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.

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Jeff started hitRECord shortly after dropping out of Columbia College "about halfway" through a bachelor's degree. He blames Final Cut Pro. "When I started editing on my home computer, I said to myself, 'Well, I could be at home studying for a class or I could be at home editing a video.'"

If YouTube is the web's wild west, then hitRECord is a kindly shelter for frontiersmen and fanciful passersby. If YouTube is a vast, heartless terrain that distinguishes good from evil through assaults and triumphs, hitRECord is a makeshift hearth for the resourceful but wary, sustained by little more than boundless encouragement and the regularity of its own motley collaborations. And its members are passionate — they're mostly people who have never showed anyone their art before and have found a supportive group that encourages them to (for instance) make more tiny, cute drawings of pretend animals. "More than a company, it's like a family, and more than a family I daresay it's like the mafia of art," says hitRECord user DeeAsHerself. "You join, you learn how it works, you start RECording, and when you're done, you can't leave." Ess, a short-story writer whose profile photo has her mouth covered by a sweatshirt, says, "The most valuable thing that you get on the site is honest feedback. You can skip the fees for that writer's workshop and avoid the sweaty palms and embarrassment at open mic night at that dive bar."

Once a month or so, Jeff puts on live shows promoting hitRECord, opening them with an anti-anti-piracy call to arms: "Please turn all recording devices on." People take the stage to perform their work, and Jeff sings Nirvana and Lady Gaga songs, plays guitar, gets behind a drum kit, reads poetry and sometimes talks in French. Girls tend to like this. He's educated, multi-talented, self-expressive and risk-taking. He's like James Franco, if James Franco wasn't so weird.

It's that nice-guy eager earnestness that, as much as his acting skills, is getting him so much work. When James McAvoy dropped out of 50/50 a few days into filming due to a family emergency, the producers called Jeff the same day. He flew up that night to meet the director, producers and the scriptwriter, Will Reiser, who was in remission from the cancer he wrote about. They all shared some beers and smoked some pot on the roof of the hotel, and Jeff said yes the next morning. "At the time I was like, 'Hopefully he'll like it.' But knowing him now and how many roles he gets offered and how deliberate he is in choosing his career path, I'm shocked," says director Jonathan Levine.

Rogen points out that even though Reiser's neurotic, repressed character is totally different from Jeff, somehow the nice-guy stuff comes through. "My family is from Vancouver, where we were shooting, so almost as a joke I said, 'If you don't have a Passover Seder to go to, my family's having one.' And he came," Rogen says. "He's the kind of guy who will talk to my insane family and have a great time doing it. He's the kind of guy who comes to your parents' Passover seder."

Ben Karlin, a producer on 50/50, says Jeff plays comedy very real and small, which is surprising since he spent so many years on a multi-camera sitcom. More importantly, his niceness makes him one of the few young American actors who can play a leading man. "Even in a movie like Inception, which didn't have a lot of character depth, you still got the sense his character was a solid standup guy and you didn't know anything about that guy. That's really rare," Karlin says.

To take advantage of publicity for 50/50, Jeff is releasing hitRECord's first major product, RECollection Vol. 1, which contains a DVD of 36 short films, a 64-page book, and a 17-track CD comprised of the work of 471 people. The entire hitRECord project, in fact, is both fueled by the celebrity mystique that surrounds Jeff and his derisive attitude toward it. (For an example of this, see Jeff's first short film, Pictures of Assholes, in which he confronts two paparazzi.)

Maybe this article will wind up on RECollection Vol. 2. Even if not, chances are, in time, these words will be remixed by Joe and the hitRECorders into something fortuitous, using the underscore of a reader recording a vocal, to a collaborative success you will indubitably view on hitRECord soon.

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