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Joseph Gordon-Levitt Biography


Home > Actors > G > Gordon-Levitt, Joseph > Biography


Birth Name: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Born: 02/17/1981
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA


Born Feb. 17, 1981, Gordon-Levitt was raised in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley by liberal parents who had met while working at a local progressive radio station. His maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, had studied acting in New York with Elia Kazan, and was a rising filmmaker whose career was cut short when he was blacklisted for being deemed a Communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Evidence pointed to Gordon-Levitt having inherited his grandfather's acting gene when he hit the stage for the first time at age four. When asked by an agent in the audience if he might like to be in commercials, the youngster gave a resounding "yes." He quickly tired of the hyperactive acting style required of TV commercial kids but enjoyed the process more when he began doing movies at age six. His debut found him playing the son of Tommy Lee Jones in the television Western "Stranger on My Land" (ABC, 1988), and he also appeared as another "son" in "Settle the Score" (NBC, 1989) with Jaclyn Smith.

A pair of 1988 appearances on "Family Ties" (NBC, 1982-89) preceded his first turn as a series regular on ABC's ill-advised revival of "Dark Shadows" (1990). He was next cast on the short-lived Normal Lear political comedy series, "The Powers That Be" (1992-93), and portrayed the boyhood version of Craig Sheffer's character in Robert Redford's classic fly-fishing tale, "A River Runs Through It" (1992). More substantial roles followed, including that of a youthful husband betrothed to Patricia Arquette in Leonard Nimoy's comedy "Holy Matrimony" (1994), and as a foster kid who calls on divine assistance for the Anaheim Angels in the treacle-heavy Disney film "Angels in the Outfield" (1994). A recurring role on "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997) and a high-profile turn as Demi Moore's son in the lightweight crime thriller "The Juror" (1996), led to Gordon-Levitt's career breakthrough in 1996, when he was cast on "3rd Rock from the Sun." In the offbeat comedy about a quartet of aliens who assume the bodies of average suburbanites to study human behavior, Gordon-Levitt's character had been the oldest and brightest member of the alien team, but on Earth suffered the indignity of inhabiting the body of an average teenager. The actor's mature ease and low-key demeanor were a perfect foil for high-octane performers John Lithgow and Kristen Johnston, and the young actor was nominated three times for a Screen Actors Guild Award (for Outstanding Ensemble) as well as won a Young Star Award in 1997 and 1998.

The teenaged actor was less comfortable with his positioning as a heartthrob in the gossip magazines, but he was on a top-rated, Emmy-winning series, so he took advantage of his raised profile to gain more film experience. During the series run, Gordon-Levitt co-starred with Samantha Mathis as unlikely, terminally ill friends in the gritty indie "Sweet Jane" (1998), and turned up briefly as a victim in "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" (1998). More in line with his day job, Gordon-Levitt also had a leading role alongside Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in the high school clique comedy "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999), for which he was nominated for a Young Star Award. In 2001, "3rd Rock" entered its final season, and Gordon-Levitt asked to scale back his screen time to a few recurring appearances in order to focus his attention on his French Literature and French History studies at Columbia University in New York. When he ventured back on the big screen, he showed a dedication to challenging independent films, beginning with his starring role as a young man committed to a mental institution in the bleak "Manic" (2001), and one playing a Mormon elder in the lightweight gay drama "Latter Days" (2003).

With a number of interesting acting challenges coming his way, Gordon-Levitt put aside his studies at Columbia in 2004, and early the following year, made a strong impression at the Sundance Film Festival in two very different roles. With "Brick" (2005), an inventive and well-received blend of film noir and high school drama, Gordon-Levitt turned critics' heads for his brooding performance as a teenager trying to find his missing girlfriend. Gregg Araki's "Mysterious Skin" (2005) starred Gordon-Levitt in a captivating performance as a street hustler with a horrific past. For his effort, he nabbed the top acting award from the Seattle International Film Festival, as well as a nomination from the Gotham Awards. Following his back-to-back critical successes he appeared in "Havoc" (2005), a culture-clash drama from documentarian Barbara Kopple which, unfortunately, garnered more press for star Anne Hathaway's nude scenes than for any of the performances. His next outing was in a supporting role in Lee Daniels' absurd crime thriller, "Shadowboxer" (2006), but Gordon-Levitt gained considerable positive notice for his starring role in "The Lookout" (2007), giving a soulful portrayal of a brain-damaged janitor who outwits a group of criminals after a bank heist unravels into chaos. The film took home Best First Film honors at the Independent Spirit Awards for filmmaker Scott Frank.

In 2008, Gordon-Levitt gave a strong supporting performance as a wounded Iraq War veteran in Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss," starring Ryan Phillippe as a decorated sergeant who goes AWOL when called to report for a second tour of duty. He followed up with another war film, playing a reporter unraveling the story of a World War II veteran who "snaps" more than 40 years after fighting overseas in Spike Lee's relatively unsuccessful "Miracle at St. Anna" (2008). During the summer of 2009, Gordon-Levitt did double duty as both a supporting player in a Hollywood action extravaganza and a leading man in an indie-film favorite. The former, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," found Gordon-Levitt playing multiple roles as The Dr., Rex Lewis, and Cobra Commander. But it was the latter film, the charming romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer," that touched moviegoers in unexpected ways. Gordon-Levitt starred as a cynical greeting-card writer transformed, for better and worse, by his love for his co-worker (Zooey Deschanel). The feature film debut of music video director Marc Webb, "(500) Days" met with an overwhelmingly positive response and bang-up box-office business, while buzz surrounded Gordon-Levitt's appealing performance, leading to an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead and a Golden Globe nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. But the actor's high-profile year in the indie film world was far from over, as that fall he appeared in the ensemble comedy "Women in Trouble" (2009), reprising his role the following year in the sequel "Elektra Luxx" (2010).

From his status as one of the strongest twentysomething actors on the indie-film scene, Gordon-Levitt returned to mainstream theaters in 2010 with a leading role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in the sci-fi summer smash, "Inception." Transitioning from glossy big-budget fare to gritty, independent film, Gordon-Levitt was nearly unrecognizable in his chameleon-like portrayal of "Hesher" (2010). A darkly comedic drama about a young boy (Devin Brochu) whose dreary life is thrown into upheaval after befriending a metal-loving vagrant (Gordon-Levitt), the unconventional project was co-produced by Natalie Portman, who appeared in the film as well. The following year, Gordon-Levitt earned some of the loftiest praise of his career for his performance as a young man battling cancer in the comedy/drama "50/50" (2011), co-starring Seth Rogen. Loosely based on the real-life experience of screenwriter (and close Rogen friend) Will Reiser, the film won nearly universal acclaim and several critical nods, including a Golden Globe nomination for Gordon-Levitt.

Reuniting with "Inception" director Christopher Nolan, Gordon-Levitt played a significant supporting role in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) as an unexpected ally of Christian Bale's brooding Batman. The year continued to be a big one for the actor, with the lead in "Premium Rush," a fun and fast-paced movie about a trouble-prone New York City bike messenger. Next up, Gordon-Levitt collaborated once again with "Brick" filmmaker Rian Johnson for the high-concept time-travel thriller "Looper" where he portrayed a hired gun forced to hunt down his future self (Bruce Willis). He closed out 2012 with a small part in Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Lincoln," and subsequently focused on the release of his feature directorial debut, "Don Jon" (2013), an irreverent romantic comedy co-starring Scarlett Johansson.