Toronto 2011: Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns emcee
It's not often you walk into a theater and hear the announcer say, "Please turn ON all your recording devices." But that was exactly what happened Monday night during "hitRECord," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's live show at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the actor showed off his moonlighting career as director, producer and curator of the site hitRECord.org.
Gordon-Levitt is a complicated man. At once, the 30-year-old is a veteran actor of both the small and big screen and in recent years he has elevated his craft from former-television-kid star ("3rd Rock From the Sun") to acclaimed actor, working with directors including Christopher Nolan (on "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises," which is filming now). He just signed on to costar in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and is getting high marks for his upcoming feature "50/50," in which he plays a cancer patient opposite Seth Rogen. The film premiered Monday in Toronto.
A subdued "regular Joe" in interviews, Gordon-Levitt turns into a modern-day P.T. Barnum when he jumps onto a live stage, as he did Monday night at his hitRECord event. His online production company makes different forms of art through a collaborative process that seems intended to poke a stick at the traditional corporate Hollywood system in a quaint yet subversive way.
Fittingly, the first video Gordon-Levitt showed was a short movie, a period piece featuring himself and Channing Tatum adorned in circus garb and speaking with an exaggerated, over-the-top vocabulary. Check out the video here.
Gordon-Levitt holds such shows randomly across the country, premiering footage that's been assembled from his collaborative website — little poems, short films, music videos. He also gets the audience involved, bringing them on-stage to narrate brief stories that could later be featured in an anthology.
One story was about a sugar cube melting in a cup of tea. Levitt gave his narrator, a random audience member, specific direction: "You've seen 'The Wizard of Oz,' right? Your 'melting' should sound shrill, like you're dying in the cup of tea."
Gordon-Levitt often lures his big screen costars to his shows. Anne Hathaway, his "Dark Knight Rises" costar, attended a hitRECord show in New York, where she talked about how much she loves to cry in a dark theater. On Monday night, Rogen appeared in a video with "50/50" screenwriter Will Reiser, who also participated live, encouraging hitRECord audience members to submit videos about turning tragedy into comedy. Anna Kendrick, Levitt's other "50/50" costar, did a live reading on-stage, an adolescent love story gone bad.
The crowd loved the irreverent videos and stories, with the majority of them filming the event as it took place. Levitt could be on to something. He's definitely seizing the zeitgeist with his social media project, and the primarily under-30 audience seemed to be digging the results. And there's more to come: He's just published his first anthology of the work from hitRECord and has landed a book deal from Harper Collins for more.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, media mogul, might be his next title.
— Nicole Sperling in Toronto
Photo: Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads "hitRECord at the Movies With Joseph Gordon-Levitt" at the Toronto International Film Festival. Credit: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images.