"I had actually never seen 'Jersey Shore' before I wrote this, and that's the truth," said Joseph Gordon-Levitt to me the other day at an interview during South by Southwest.
We were talking about "Don Jon" (nee "Don Jon’s Addiction"), which he wrote, directed, and starred in. The movie concerns a meathead lothario hailing from New Jersey who loves his family, the church, and his sweet ride. But his real passions are trolling cheesy nightclubs for that perfect 10 and trolling the Internet for that perfect porn video. And yes, he and his buddies tend to sport the same overgelled hair stylings and douchtastic duds favored by the Situation and company.
Though Gordon-Levitt might not have watched the MTV reality show, plenty of his friends who read early drafts did. "It kept coming up after friends of mine had read it. I figured I should watch this show, and I did. I couldn't really get into more than one episode of it."
Instead, he maintains that the East Coast tough guy is something that's been around for a long time. "This is an archetype thing that predates 'Jersey Shore' -- starting out with 'Rocky' or 'Saturday Night Fever,'" he said. "He's really as American as a cowboy."
Gordon-Levitt had been developing ideas to do a movie about a Don Juan-like character for some time, but the exact form of the movie didn’t take shape until he starred in another indie comedy.
"It wasn’t until I worked with Seth Rogen and his whole posse on the set of '50/50' that I decided that it should be a character-based comedy," he said. "And that's when I thought, all right what would that version of Don Juan be? My first idea was this machismo guy with a gym body and shiny hair, and it instantly made me laugh and that's where it came from. When something makes you laugh, you don't ask why."
Don Jon finds that his love of the ladies and love of the nudie videos collide when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a knockout in a red dress who in her own way objectifies men just as much as Don Jon and his posse do women, only through the prism of the impossibly high ideals of romantic comedies instead of skin flicks.
"Hollywood romantic comedies and porn are largely about meeting expectations. There are certain clichés, you always see them. Jon details his checklist of what he wants out of a porn video. And then he later details the checklist of what you see in every romantic comedy. And it's the same thing, the love at first sight, the first kiss, the breakup, the make-up, the expensive wedding, and they ride off into the sun. These are all these things that you expect. You start looking for that in relationships. You start trying to experience those things, but those things aren't real. Those things are sort of forced and overly simplistic. Real life is much more complicated than that, and much more unique than that, and actually much more beautiful than that if you can appreciate it for its unique beauty in every moment."
"Don Jon" opens later this year.
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