Profiling Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The Crowd-Sourced Version

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Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks at "hitRECord At The Movies With Joseph Gordon-Levitt" at TIFF Bell Lightbox during the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2011 in Toronto, Canada.

At Joseph Gordon-Levitt's site, earnest, talented young people post their work — short films, photography, illustrations — and then other people are allowed to mess with it: editing it, putting it to music, adding animation, whatever they want. After I talked to Gordon-Levitt for a profile in TIME, he posted an hour of audio from our interview to hitRECord, and people used it to write their own profiles of him.

More than 70 people submitted something. Most wrote about themselves. Some wrote about cute animals. One recorded a half-hour rant about what a dick I am. But much of it was great. I took some of the stuff I liked, stitched it together, worked in some of my reporting that my editor cut from the print version, and added some sentences to sew it all up.

The result is below. And at, where I hope someone has added animation and a score that includes the guy who thinks I'm a dick. — Joel Stein

A Cup Of Regular Joe

By Members of hitRECord (and Joel Stein)

This is a story about a guy named Jeff.

"I would be happy if people said, 'This is a story about a guy named Jeff and it's loosely based on this conversation I had with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.' That's not what they say. They say, 'This guy is this. He said this,'" says Gordon-Levitt about past articles that were full of errors.

It seems like a stupid thing to do, calling Joseph Gordon-Levitt "Jeff." But we live in a world where people call themselves "T-Pain" and website commenters go by "RedHeadMonster" and where Joseph Gordon-Levitt himself goes by "JGL" on fan-sites, "Joe" in person and "Regular Joe" on his own. And, besides, he invited me in his house and drank a beer with me, and there's a good chance this article will have at least one error, so sure, if he thinks this "Jeff" gambit will make him feel better, than, sure, yeah, "Jeff" it is.

Jeff has had to deal with fame nearly his whole life. As a kid, he played an alien in the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, a gig he's tried to distance himself from, first as a gay hustler in Mysterious Skin (2004) and as a teen murder investigator in Brick (2005). Since then, he's become an indie heartthrob due to his Golden Globe–nominated role in the not-so-romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer (2009). There's a lightness he brings to his roles, including this month's 50/50, in which he stars as 27-year-old Adam, who is diagnosed with cancer. Whilst the premise of the film (based on screenwriter Will Reiser's own experience with cancer) screams "tragedy," 50/50 has been dubbed a "comedy-drama." In one scene, Kyle (Seth Rogen) encourages Adam to shave his head with Kyle's pubic-hair trimmers, and to examine his chances of survival in a positive light: "If you were a casino game, you'd have the best odds!"

Sitting in the recording studio of his large Los Angeles home, barefoot in black jeans, Jeff, 30, looks like an indie actor. But he's now doing some very un-indie films: in 2010 Jeff replaced James Franco in Christopher Nolan's Inception (due to scheduling conflicts). Next year he's in The Dark Knight Rises, Steven Spielberg's film about Abraham Lincoln and a time-travel cop movie with Bruce Willis.

The black jeans are traditional Levi 501s: "There are certain classics you don't want to f--- with," Jeff says. Which may be surprising, since his website,, is completely dedicated to f---ing with the classics. He started the site in 2005 with his brother, "Burning Dan," a professional fire dancer (their parents were L.A. hippies). At first it was just a way for Jeff to post videos and get feedback. But then they got the idea to link creative people together by starting an open collaborative project. HitRECord (as in pushing a circular red button) is a production company where an online community comes together to submit "hit records" (as in, an artistic work that becomes popular) not only for review, but as an invitation to "remix" the record.

"Rather than just exhibiting and admiring each other's work as isolated individuals, we gather here to work on projects together," he says. Then members can take each other's work and remix it — adding music, animation or just creating something new based on the idea. "Having someone take creative liberty with what I've done, it's just fascinating. It's like, 'Wow they really got it.' Or they didn't get it. You can really tell, based on the art that they make. Much more than what the box office was." And when he thinks something might be commercially viable, he tries to sell it to media companies, splitting the profits with the artists. Last year, Joe sent out $50,000 worth of checks to contributors.

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