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’50-50′ star is hip to the creative process

TORONTO — Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been performing since beforehe mastered addition. He lives in Los Angeles’s eclectic SilverLake neighborhood and in his spare time, he wanders around townwith a video camera in hand, making short films. But he wants to beclear, he’s no hipster. “I think a hipster is someone who is trying to be hip with nosubstance behind it. And personally, I don’t think that applies tome,” said the actor, 30. Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Adam in the upcoming terminalillness buddy comedy “50/50,” opening in theaters today, confirmsthe guy has gravitas. In the film, based on the true story of itsscreenwriter Will Reiser, Gordon-Levitt plays an unfulfilled25-year old whose life is upended when he learns he has spinalcancer. His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) tries to offer support,but Adam finds an unlikely ally in the young psychiatrist assignedto help him cope with treatment (Anna Kendrick). “It’s really rare to find a story that has characters that feellike human beings,” said the actor of what immediately struck himabout Reiser’s screenplay. “In most scripts, the characters feelmore like stereotypes or plot devices and this felt really earnestand real. And it was genuinely funny. It made me laugh and thehardest thing to find is writing that is actually funny.” Seated in a makeshift green room directly behind the moviescreen at Toronto’s Ryerson Theater, Gordon-Levitt is a bitroad-weary, having just flown in from Los Angeles, where he hadspent the preceding night working on Christopher Nolan’s upcomingBatman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises,” in which he plays amysterious Gotham City policeman named John Blake. But his energy waxed later in the evening, when “50/50” receiveda raucous standing ovation from the Toronto International FilmFestival audience assembled for its premiere. With its union ofhumor and pathos, “50/50” offers audiences a more sophisticatedtake on the typical Hollywood bromance, yet enough bawdy humor tolure in Rogen fans adverse to a film with cancer as its core. Also working in its favor is Reiser’s own happy ending. He’salive and healthy and was on hand for the film’s premiere, where hestood proudly next to Gordon-Levitt. One of the few performers to successfully transition from childstar in the ’90s sitcom “3rd Rock From the Sun” to respectedworking actor, Gordon-Levitt has carved out a career in criticallyacclaimed independent films such as “Mysterious Skin,” “Brick” and“(500) Days of Summer,” in addition to appearing in big-budgetstudio fare including last year’s high-minded “Inception” and theaction flick “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” Among his male contemporaries, Gordon-Levitt might only becompared to “it” boy Ryan Gosling in terms of his willingness totake risks and his ability to go dark and edgy or lighter and moreaccessible. It was Gordon-Levitt’s resume that made him the first choice toplay Will — or more accurately, the first choice to replace themovie’s original star James McAvoy, after a family emergency forcedthe British actor to leave the production only a few days intofilming. “On Friday we realized we had until Monday to find a new actoror the movie had to shut down,” said Rogen, who produced “50/50”and is one of Reiser’s closest friends in real life. “Will and Iwere living together at my parents’ house in Vancouver and Joe wasthe first name we came up with. Joe came up through comedy so weknew he was funny, and the movies he had been doing lately weredramatic and awesome.” Plus, Reiser chimed in, during a joint phone call following thefestival, “We really couldn’t think of anyone else.” Fortunately for them, Gordon-Levitt agreed to read the scriptand within a week he was on the Vancouver set shaving his head forthe first scene he shot for the movie. “You can only shave your head once. There was no take two,” saidGordon-Levitt of the scene, which is featured prominently in themarketing materials for the film. “That made it really exciting anda great kickoff into the job.” Despite his eagerness for the role, Gordon-Levitt — who lost hisolder brother, Daniel Gordon-Levitt, last year, and a friend tocancer when he was 18 — was careful to keep some separation betweenhimself and his character, who while undergoing chemotherapy isalso dealing with a deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend(Bryce Dallas Howard) and an overbearing mother (AngelicaHuston). “Sometimes I’ll really let myself go into a character — in thismovie, I always kept a little life line, ‘this isn’t true, I don’thave cancer,’” Gordon-Levitt said. “Because I think this stuff ispowerful and can be self-fulfilling sometimes, I consciously kept alittle light on that this was all fiction.” The comedy in the script helped keep the atmosphere on setlight. Rogen’s Kyle, who has some trouble coming to terms with hisfriend’s mortality, uses Adam’s diagnosis as an opportunity to pickup women and smoke medical marijuana. Gordon-Levitt said hespecifically appreciated the scenes involving the friends’ awkwardhook-up attempts. “There are not nearly enough movies that show how the matingritual is really just … not sexy at all,” Gordon-Levitt said. “Iknow when I was younger, before I had a lot of those experiences, Ibought into some of the fantasies that Hollywood sells aboutromance and sex. This movie says don’t believe the hype. You don’thave to have cancer to have nights like that, nights that aretotally lame.” After the “50/50” screening, the Los Angeles native hosted alate-night event in Toronto titled “hitRECord at the Movies withJoseph Gordon-Levitt” as part of his moonlighting gig as head ofthe online production company “hitRECord,” which he founded withhis late brother, a performance artist who went by the name BurningDan. There was no sign of exhaustion as the lanky actor commandeeredthe stage, riffing on the videos he created with his onlinepartners and bringing audience members to the stage to participatein readings that would likely make it into later pieces. Gordon-Levitt, who will next star in the bike messenger actioner“Premium Rush,” is currently working with Nolan for a second time —before he joins Steven Spielberg on the set of the period drama“Lincoln.” But it was when he talked about hitRECord that he becamethe most exuberant. Having acquired a video camera at a young age,the actor explained that he used to tell himself to “Hit Record” asa reminder to be creative, whether it was writing songs or stories,or making short films. “Making things in all sorts of ways is what I love to do. It’smy therapy, it’s my everything. I just can’t wait around forsomeone to hire me,” Gordon-Levitt said. “That round REC buttonbecame a symbol, a metaphor for taking things into my own hands anddoing it.”

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