In Hollywood careers are built on images. While actors often complain about being pigeon-holed, for many being synonymous with a genre has been the cornerstone of their careers. Think Stallone, think action pictures. Drew Barrymore is joined at the hip to romantic comedies and the very sight of Jim Carrey causes laughter.
Then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
He’s quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s go-to guys even though he has yet to settle into an easily defined persona.
He’s been acting since age four, but the first time most of us saw him he was playing an ancient alien trapped in an adolescent’s body on the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun. He left the show after six years and for a time made the kind of films you would expect a young sitcom star to make: 10 Things I Hate About You, a teen version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and the animated Treasure Planet.
Then things got interesting.
After a short break from the screen to study at Columbia University he vowed to “only make good films.” What followed is an eclectic IMDB listing that includes everything from low-budget movies like Manic, to indie comedy 500 Days of Summer, to his blockbuster work with Christopher Nolan in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, and this weekend’s thriller Premium Rush.
Here’s a look back at some of the films that made the former sitcom star into one of the most in demand actors working today.
Made for just $500,000, Brick is a high school film noir featuring Gordon-Levitt as a teenager who investigates the disappearance of his girlfriend. The twist is, the dialogue — like “the ape blows or I clam” — sounds ripped from Dashiell Hammett’s playbook. The actor will soon be seen in Brick director Rian Johnson’s next film Looper.
In Mysterious Skin he wore blue contact lenses to play a child-abuse victim turned hustler. Roger Ebert wrote, “This is not an easy movie.” And the Guardian called it a “disorienting hallucination of a film.” But both praised his performance.
The Lookout sees him playing a man with a head injury: “The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. While in Killshot, he’s a wannabe assassin opposite Mickey Rourke.
It’s these off-the-wall choices, mixed with more mainstream fare, that prompted the Philadelphia Inquirer to describe Gordon-Levitt as a “surprisingly formidable, and formidably surprising, leading man.”
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