Airing on Pivot, the groundbreaking variety show HitRECord on TV, from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is back for an all-new season of short films, music, animation, conversation and one-of-a-kind celebrity collaborations. Each weekly episode addresses a theme, around which thousands of writers, musicians, illustrators and animators from all over the world collaborate, including such notables as Seth Rogen, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Zac Efron, Chris Messina, Ben Schwartz, Evan Goldberg and Todrick Hall, participating in creative endeavors both in front of and behind the camera.
At the show’s Season 2 press day, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about being a part of a TV show where your cast is essentially anyone around the world, keeping the collaboration going with each episode, providing access to an industry that can otherwise be pretty exclusive, being an outlet for the more recognizable faces to work outside of the box they’re typically put in, and how HitRECord influences the type of work he wants to do outside of it. He also said that the development of Sandman and the Fraggle Rock movie are both moving right along, but are still in the infancy stage.
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: Thank you! I’m glad you feel that way. I certainly do. Hollywood can be an exclusive place. Who gets to be on TV, or who gets to make TV can be a small clique of an industry. There’s so many talented, skilled people, all over the world, that might not have the connections or the opportunities to work in TV. HitRECord is so fulfilling for me, in that way, to get to collaborate with people like that. I just want to open up the avenues for people to express themselves. That’s what the media ought to be. It shouldn’t just be a conveyer belt of shiny products to buy. It should be a way that we’re all communicating and understanding each other.
Because each episode has a theme, do you have a list of themes now that’s longer than anything you could ever possibly fulfill?
GORDON-LEVITT: Oh, absolutely! That’s how we start the season. We say, “Let’s hear suggestions for themes,” and we got a couple thousand of them. You could do an episode out of almost any of them. But through the community recommendations, and seeing what’s resonating and seeing what ideas come up with the different themes, we narrow it down to the eight.
What made you want to include an unfinished project, at the end of every episode, that you ask people to step up and add to?
GORDON-LEVITT: Nothing is ever finished. It’s a funny thing. I actually think that’s really the more natural way of stories or songs. In the old days, people would gather around the fire, or they would gather at a tavern, and they’d tell a story. And then, maybe a week later, someone would tell the same story, but with a different twist on it. That’s how folk takes evolved. Now, because of the way that broadcast technology works and the way that show business came to work, we think of stories of something that gets produced, finished, and then broadcast for an audience. But, that’s really only one way that it can happen. I think it’s really cool that the technology has now advanced to the point that we can get back to the natural way of doing things, which is more of a communal process.
It’s great that Pivot was willing to step in and give this show the chance to be on a network.
GORDON-LEVITT: That’s so true. I really don’t think that any other network besides Pivot would have allowed us. Just the legal departments of any other network wouldn’t have been brave enough to do it. They would have been too scared that they’d get sued. It’s just because Pivot was a new network with a really visionary leader in Jeff Skoll, who’s really interested not only in covering his ass and making money, but in putting out new and positive and innovative types of media. I think we found the right home. We were allowed to do something that I hate to put this way because it sounds self-aggrandizing to put it this way, but I actually just think it’s true that TV hasn’t really been made this way before, and there are reasons for that. It’s really cool for Mr. Skoll to disregard those reasons and let us go forward anyway.
So often now, art and music programs are being taken away from schools, but this show provides them with a new opportunity to express themselves artistically and explore something that they might not be able to, any other way.
GORDON-LEVITT: That’s completely right. We’ve all gotten it in our head that we should leave it to the professionals to tell stories and sing songs. “I’m not a professional at that. I’m not supposed to do that. I’m supposed to just sit and watch.” But, I don’t think that’s natural. It’s just a natural part of being a social creature and being a human being. We’re supposed to tell stories, and we’re supposed to sing songs. Singing doesn’t have to mean that you sound like Stevie Wonder. I love to sing. I’m not the greatest singer in the world. But, a lot of my favorite singers aren’t the greatest singers in the world. Bob Dylan is not the greatest singer in the world. Kurt Cobain is not the greatest singer in the world. It’s not about that. It’s about their perspective, the stories that they tell, and the emotions that they convey. If you listen to the radio now, there isn’t anything like Bob Dylan or Kurt Cobain. It’s all so perfect.
Fiona Apple is another musical storyteller who’s voice is more emotional than perfect, and who’s hard to find on the radio.
GORDON-LEVITT: Yeah. I love Fiona Apple. That’s funny you bring her up. She’s one of my favorites. But, the media doesn’t have to work that way. The media is going away from that. More and more people, especially younger people, are not getting their music from the radio. They’re getting their music from finding someone cool online that speaks to them, and listening to that. So, HitRECord is just one way. It’s a community of people coming together and being like, “All right, let’s not just put out stuff as individuals. Let’s see what we can do, if we all work together.” And that’s how we make the show.
Is it easier for you to get some of the more recognizable faces involved because you give them the opportunity to do things that they wouldn’t get to do anywhere else?
GORDON-LEVITT: That’s exactly it. Before HitRECord was a TV show, and before it was even a website, it was just a little thing I would say to myself, to give myself permission to do things that I wasn’t known for doing. I love acting, but it’s not the only thing I want to do. So, to push the round red record button and to hit record became this little thing I would say to myself. I’m allowed to do these things. I wanted to make little videos. I taught myself how to edit, and I would make little short films and do things that no one would ever hire me to do, but they feel good to do. That same thing continues on, in our TV show. When Annie Hathaway is allowed to play a ridiculous spoof of a super villain, that’s not something she would probably get hired to do in a big Hollywood movie, but we get to do it. We have fun that way.
What was it like to do the dance number with Chris Messina?
GORDON-LEVITT: That was so much fun. We had so much fun. Chris Messina is actually a great dancer. That’s why Mindy Kaling wrote that script. She had seen this “Singin’ in the Rain” number that I did on SNL this one time. I don’t have any training in dance. I can convince an audience that I know how to dance because I’m a convincing actor. But, that’s just it. I don’t think you necessarily have to be the most perfected performer, in order to express your feelings. It’s really those feelings that an audience connects with, I think, at least as much as perfected technical skill. So, Mindy came up with the idea for Chris and I to do that dance, and we just had so much fun. We were just smiling and having a great time. It didn’t feel like work, at all. We were just having a ball.
Has the way you’ve approached this show affected the way that you approach any project that you sign on to do now?
GORDON-LEVITT: Yeah. As far as the movies that I act in, I don’t want to do it unless it’s going to sincerely inspire me, and I’m very lucky to be able to make choices based on that. I could be spending my time doing HitRECord, and I know that’s going to inspire me. Anytime you go on the site, if you just look around the site for 15 minutes, you’re going to find some kind of creative challenge that’s going to be inspiring. So, if I’m going to do a movie, it’s going to have to compete with that. I’m just really lucky I get to do both. The thing that’s wonderful about HitRECord is that I get to work with people that don’t necessarily have the experience in Hollywood, but who still have great things to say and a lot of talent. But there’s no substitute for working for Robert Zemeckis (on The Walk, in theaters in October), who made Back to the Future and so many great movies. He has such a wisdom and refined skill. Working for artists like that, or Oliver Stone (on Snowden, in theaters in December), who have such a wealth of experience and knowledge is really inspiring and illuminating for me.
Whatever ultimately happens with them, how cool is it to be associated and in development on projects like Sandman and the Fraggle Rock movie?
GORDON-LEVITT: Well, they’re both moving right along, those projects. There’s not much to say about them yet because they’re still in their infancy. We’re working on it.
HitRECord on TV airs on Friday nights on Pivot.