Joseph Gordon-Levitt- Biography

Also Credited As:

Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt

About Joseph Gordon-Levitt

A refreshing antidote to the common Hollywood tale of child actors gone bad, Joseph Gordon-Levitt survived his teen years on a top-rated sitcom and successfully reinvented himself as a formidable adult actor in a string of critically acclaimed independent features. The popular fish-out-of-water sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001) brought Gordon-Levitt his initial fame, and over five years he earned multiple award nominations for his portrayal of an adult alien leader trapped in the body of a powerless suburban teen. Gordon-Levitt acquiesced to a few teen-oriented movies like "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999), but seamlessly transformed into a well-regarded indie film actor with the dark dramas "Mysterious Skin" (2004) and "The Lookout" (2007), as well as the charming "(500) Days of Summer" (2009) and such mainstream fare as "Inception" (2010) and "50/50" (2011). Clearly committed to his craft and willing to take chances, Gordon-Levitt's subtle charm and formidable talent made him one of the most in-demand actors of his generation.

Born Feb. 17, 1981, Gordon-Levitt was raised in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley by liberal parents who had met while working at a local progressive radio station. His maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, had studied acting in New York with Elia Kazan, and was a rising filmmaker whose career was cut short when he was blacklisted for being deemed a Communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Evidence pointed to Gordon-Levitt having inherited his grandfather's acting gene when he hit the stage for the first time at age four. When asked by an agent in the audience if he might like to be in commercials, the youngster gave a resounding "yes." He quickly tired of the hyperactive acting style required of TV commercial kids but enjoyed the process more when he began doing movies at age six. His debut found him playing the son of Tommy Lee Jones in the television Western "Stranger on My Land" (ABC, 1988), and he also appeared as another "son" in "Settle the Score" (NBC, 1989) with Jaclyn Smith.

A pair of 1988 appearances on "Family Ties" (NBC, 1982-89) preceded his first turn as a series regular on ABC's ill-advised revival of "Dark Shadows" (1990). He was next cast on the short-lived Normal Lear political comedy series, "The Powers That Be" (1992-93), and portrayed the boyhood version of Craig Sheffer's character in Robert Redford's classic fly-fishing tale, "A River Runs Through It" (1992). More substantial roles followed, including that of a youthful husband betrothed to Patricia Arquette in Leonard Nimoy's comedy "Holy Matrimony" (1994), and as a foster kid who calls on divine assistance for the Anaheim Angels in the treacle-heavy Disney film "Angels in the Outfield" (1994). A recurring role on "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997) and a high-profile turn as Demi Moore's son in the lightweight crime thriller "The Juror" (1996), led to Gordon-Levitt's career breakthrough in 1996, when he was cast on "3rd Rock from the Sun." In the offbeat comedy about a quartet of aliens who assume the bodies of average suburbanites to study human behavior, Gordon-Levitt's character had been the oldest and brightest member of the alien team, but on Earth suffered the indignity of inhabiting the body of an average teenager. The actor's mature ease and low-key demeanor were a perfect foil for high-octane performers John Lithgow and Kristen Johnston, and the young actor was nominated three times for a Screen Actors Guild Award (for Outstanding Ensemble) as well as won a Young Star Award in 1997 and 1998.

The teenaged actor was less comfortable with his positioning as a heartthrob in the gossip magazines, but he was on a top-rated, Emmy-winning series, so he took advantage of his raised profile to gain more film experience. During the series run, Gordon-Levitt co-starred with Samantha Mathis as unlikely, terminally ill friends in the gritty indie "Sweet Jane" (1998), and turned up briefly as a victim in "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" (1998). More in line with his day job, Gordon-Levitt also had a leading role alongside Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in the high school clique comedy "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999), for which he was nominated for a Young Star Award. In 2001, "3rd Rock" entered its final season, and Gordon-Levitt asked to scale back his screen time to a few recurring appearances in order to focus his attention on his French Literature and French History studies at Columbia University in New York. When he ventured back on the big screen, he showed a dedication to challenging independent films, beginning with his starring role as a young man committed to a mental institution in the bleak "Manic" (2001), and one playing a Mormon elder in the lightweight gay drama "Latter Days" (2003).

With a number of interesting acting challenges coming his way, Gordon-Levitt put aside his studies at Columbia in 2004, and early the following year, made a strong impression at the Sundance Film Festival in two very different roles. With "Brick" (2005), an inventive and well-received blend of film noir and high school drama, Gordon-Levitt turned critics' heads for his brooding performance as a teenager trying to find his missing girlfriend. Gregg Araki's "Mysterious Skin" (2005) starred Gordon-Levitt in a captivating performance as a street hustler with a horrific past. For his effort, he nabbed the top acting award from the Seattle International Film Festival, as well as a nomination from the Gotham Awards. Following his back-to-back critical successes he appeared in "Havoc" (2005), a culture-clash drama from documentarian Barbara Kopple which, unfortunately, garnered more press for star Anne Hathaway's nude scenes than for any of the performances. His next outing was in a supporting role in Lee Daniels' absurd crime thriller, "Shadowboxer" (2006), but Gordon-Levitt gained considerable positive notice for his starring role in "The Lookout" (2007), giving a soulful portrayal of a brain-damaged janitor who outwits a group of criminals after a bank heist unravels into chaos. The film took home Best First Film honors at the Independent Spirit Awards for filmmaker Scott Frank.

In 2008, Gordon-Levitt gave a strong supporting performance as a wounded Iraq War veteran in Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss," starring Ryan Phillippe as a decorated sergeant who goes AWOL when called to report for a second tour of duty. He followed up with another war film, playing a reporter unraveling the story of a World War II veteran who "snaps" more than 40 years after fighting overseas in Spike Lee's relatively unsuccessful "Miracle at St. Anna" (2008). During the summer of 2009, Gordon-Levitt did double duty as both a supporting player in a Hollywood action extravaganza and a leading man in an indie-film favorite. The former, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," found Gordon-Levitt playing multiple roles as The Dr., Rex Lewis, and Cobra Commander. But it was the latter film, the charming romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer," that touched moviegoers in unexpected ways. Gordon-Levitt starred as a cynical greeting-card writer transformed, for better and worse, by his love for his co-worker (Zooey Deschanel). The feature film debut of music video director Marc Webb, "(500) Days" met with an overwhelmingly positive response and bang-up box-office business, while buzz surrounded Gordon-Levitt's appealing performance, leading to an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead and a Golden Globe nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. But the actor's high-profile year in the indie film world was far from over, as that fall he appeared in the ensemble comedy "Women in Trouble" (2009), reprising his role the following year in the sequel "Elektra Luxx" (2010).

From his status as one of the strongest twentysomething actors on the indie-film scene, Gordon-Levitt returned to mainstream theaters in 2010 with a leading role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in the sci-fi summer smash, "Inception." Transitioning from glossy big-budget fare to gritty, independent film, Gordon-Levitt was nearly unrecognizable in his chameleon-like portrayal of "Hesher" (2010). A darkly comedic drama about a young boy (Devin Brochu) whose dreary life is thrown into upheaval after befriending a metal-loving vagrant (Gordon-Levitt), the unconventional project was co-produced by Natalie Portman, who appeared in the film as well. The following year, Gordon-Levitt earned some of the loftiest praise of his career for his performance as a young man battling cancer in the comedy/drama "50/50" (2011), co-starring Seth Rogen. Loosely based on the real-life experience of screenwriter (and close Rogen friend) Will Reiser, the film won nearly universal acclaim and several critical nods, including a Golden Globe nomination for Gordon-Levitt.

Reuniting with "Inception" director Christopher Nolan, Gordon-Levitt played a significant supporting role in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) as an unexpected ally of Christian Bale's brooding Batman. The year continued to be a big one for the actor, with the lead in "Premium Rush," a fun and fast-paced movie about a trouble-prone New York City bike messenger. Next up, Gordon-Levitt collaborated once again with "Brick" filmmaker Rian Johnson for the high-concept time-travel thriller "Looper" where he portrayed a hired gun forced to hunt down his future self (Bruce Willis). He closed out 2012 with a small part in Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Lincoln," and subsequently focused on the release of his feature directorial debut, "Don Jon" (2013), an irreverent romantic comedy co-starring Scarlett Johansson.

Partners

Companion

Julia Stiles. Met while filming "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999); no longer together

Family

Brother

Dan Gordon-Levitt. Born in 1974; often called 'Burning Dan' because he was a fire-spinning artist who performed at the Burning Man Festival; founded the Flow Temple, a school and performance group for Flow Arts that was based in Venice, CA; died Oct. 4, 2010

Father

Dennis Levitt. Worked for the liberal radio station KPFK-FM

Grandfather

Michael Gordon. Born Sept. 6, 1909; died April 29, 1993

Mother

Jane Gordon. Ran for the U.S. Congress in California during the 1970s for the Peace and Freedom Party

Education

Columbia University, New York , New York

Career Milestones

Began appearing in commercials for Sunny Jim peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs and Pop-Tarts

Joined a musical theater group at age four and played the scarecrow in a production of "The Wizard of Oz"

1988

Made television debut on an episode of "Family Ties" (NBC)

1991

Landed TV series debut as David Collins in "Dark Shadows" (NBC)

1992

Had a bit part in the family film "Beethoven"

1992

Played a young Norman in Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It"

1993

Cast as regular on NBC sitcom "The Powers That Be"

1994

First leading role in a feature, "Angels in the Outfield"

1994

Had recurring role as George on "Roseanne" (ABC)

1996

Co-starred as Demi Moore's son in "The Juror"

1996

Played Tommy Solomon on the NBC sitcom "3rd Rock from the Son"

1999

Co-starred in the above-par teen comedy "10 Things I Hate About You"

2001

Replaced Gale Harold in the off-Broadway production of "Uncle Bob"

2002

Voiced the character Jim Hawkins in the animated feature "Treasure Island"

2005

Played a a teenage hustler in the drama "Mysterious Skin"

2006

Appeared in Lee Daniels' indie film "Shadowboxer"

2006

Played a teen who becomes involved in an underground drug ring in the teenage film noir "Brick"

2007

Played a disabled janitor who gets caught up with bank robbers in "The Lookout"

2008

Featured in the Iraq war drama "Stop-Loss," directed by Kimberly Peirce

2009

Co-starred with Zooey Deschanel in the romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer"

2009

Played multiple roles, including Cobra Commander, in the live-action film "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"

2010

Co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in Christopher Nolan's sci-fi thriller "Inception"

2011

Portrayed a young man diagnosed with cancer opposite Seth Rogen in "50/50"

2012

Played a futuristic hit man opposite Bruce Willis in "Looper"

2012

Portrayed the president's son Robert Lincoln opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"

2012

Re-teamed with director Christopher Nolan in "The Dark Knight Rises"; played police officer John Blake

2012

Starred in the action thriller "Premium Rush"

2013

Starred in "Don Jon," which he wrote and directed