I’ve never seen you in a role like this before. Were you shocked to be asked?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: At first the director didn’t think I could do it probably for the same reasons you’re talking about. He said, ‘All due respect, he’s a great actor, but I don’t think he can do this character. He’s nothing like that.’ I convinced him to meet me, and so we went and had dinner. It was great meeting him, but he still said, ‘No, he’s nothing like his character. He can’t do it.’ I convinced him to let me audition for him and I changed his mind.
When Hesher first enters TJ’s life, it’s almost an abusive relationship. By the end of the film he ends up caring about what happens with TJ. What do you think happened within Hesher to make him change?
JGL: Oftentimes you have a movie with a big broad character at the center of it, but there’s nothing underneath it and it’s just kind of the same shtick over and over again. But Hesher does have a story, and he does change and he does grow. And, it’s like I was saying before, he mostly spends his time in the present tense and doesn’t attach himself to anything, whether it’s material things or even people. He doesn’t attach himself to people. But I think unintentionally he just ends up feeling a lot of sympathy and empathy for these three people in this family and does develop a connection to them, and does become attached to them and doesn’t necessarily know how to deal with those feelings, but he’s not one to run from his feeling either, so he plows right in.
Then why does he leave?
JGL: Well I think he realizes. You know, I’m not going to tell you why [laughs].
Were you happy there was no big exposition moment where you found out, ‘Oh here’s where Hesher came from and why he’s this way?’
JGL: Yeah, exactly. This movie sort of refuses to submit to any of those Hollywood conventions. I think that’s part of why this movie couldn’t have been made in a corporate Hollywood studio environment because it offends some people. It doesn’t do the, I’ve heard this term – they call it ‘Hero Protection.’ It’s a term that they use in corporate storytelling where the hero has to be protected and stay this pure hero. I think movies like that can be kind of boring.
Because of that, did you do an enormous backstory on your character?
JGL: Yeah, we worked out a lot of about who he maybe used to be, what he had been through, etc. But all of that information is very intentionally not in the story.
Are you doing anything to look physical to prepare? You look very strong.
JGL: Thanks. Yeah. It’s funny, I was actually in much better shape for Inception. I shot Inception right after Hesher, even though Hesher came out later. I got in super good shape to do Inception, but I’m in a suit the whole time. But he had to be in very good shape to do those fight scenes. I wasn’t in nearly as good shape to do Hesher and I was naked the whole time…………..