October 3, 2023 - 12:19 pm
Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t claim to know the secret to happiness. But he does know how to make each day a little better.
“Anyone can talk about why something is bad,” he says. “Even if you’re right, who cares? It’s a better way to spend your day figuring out what’s good.
“Focus on what you love during the next 24 hours of your life. The positivity will change everything,” adds the 42-year-old L.A. native, known for movie hits including “500 Days of Summer,” “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” plus the classic TV series “3rd Rock From the Sun.”
He loves music and a certain single mom in Dublin in his new movie “Flora and Son.” The musical dramedy, a Sundance hit, is now streaming on Apple TV+.
The film centers on Flora (Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter), who is dealing with her estranged son, Max (Orén Kinlan), a rebellious teen on his way to doing prison time. Flora buys an old guitar for the boy, a last-ditch effort to keep him off the streets. The kid doesn’t want it. Flora decides to take Zoom guitar lessons from Jeff, a disappointed-with-life L.A.-based guitar teacher (Gordon-Levitt). It’s a modern love story abetted by videoconferencing.
Gordon-Levitt had to learn to play songs written for the film by musician Gary Clark. “I did a Zoom with Joseph early on to present him with these jazzy complicated chords. My goal was to figure out if he could play these songs for real,” Clark says. “ I told him, ‘If you can’t play, it’s fine. I’ll teach you bits.’ He knew the entire songs. He’s a real guitar player.”
“There is nothing better in life than learning something new, even when it’s terrifying,” Gordon-Levitt says in an interview conducted before the Screen Actors Guild strike. “There is a thrill to adding something fresh to your life. I highly recommend it.”
His other good life tips:
Shake up your ordinary
Gordon-Levitt shot most of “Flora and Son” alone in a room, doing his Zoom guitar lesson scenes. Was it tough to find chemistry in a love story when the two main characters aren’t together? “You have a young mom in Ireland taking music lessons from this music snob in California. They’re so distant, but there is this chemistry that makes it feel like they’re in the same room and it feels romantic,” he says. “The challenge was what we’re all facing in real life: How do we remain human in this increasingly digital world?”
Change their tune
Gordon-Levitt knew that “Flora and Son” director John Carney was probably looking for a professional, big-name musician to play his part. He had to campaign for the role. “I said, ‘I’m almost a musician. I’ve been playing my whole life, and I will practice every single day,’ ” he says. “Plus, you don’t want someone who is a perfect singer. It should be that more rough, human thing featuring a guy who plays but is disappointed by life. Please, please, please. … I convinced them, proving you shouldn’t tell yourself ‘no’ about anything.”
Find your calling
He grew up in Los Angeles, where his maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, was a well-known director whose films include 1959’s “Pillow Talk.” Gordon-Levitt was a child actor who later starred on “3rd Rock From the Sun.” Acting was his only choice. “I think everyone has some talent in them, and they could fall in love with some calling. I was just lucky to find mine as a little kid and never let it go,” he says. “And now the thing that makes me the happiest is getting to do the art. Not the red carpet. Not the box office. It’s about the work.”
Gordon-Levitt has also taught acting by launching HITRECORD, an online community of artists at various levels who learn and collaborate. It’s an interactive format that covers everything from voice acting to songwriting or how to draw sci-fi scenes. “One of the most worthwhile things you can do is inspire someone else to be creative,” he says. “This platform is a way to learn a creative skill by not just sitting and watching something, but learn by actually doing it. It’s not about how many followers you have. It’s about, ‘What can we make together.’ ”
Make a better world
He admits his goals have changed over the years, but Gordon-Levitt is leaning toward something bigger now. “I just want to be a positive contributor to the world,” he says. “As a culture, we spend too much time distracting ourselves and entertaining ourselves or amusing ourselves instead of challenging ourselves to do the hard, slow, thinking work to really make ourselves happy and fulfilled and create a better world.”
Write it all down
When he’s conflicted about anything, Gordon-Levitt turns to his journals and starts writing down thoughts. “For me, it helps to just write it out, even if the writing is just for me,” he shares. “I write in complete sentences and explain how I feel or detail what’s going on in my life. It’s a process, but also a great way to come up with answers while you’re writing. It helps you think.”