One of my favorite films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was writer-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction. In his feature directorial debut, Gordon-Levitt stars as a New Jersey guido addicted to porn. Even though this is the type of character that some would easily dismiss, Levitt find a way to let you see his sweet spot and you end up rooting for him. In addition to the great cast he put together (Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown), the main reason the film works is the very funny script and confident direction. While we all knew Gordon-Levitt is one of the best actors of his generation, Don Jon’s Addiction shows he’s also extremely talented behind the camera. I can’t wait to see what he does next. For more on the film, read Matt’s review.
Shortly after debuting the film at Sundance, I sat down with Gordon-Levitt, Moore and Danza. We talked about premiering at Sundance, the collaboration process, changes on set, if Gordon-Levitt was precious with his dialogue, deleted scenes, who saw the movie early to give notes, and more. In addition, with the film having a main character addicted to porn, the film flashes brief moments from real porn movies. We talked about the challenges of getting an R rating from the MPAA and how the organization has a double standard for violence and sex in movies. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
Click here if you’d like to listen to the audio from the interview, otherwise the transcript is below.
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: At the same time as everybody, and to be perfectly frank, I was moved to tears it was an enormously momentous occasion for me and something I’ve always dreamt of since I was like fourteen or something like that
TONY DANZA: And to open the festival doesn’t hurt either.
GORDON-LEVITT: Yeah, and to play at Eccles. John Cooper and Trevor Groth both after having seen the movie, because they’re both friends of mine and they both said to me, “I probably won’t call you because I just don’t call people after I see their movie.” And I was like, “Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to. I wouldn’t expect you to.” They both left the sweetest, most complimentary voice mails for me. Coop especially, he’s not an effusive guy, I don’t know if you’ve ever got to know him very much. He’s really smart, very discerning, extremely knowledgeable about movies and theater and everything, but he’s a tough cookie. It meant so much to me when he called and was like, “I think that’s great. I laughed. I think it’s so smart. You’re a director.” It really meant a lot.
When did you guys first find out that you were going to be coming here for this?
JULIANNE MOORE: I don’t know, when did you email me?
GORDON-LEVITT: I guess I emailed you that day.
MOORE: He emailed, he was saying “Oh, we’re going to Sundace.” And I was like, “Wooo!”
DANZA: I saw it on Deadline.
GORDON-LEVITT: [Laughs] Oh.
MOORE: [Laughs] No.
The proper answer is, “I saw it on Collider.” Obviously since I’m talking to all three of you I want to talk about the collaboration process, the way you guys worked before shooting and the way it worked during shooting. How did you guys all come together in terms of getting ready for making the film?
GORDON-LEVITT: Well, we rehearsed. I was very keen from the very beginning on rehearsing, it doesn’t always happen. Especially on movies with limited budgets
MOORE: Yeah, it’s pretty rare.
GORDON-LEVITT: I was very adamant with my producer from our first meeting. I was like, “The one thing I need to have happen is I need to have time to rehearse with the actors.” And everyone did, every one made time. You were busy working, you came to LA, everyone made time to rehearse, Scarlett too and it made all the difference in the world.
MOORE: It was very nice because I was working on something and Joe came to New York and came my house, and we hadn’t met, we didn’t know each other. We sat down and went through everything and talked about it. It was incredibly helpful, because once you’re on the set you don’t have much time you just have to shoot it.
DANZA: It also helped to see what he wanted, and how clear he was on what he wanted, that makes the job so much easier.
How did it change on set? I know you had a limited budget, how much did you stick to storyboards and how much were you finding on the set, and how much changed along the way?
GORDON-LEVITT: The shot-list usually had more shots than what we ended up shooting because usually I’d have on my list let’s get it from here, here, and here but then we’d do it from here and I’d be like “That’s great, we don’t need it from here and here.” When the acting is holding up and the performance plays you don’t have to worry about being able to cut in as much. There’s a lot of one-ers in this movie, there’s a lot of scenes that we just shot in one. I was actually looking at the script recently for the first time in a while and it changed a lot in little ways, like a million little ways and that’s I think because the actors bring more to it than what a writer can, or what I as a writer could. There is occasionally, I’ve worked on one or two movies, well more than one or two, a small handful of movies where I as an actor say to myself, “I’m going to learn this word for word because this shit deserves it.”
GORDON-LEVITT: But I didn’t think my script was like that, I didn’t write it to be performed word for word and the actors all brought at lot to it, and the scenes all play better in the movie than they do on the page.
GORDON-LEVITT: That’s a good question.
MOORE: The commas?
Watching exactly what the dialogue was with the commas and delivering it a certain way.
DANZA: I think Joseph has a vision of what he wants and if he gets it I don’t think he’s worried about a comma, but I tried to learn the script, I’m also trying to do what’s on the page. I want to bring something to it, but I want to do what he’s got down there, I thought it was pretty good. His direction to me early on was that he just wanted the scenes to crack; he wanted them to really be electric.
GORDON-LEVITT: The other thing with you was, I remember, you’re so likable.
DANZA: Oh, yeah, yeah.
GORDON-LEVITT: Everybody loves Tony, for good reason, you see him on the screen and you smile, you can’t help it, and that was my kind of running note to you, “No I still like you, you have to be meaner. No, I still love you, like no, you have to not be so loveable.”
DANZA: I don’t get it.
MOORE: I have to say though, I love the tension between who Tony is and what he brings and the character, it was nice because he just didn’t seem so dastardly then. I understood him and I fell for him, I fell for somebody who could only express themselves in that kind of belittling way. I thought there’s something genuine in there just struggling to get out and that was what was great about it.
DANZA: Thank you.
A lot of directors have a term, a word, a phrase when they’ve got what they’re looking for, do you have a term or a phrase when you’ve got it?
DANZA: You’d run to the… “Let me take a look at that.” Maybe that’s it.
GORDON-LEVITT: Right, I guess so, because I wouldn’t watch playback on every take, but as an actor I always feel like you can kind of tell when one really [snaps fingers] clicks.
MOORE: Yeah, and I was going to say Joe’s really actorly too so it’s not like directors who are like, “That’s it, we got it, move it on.” You know? It was a much more collaborative feeling, and he would be like, “let me take a look at that, I think we got it.” But it didn’t feel like a definitive thing.
MOORE: My whole part was cut. [Laughs]
GORDON-LEVITT: There’s…now let me just make sure that I’m right, but no there’s zero deleted scenes in this.
GORDON-LEVITT: There are added scenes.
So you guys did some reshoots?
GORDON-LEVITT: It was that we were going to New Jersey to shoot environment stuff and I quickly wrote two scenes for me and Scarlett that we shot there when we were going to do some establishing stuff, walking in. The apology at the end and the scene in the Bed, Bath, & Beyond were both kind of last minute additions.
That scene in the Bed, Bath, & Beyond is, I think, very important.
GORDON-LEVITT: Thank you.
I think that’s a very key scene.
MOORE: I love that scene.
GORDON-LEVITT: Me too, and because it went so quick I wrote a version of it and then Scarlett and I worked on it together and she was huge in finding exactly what that scene was about and how it needed to go.
DANZA: I so want to see the picture again. (Steve here. He’s talking about Don Jon’s Addiction)
DANZA: I so want to see the picture again.
DANZA: Really? Gosh, that would really be cool.
I’m very confident on this one.
GORDON-LEVITT: Knock on wood.
I will bet any amount of money.
DANZA: He knew we were going to be here, remember.
GORDON-LEVITT: That’s true, you called it.
DANZA: Go two for two, pal.
No, I’ve been doing this a while, it’s a sure thing. I’m definitely curious who did you show the movie to, friends and family, to get feedback on it? Obviously you didn’t do test screenings, so who did you show it to and how did their input possibly change the way you did things?
GORDON-LEVITT: There’s a long list of thanks in the credits and a bunch of those names are people who came to little friends and family screenings. We had about five or six of them over the course of post-production and they were both friends of mine that I have worked with, filmmakers, Rian Johnson, Jon Levine, Spencer Susser, as well as just friends who aren’t in show business at all.
GORDON-LEVITT: Yes, civilians. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg came and we were able to convince the financier that the movie was funny because Seth and Evan laughed uproariously.
MOORE: That’s great.
They also have very good laughs.
GORDON-LEVITT: Yes, they certainly do.
DANZA: That is funny.
I’m going to run out of time, but I have one last question. There’s some porn shown in the movie and the MPAA is a bunch of prudes, you can say “fuck” and that’s it, you know what I mean, they suck.
DANZA: Kill somebody, it’s alright.
It’s ridiculous because violence is totally acceptable, but sex and the work “fuck” and you’re done. So did you show it to them already and do you think the cut you have can get an R or do you think you might have to cut down certain things to get an R?
GORDON-LEVITT: We haven’t shown it to them yet I know were scheduled to show it to them at the end of the month. I think the movie as it is deserves an R, personally, but I also think that the movie wouldn’t suffer and there’s an argument that the movie could even improve from taking another pass at sanitizing the porn that’s in the movie even more. One thing though that’s I think worth mention is that the porn that is in there feels like you’re seeing a lot more than you’re seeing. And that was very carefully crafted and a lot of labor went into picking exactly the right moments from exactly the right clips and cropping them exactly the right way such that it feels like explicit pornography but you actually don’t see anything more than what you see in a rated R movie.
On that note I’m going to say congratulations to all three of you, seriously great job I thought the movie was fantastic.
GORDON-LEVITT: Actually, I’m sorry can I add one more thing about that?
GORDON-LEVITT: Just that I think the other reason to prevent people from seeing the movie by giving it an NC-17 is if its gratuitous sex and I don’t think any of this stuff is gratuitous. Every moment in there was very specifically put there to tell the story at that moment. I don’t want people to have the impression that this is a movie that I wanted to throw a bunch of porn in so that people could watch porn.
Just so this is on record, I don’t think that that’s the case at all, I think that the MPAA is full of shit, I think they’re hypocritical, and I think they’re horrible people.
GORDON-LEVITT: Well now, don’t call them horrible people.
I will say it’s all bullshit because any sort of sex, they’re all prudes, but you can kill a thousand people and get a PG-13.
GORDON-LEVITT: I agree that the double standard is…
DANZA: One of the problems.
GORDON-LEVITT: It’s a problem, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad people [Laughs].