about two teenage girls, one shrewish and one not, who are forbidden to date by their overly protective father.
When a newcomer, played by Gordon-Levitt, is smitten by the younger sister, he and his scheming pal conspire to get a boyfriend for the older girl. The cast also included Julia Stiles, David Krumholtz and the late Heath Ledger.
‘The Juror,’ 1996
Demi Moore played the title role, a single mother and sculptor who is eager to sit on the jury of the murder trial of a mob boss. She becomes the target of intimidation and is told she either throws the jury, with a not-guilty vote, or her son, played by Gordon-Levitt, will die. Alec Baldwin was the heavy, and darned if James Gandolfini didn’t turn up, too, a few years before The Sopranos.
‘Angels in the Outfield,’ 1994
Young Gordon-Levitt is Roger, an 11-year-old motherless boy who seeks angelic assistance in this remake after being sent to a short-term foster home. When he asks his dad when they’re going to be a family again, the father says, From where I’m sitting, I’d say when the Angels win the pennant.
Fat chance of that happening, but the child offers up a prayer, and angels begin to help their ballfield counterparts slide longer, jump higher and smack the cover off the ball.