Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt is an American actor whose career as both a child and adult has included television series and theatrical films.
He is known for his roles in the 2009 indie (500) Days of Summer (for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination), a supporting role in the 2010 science fiction film Inception, and for starring in the 2011 drama 50/50. Beginning in commercials as a young child, he made his film debut in 1992's Beethoven. Gordon-Levitt subsequently co-starred in the television sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996–2001) as the young Tommy Solomon. After a hiatus during which he attended Columbia University, Gordon-Levitt left television for film acting, appearing in films like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and Manic (2001), followed by critically acclaimed performances in 2004's Mysterious Skin, 2005's Brick, and 2007's The Lookout. He runs an online collaborative production company titled HitRECord.
Gordon-Levitt was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Sherman Oaks. His family is Jewish, though "not strictly religious", and his parents were among the founders of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. His father, Dennis Levitt, was once the news director for the Pacifica Radio station, KPFK-FM. His mother, Jane Gordon, ran for the United States Congress in California during the 1970s for the Peace and Freedom Party; she met Dennis Levitt while she was working as the program guide editor for KPFK-FM. Gordon-Levitt's maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, was a Hollywood film director between the 1940s and 1970s, known for helming the 1959 Doris Day/Rock Hudson film Pillow Talk. Gordon-Levitt had an older brother, Dan, who was a photographer and fire spinner; he was born in 1974 and died in October 2010.
Gordon-Levitt joined a musical theater group at the age of four and played the Scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz. Subsequently, he was approached by an agent and began appearing on television and in commercials for Sunny Jim peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs, Pop-Tarts, and Kinney Shoes.
Gordon-Levitt began his acting career at the age of six, appearing in several late 1980s made-for-television films. In 1996, Gordon-Levitt began playing Tommy Solomon on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, a role that made him a popular TV personality. The San Francisco Chronicle noted the coincidence that Gordon-Levitt was a "Jewish kid playing an extraterrestrial pretending to be a Jewish kid". Gordon-Levitt was attending Van Nuys High School while acting on the show. During the 1990s, he was frequently featured in teenage magazines, something he resented. He has also said that during this time period, he did not enjoy being recognized in public, saying that he "hates celebrity".
Gordon-Levitt starred in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and voiced Jim Hawkins in Treasure Planet (2002), a Disney adaption of the novel Treasure Island.
In 2000, he began attending Columbia University. He studied history, literature, and French poetry in General Studies. He became an avid and self-confirmed Francophile and a French speaker. He said that moving to New York City from his hometown "forced" him to grow as a person. He dropped out in 2004 to concentrate on acting again.
Gordon-Levitt has said that he made a conscious decision to "be in good movies" after returning to acting. His films include 2001's drama Manic, which was set in a mental institution, Mysterious Skin (2004), in which he played a gay prostitute and child sexual abuse victim, and Brick (2005), a modern-day film noir set at a high school, in which he had the lead role of Brendan Frye, a teen who becomes involved in an underground drug ring while investigating a murder. Brick received positive reviews, with The Minnesota Daily's critic commenting that Gordon-Levitt played the character "beautifully", "true to film's style", "unfeeling but not disenchanted", and "sexy in the most ambiguous way." Another reviewer described the performance as "astounding". He also starred opposite Steve Sandvoss as a young judgmental missionary in Latter Days (2003), a film that centers on a sexually confused Mormon missionary (Sandvoss) who falls for his gay neighbor. He had roles in Havoc and Shadowboxer.
His next role was in 2007's The Lookout, in which he played Chris Pratt, a janitor involved in a bank heist. In reviewing the film, The Philadelphia Inquirer described Gordon-Levitt as a "surprisingly formidable, and formidably surprising, leading man", while New York magazine stated that he is a "major tabula rasa actor ... a minimalist", and that his character worked because he "doesn't seize the space ... by what he takes away from the character." The San Francisco Chronicle specified that he "embodies, more than performs, a character's inner life." His 2008 films include Killshot, in which he played a hoodlum partnered with a hired killer played by Mickey Rourke, and Stop-Loss, directed by Kimberly Peirce and revolving around American soldiers returning from the Iraq War.
Gordon-Levitt played a lead role opposite Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, a well-received 2009 release about the deconstruction of a relationship. His performance, described as "the real key" to what makes the film work, credits him with using "his usual spell in subtle gradations." Variety's Todd McCarthy praised his performance, saying he "expressively alternates between enthusiasm and forlorn disappointment in the manner Jack Lemmon could". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said the movie "hits you like a blast of pure romantic oxygen" and credited both lead actors for playing "it for real, with a grasp of subtlety and feeling that goes beyond the call of breezy duty." He was subsequently nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
He later played villain Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. On November 21, 2009, he hosted Saturday Night Live. In 2010, replacing James Franco, he starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Christopher Nolan's science fiction thriller Inception, which received favorable reviews. He played the role of the "Point Man" Arthur, Dom Cobb's (DiCaprio) partner and the person responsible for researching the team's targets.
He will play the younger version of Bruce Willis's character in the time-traveling thriller Looper. In 2011, he began filming Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, in which he plays John Blake, "a Gotham City beat cop assigned to special duty under the command of Commissioner Gordon." Steven Spielberg cast him to play Robert Todd Lincoln in the 2012 film Lincoln.
Gordon-Levitt's first film as director, the 24 minute-long Sparks, an adaptation of a short story by Elmore Leonard, was selected for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as part of a new program for short films. In 2010, he directed another short film, Morgan and Destiny's Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo. It premiered at two houses during the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
He was one of the many producers of the Broadway show Slava's Snowshow.