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PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Joseph Gordon-Levitt may not be a household name, yet. But it's not because he is a newcomer to Hollywood, movies or television.
Acting in commercials since he was a baby and making his way onto TV comedy "3rd Rock from the Sun" as a teenager, he has been one of the few young actors to successfully navigate the transition from child star to adult actor.
He did so by starring in wide-ranging art house fare such as "Mysterious Skin" and "Brick." His low-budget hit romance "(500) Days of Summer," which played at Sundance last year, preceded Hollywood adventure "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra."
Gordon-Levitt, 28, is back at Sundance 2010 in drama "Hesher," a meditation on grief. He talked to Reuters about the film, his career and his website, hitRECord.org.
Q: Your website says 'old media' refers to you as Joseph, but really you're just 'regular Joe.' Can we call you, 'Joe'?
A: "Please do!" (laughs)
Q: Well, is that an issue for you, being identified with that sort of lofty, actor-ish 'Joseph' vs. just being 'Joe'?
A: "It's true the traditional portrayal of an actor is one where there's this sort of barrier put up, like, look at these special, famous people. I never identified with that. I always thought it was kind of weird, even when I was a kid."
Q: We'll talk about hitRECord later. Let's get to "Hesher." It's a dark drama. You play an angry, anarchistic young man who meets a grieving family and shakes them up. Why this role?
A: "I just love acting. I really do, and I read the script and thought this will be a cool challenge. I've never done anything like this before, and that's why I wake up in the morning -- to challenge myself in what I do."
Q: Challenge, because he's such an angry, violent guy?
A: "See, that's funny, because I think he's a sweetheart."
Q: Under his exterior, yes. Isn't that often true?
A: "Yeah, that's interesting. Actually, he just doesn't care what you think. He blows some stuff up, but I don't think it's out of anger. He just gets a kick out of it. He actually spends more time being happy than most. A lot of stuff that stresses us out, he could care less ... and he meets this family that he gradually grows to care about."
Q: Sundance seems a good place to debut it.
A: "It's a classic Sundance movie, made without big money. Sundance gives a movie that doesn't fit into a normal formula an avenue to be seen by people. And the truth is, movies that don't fit into formulas, soon make the formulas. They are the ones that have a human spark to them."
Q: So much of what you seem to be about is art, so then I wonder, why "G.I. Joe," -- this big, Hollywood action flick?
A: "Yeah. I get it -- the makeup and costume and character. So, the decision process went like this. They asked me if I wanted the role, and I said 'no.'
"But then they said, 'Just meet the producer (Lorenzo di Bonaventura)', and he started showing me the concept of the character. And it sounded like a lot of fun.
"I had second thoughts: 'Do I want to do this big, corporate movie,' but then I said to myself, 'those aren't good reasons not to do something that sounds like a fun, creative challenge.' Will there be (naysayers)? Yeah, but I can't listen to them."
Q: So, it's a big hit at global box offices, and '(500) Days' gets you award nominations. Are you 'becoming famous?'
A: "What's cool is that more and more people are seeing the work I do, and that means a lot to me. When somebody comes up to me and says, 'Hey you're famous' that doesn't mean anything to me. When they say, 'Hey I saw '(500 Days)' or 'Hesher' or even 'G.I. Joe,' and I loved it. I had so much fun or it made me cry or it connected with me.' Well, that means the world to me. That's why you're in it, for the connection."
Q: One question on hitRECord.org. A person can load a video or picture or short story, then others can change it to create something else -- a sort of creative mash-up. Talk about it.
A: "For the last five years, it had been a hobby -- a little page where I could upload videos I made. And it evolved into this community where people would come and make stuff together. It's a really good way to get stuff made. You get to work with a wide variety of artists. What I want is to bring the luck I'm having and use that to open opportunities for anybody."