Working since he was 6, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 31, can’t break his habit. This week, Premium Rush joins The Dark Knight Rises in theaters. Next month, his sci-fi thriller Looper opens, and in November he’s Robert Todd Lincoln opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. He talks about it:
Are you exhausted? The work I do is my idea of fun. I do like to get together with people and have dinner and a conversation.
In Premium Rush, you bike at high speed around Manhattan. Did you get hurt? Once, I flew off the bike right into the back of a cab and shattered the rear windshield with my elbows. I popped up right away to let everyone know I was OK, but I got 31 stitches in my right arm. ... I credit the stunt team on Inception. They gave me combat training and taught me to get my elbows up in front of my face.
In Looper, you are to kill your older self, played by Bruce Willis. Could you take Bruce down? Certainly not. He’s a big, strong guy. If he got in one good lick, I think I’d be done.
If you could time-travel, where would you set the clock? I’d go into the future — 20 years, 200 years, maybe even further. It’s easy to focus on the dark side of where we seem to be headed. But there’s also a lot of encouraging stuff happening, like the Internet and the way people are able to communicate.
Tell us about hitRECord.org, an online community of artists who work together to create short films, music, art and stories. It used to be a hobby that I’d do in my free time ... It’s grown to a point where it’s become a professional endeavor. We are a collaborative production company, and we pay all the contributing artists. To make sure I had complete control, I put my own money into it. I’m lucky enough to be making money in my acting jobs, and that’s really what the money’s for — to make things I believe in, not to buy three houses.
What would you tell your 15-year-old self? I’d tell him a lot of things, but he wouldn’t listen. He would have to find out for himself. I’d probably just tell him to relax.
Any advice to young people? Move away from the city you grew up in and start a new routine where you don’t know anybody. It was the smartest thing I ever did. (He left L.A. for New York to attend Columbia University.) I got to reinvent myself.
Do you keep up with any of your 3rd Rock from the Sun cohorts? I just hung out with French Stewart the other night. I talk to John Lithgow now and then. All of us spent so much time together, and it was such a positive experience. I learned so much.
Your favorite actors? The ones who are chameleons, like Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep. They’re different every time, and they create characters very different from themselves. With Looper I was able to achieve that more than with any other role, partly because of the three hours of makeup.
Your grandfather Michael Gordon directed movies. Did your mom talk you into becoming an actor? I wanted to do it. My parents always said, “You don’t have to act but we’ll support you and help you do it, if you want to do it.” My mom drove me to all the auditions and drove me to work. She read me all my scripts until I was old enough to read them myself.
When you have kids, would you encourage them to start so young? If my kids were dreaming of red carpets, I would probably discourage that. If they were really into making movies, of course I’d support them. Isn’t that a parent’s job — to encourage kids to do what they seem to love to do?
Best advice from your parents? When I was 11, I was working on this TV show The Powers That Be. My family had just gotten our first laptop computer. I was in my dressing room with my dad, playing a game on the computer. Someone came in and said, “Time to go to the set.” I was trying to figure out how to save my game before I left, and my dad said, “They called you.” I said, “I just want to save my game.” He closed the computer on me. I was livid, but I learned a lot from that. When you’re on a set, it’s a team effort. You can’t keep everyone waiting on you.
On your iPod? Fiona Apple’s new album, The Idler Wheel.
Movie recommendation? Magic Mike. I’m proud of my friend Chan [Channing Tatum] for making that happen. He told a story he wanted to tell. That’s what I aspire to do in my career.
Haven’t you done that? I wrote a script finally [Don Jon’s Addiction]. We just finished shooting it. I directed and acted in it [with Scarlett Johansson]. It’s a current update on Don Juan. I loved getting to tell the story that was bouncing around in my head for years.
Are you a Don Juan? I like to think not. Don Juan is completely selfish and disregards the feelings and well-being of the women that he’s with. I like to think I’m a more considerate person.
Who was your childhood hero? My big brother Dan is who I looked up to when I was a kid. He showed me how to do everything, from walk to talk. It’s not so important that he’s dead. [He died in 2010.] What’s important is that he was a great, beautiful, positive person.