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Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks DON JON, Feminism and Religion

Don Jon is a movie that begs to be seen by everyone. Going in to this film, I had reservedly high expectations. I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an exceptionally talented, insightful and creative person. He is one of my very favorite people in entertainment today.

Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord works to change the way we interact with one another and break down boundaries between unrecognized talent and the seemingly untouchable Hollywood crowd.  His ability to come across as an average Joe (pun not intended) while still wowing us with his talent is what makes Joseph Gordon-Levitt so popular.  Before screening the film at SXSW 2013, myself and a myriad of others received an email from the publicity company on behalf of Joseph Gordon-Levitt explaining that the name of his film, Don Jon’s Addiction would be changed to Don Jon and expounding on why he felt this was necessary.

“Hey everybody,

So, as you might’ve heard already, I wrote and directed a movie last year, and it’s coming out later this year. Which is absolutely crazy, and I still kinda can’t believe it. Anyway, I’m posting this today to let you all know that I’m changing its title. It’s now called… DON JON. I decided to change it, first of all, because DON JON is just so short and simple, and if you know me, you know I’m a fan of brevity. Second of all, it felt to me like the old title, “Don Jon’s Addiction” was throwing some people off a bit from the point of the movie. People were assuming it was a film about porn addiction and sex addiction, which really isn’t true. That’d be sort of like saying “The Maltese Falcon” is a movie about a statue of a falcon. DON JON is a comedy about how men and women treat each other, and how the media we consume can create unrealistic expectations that we put on one another. That’s why the story centers around a relationship between a young man (played by me) who watches too much pornography and a young woman (played by Scarlett) who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies. It’s a topic I personally find fascinating and hilarious…

thanks again.. J”

Sharing this in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s own words seems more appropriate than my attempting to summarize for you, and of course, this statement and the mention of The Maltese Falcon endeared him to me more than ever.  I didn’t understand the need for the change even after reading this, though I didn’t see any reason not to change the name either.  Then I saw Don Jon….and I got it.  This isn’t a film just about one guy’s porn addiction, it is about so much more and to keep the name such that it was would not only be polarizing but very misleading.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt at SXSW 2013 Screening of Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt at SXSW 2013 Screening of Don Jon

After the film we were fortunate enough to take part in an audience Q&A with producer Ram Bergman of Looper fame, actress Brie Larson, actor and quintessential tough guy Tony Danza and writer, director and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The Q&A revealed what was behind the creation of Don Jon and even how Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mom influenced him to proclaim himself a feminist.

“I was struck by the gender politics and I was wondering if you were attuned to that in your own life? Feminism is kind of a dirty word, do you consider yourself a feminist?”

JGL: “Absolutely. I think it’s important to think about gender roles for women and for men. It’s irrefutable that historically women have gotten the raw end of the deal and have been oppressed since the beginning of history. But I also think it’s true that both men and women, today especially, are sort of corralled into roles based on their gender that are not necessarily healthy. That’s not to say I don’t believe in the difference between a man and a woman, there is an obvious biological difference. I think I have “womb envy”. Doesn’t that sound amazing to have a baby inside of you? Sorry, I’m weird.

Look, my mom and my dad were very active in all sorts of movements in the sixties and the seventies and feminism was certainly right there at the front. My mom definitely brought me up, for example, whenever we were watching the Lakers together as a family, to this day, every time the Laker Girls come on my mom goes, “So that’s what women can do, huh? These guys are these great athletes and the women are just like, ‘oh, look at our body’”. Every time; she was saying it when I was six and she said it again just last week. Maybe she’s right, maybe one day we won’t have cheerleaders at basketball games.

So, yes it is definitely something that I think about, especially when it comes to movies. Let’s be honest, sometimes Hollywood sometimes really sucks for women and there is a lot of generals that are reinforced in a lot of Hollywood movies that I think are problematic.”

Brie: “There is something in this film, the idea that a beautiful woman becomes public property and that because she is beautiful anybody gets the opportunity to look at her because she’s “flaunting it. This film brings up some interesting questions about that.”

Tony: “It does go both ways. I think there are women that are trying to live up to what they think they are supposed to look like. That’s what’s so great about this movie, it makes you laugh, but it makes you talk about this as well.”


“Of all the characters you’ve played, is this the one you related to the most?”

JGL: “(Laughing) No, but I really love playing characters that are very different from myself. Ram produced Looper, that was a character first of all that had a different face than my face, a different voice than my voice, he walked differently, he killed people for a living he was completely different than me and that fascinates me; putting myself in someone else’s shoes.

The most time I ever spent in Austin I was shooting a movie called Stop Loss, this was in 2006. I was playing a U.S. soldier and as I said, I was brought up by a peace activist so the last thing I was ever going to be was a soldier, but I loved putting myself in that point of view and getting know soldiers and not judging them; not just saying ‘oh no, they’re perpetrating an evil war’, but I loved growing some empathy for these guys that were so different from me.

Jon Martello [main character in Don Jon] is a very different guy from me and was brought up with very different values than I was brought up to have. I really enjoyed putting myself in those shoes and not trying to judge him, not trying to call him a bad guy, which he is at the beginning of the movie; he’s a douchebag.”

“Why was Don Jon so connected to his church? Why was religion such a huge factor?”

JGL: “I wanted to paint a picture of a guy who objectifies everything in life. Women certainly, but his own body is an object, his apartment, his car, the way he treats his family, the way he treats his friend and his church. He’s just going through the motions and doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. It’s not so much that I want to criticize the Catholic Church in particular, certainly a lot of people have very fulfilling relationships with organized religion. I think a lot of people also just go through the motions and I thought that was applicable to this story.”

“I am actually a pastor and I found it very fascinating the process of your character going for confession. It seemed like there was progression that there was transformation for him (Don Jon) but that relationship also felt very one-sided, that he was becoming move vulnerable and in the last scene (with the priest) it felt like the character was disappointed (by the lack of response) and I wonder what you might have to say about that.”

JGL: “What you said was ‘it was a one way relationship’ and that is really right at the crux of what I was trying to get at with everything in this movie. That’s why a central symbol of this movie is a guy watching pornography because it’s purely one way. There is no interaction between the guy and the woman on the screen. But it’s the same way with the family dinner scenes, these are people who are kind of talking at each other but aren’t listening to each other. Yeah, you’re right at the last scene after he’s beginning to open his mind up after having conversations with Esther (Julianne Moore), which are unlike any conversations he’s maybe ever had in his life, then he tries to connect with the priest and the priest doesn’t really reciprocate that. But again, I am not trying to make a blanket statement about organized religion.”

“Brie, you really only spoke once in this movie, but you had so many memorable moments, can you speak about that?”

Brie: “My favorite part of acting is listening and I fell like I had the most incredible opportunity to go to work every day and to do nothing but just watch these amazing actors. I got to see everything and so much that I wish you guys could have seen and even more. It was an amazing experience. Joe was so great about working with me. I got to learn so much about the power of a glance; it’s amazing how a blink or a blank stare can say so much.”

JGL: “That’s like in Buster Keaton movies. While some of it is so big, a lot of my favorite Buster Keaton moments are tiny, tiny little facial things and I see a lot of that in her (Brie’s) performance.”

“As the film serves up as a sed up of the Jersey Shore culture, is this the best way to combat that douchebaggery?”

JGL: “To tell you the honest truth, I had never seen The Jersey Shore before, but I did watch it after I started giving people the script to read. I couldn’t make it through more that one episode. I should say, I don’t think it’s the fault of the people on the TV show. The truth about reality TV is that it’s no more real than this (the movie), it’s completely scripted, it’s just done so with a different method. So, I wouldn’t really blame any of the actors.”

Don Jon and Barbara

“There’s a lot of themes of addiction in the film, addiction to technology, addiction to sex, addiction to controlling people, like with the character Barb. Will she ever change?”

JGL: “It is a tough part to play, but I’d like a round of applause for Scarlett Johansson. She nailed this part and she brought so much to this character. As far as whether or not the character of Barbara will change, in my life experience, big, deep, fundamental changes like that happen usually as a result of some kind of trauma that sort of throws you off and makes you start reexamining yourself and things you thought were true. That sort of happens to Jon, he gets dumped and that’s never happened before and because his self esteem is so low he is more receptive to the conversations that he has with Esther that lead to him beginning to break out his shell.

I think the Barbara Sugarman character is actually a really smart person and has a lot of admirable qualities to her, she’s just trapped in a very narrow point of view that she maybe gets from her upbringing. The ideas of femininity that are thrust on girls at an early age and she loves these Hollywood movies that give unrealistic expectations of what love and a woman are supposed to be. “

I felt very fortunate to be part of the audience for this screening of the film, but even more so that I got to be present for the Q&A afterward.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just as talented a writer and director as he is an actor and I cannot wait to see what he does next in any and all arenas.

Don Jon is set for release in the U.S. on October 27, 2013.  To read our review of the film CLICK HERE.  Follow @ScreenInvasion on Twitter and ‘Like’ us on Facebook for the latest in news, reviews and interviews from your favorite films.  Follow @CatEdison on Twitter as well!

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The Author

Cat Edison

Cat Edison

Cat is an Austinite once removed with an affinity for film, TV, comics, graphic novels, and really anything she can read or watch. She gets emotionally invested in movie, television and literary characters, to an unhealthy degree. Cat has always had a passion for writing and there is little she loves more. Hopeful cynic and funny lady.