actor

RJ Mitte, best known for playing Walter White’s son, Walt Jr., on Breaking Bad, spoke at the SAC on Thursday night.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

RJ Mitte, the 22-year-old actor best known for playing Walter White’s son, Walt Jr., on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” spoke on campus Thursday night as part of the Campus Events + Entertainment Distinguished Speakers Series. Like his character, Mitte has cerebral palsy — a neurological disorder that affects body movements and muscle coordination. In his talk, Mitte talked about his experiences growing up with cerebral palsy and working as an actor with disabilities. Prior to the event, Mitte sat down with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.

Daily Texan: Do you have any favorite moments from the work you’ve done on different shows?

RJ Mitte: I loved being a part of the “Breaking Bad” pilot. We had so much fun doing it. I had the privilege to be a part of a show called “Switched at Birth” on ABC Family. It was such a warm, welcoming crew. I’m lucky; no matter where I go or what I do, I always meet some amazing people. I’ve always been able to work with the best, and I continue to hope for that. 

DT: Why do you think disability representation is important? 

RM: One of the biggest things [we work on] today is changing the mindset. It will affect our future, how people behave and what they do and how they talk to other people in the long run, especially when it comes down to disability, because disability does not discriminate. It does not care what color you are, where you’re from, who you are or what you do. Everyone is affected in one aspect or another. If you have inaccurate media [representation] about disability, it affects how people think about who they are. 

If you have media that, instead, depicts disability accurately, that shows people that disability is normal, that it can unite us as a whole under the human condition. Media needs to be a really positive thing. It needs to be honest
because it affects people not just our age, but children. It has an impact on how children will grow up to treat each other and their own children. It even influences how parents treat their own children. You can give people brighter futures by having better disability representation.

DT: Do you think that the state of disability representation in the media is improving?

RM: Is representation improving? Yes and no. I feel like it’s growing, and it’s changed a lot. It’s leaps and bounds away from what it used to be, especially with all the disability acts that were passed and everything that came up through the disability community. When I first started working with the community, there was only 2 percent representation on television and film of major characters with disabilities. Now, there’s around 11 percent. Actually, let me fix that. [It’s closer to] 7 percent, because a show that had that representation with a lot of disabled characters kind of got canceled. But I sit on several boards for diversity, and they are always working to fix those problems.

DT: What’s next for you? What are you interested in working on?

RM: Anything and everything. I shot two movies last year that I’m hoping will be released this year. I audition, I audition, I audition. It’s the story of my life. I do whatever will keep the lights on. I have a couple of boards I sit on — one of them [is] actually in Austin. I work with children’s hospitals, I support United Cerebral Palsy. I always work a lot with nonprofits. There’s never a dull moment in my life.

The University’s golf team extended an invitation Monday to UT alumnus Matthew McConaughey, who won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Actor on Sunday evening, to join them in a round of golf. The invitation has not yet received a response from the actor.

The team asked the actor, “hey McConaughey – wanna play a round with us when you get back to Austin?” and posted a picture of McConaughey’s University headshot to the team’s Instagram. According to Ashley Cushman, spokeswoman for the department of intercollegiate athletics at UT, the picture was originally posted by the official University Instagram account, identifying McConaughey as a medalist at the 1993 intramural golf championship.

“[We] used a screenshot of the image inviting the UT alum to play a round with the Texas Longhorns when he’s back in Austin following his Academy Award press circuit,” Cushman said. “It is a valid and standing offer to our fellow Longhorn and the 2014 Academy Award winner.”

If McConaughey accepts the invitation, the team will get NCAA compliance from the University — following the team’s culture of compliance — before they would be able to hit the course. John Fields, head coach of the men’s golf team, said he does not know whether McConaughey will even see the invitation, due to his busy schedule.

“I’ve met him a few times before, and he’s a great guy and a good golfer,” Fields said. “We’re obviously building champions here … One of our past coaches, Harvey Penick, said in [his book], ‘If you want to be a good putter, you should go to dinner with good putters.’… I would imagine winning an Oscar is very similar to winning a national [golf] championship.”

Kalena Preus, economics freshman and member of the University’s golf team, said he believes golfing with McConaughey would be a great opportunity to get the team involved with past alumni, especially with someone of his “stature and savvy.”

“It would be just like any other round of golf,” Preus said. “Except for the fact that he’s an Ocsar winner and all around stud … No doubt, he will get back to us in the near future. There’s nothing better than a round of golf with the UT men’s golf team; I can assure you that.” 

2014 Oscar Awards recap

The 86th Academy Awards proceeded mostly according to expectation, but that expectation was such a pipe dream it seemed impossible that all of it could happen. “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture, while “Gravity” won Best Director, a split many were predicting, but just as many thought could never actually happen. Distinguished alumnus Matthew McConaughey won the award for Best Actor, completing his McConaissance and erasing his rom-com laden past forever. John Ridley became the second black screenwriter to ever win an Oscar. It was a big night.

Host Ellen DeGeneres started things out with a bang. She was funny and down-to-earth but borrowed the snark of many of her Oscar-hosting predecessors to varying degrees of success. DeGeneres is known as one of the few truly nice comedians, but, last night, she was surprisingly cynical, comparing Liza Minnelli to a drag impersonator and mocking nominee June Squibb’s age. Mean doesn’t really work on Ellen, but she realized that quickly and turned it around, ordering pizza for audience members and taking the most popular selfie of all time. She knew when to be visible and when to let the show go. Even though the ceremony went well over its allotted time, it never felt like it dragged, and a big part of that is due to DeGeneres’s spot-on mix of energy and detachment.

“Gravity” was the big winner of the night, taking home seven of its 10 nominations, including Director, Cinematography, Score and most of the other technical categories. The biggest loser? “American Hustle,” which was nominated for 10 Oscars (as many as “Gravity”) and won zero. “Gravity”’s dominance cost many other films their chance at awards too, including “Captain Phillips” and “Nebraska,” both of which also went home empty-handed. “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron has long been an industry favorite with his unique visual style and created an entirely new way of filmmaking, making his expected victory a deserved one. He is also the first Latin filmmaker to win the Oscar for Directing.

The live performances, always a welcome diversion at the Academy Awards, were hit and miss. Pharrell performed a lively rendition of the admittedly repetitive “Happy” and even got some audience participation from nominated actresses Lupita Nyong’o, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. U2 did a flawless acoustic rendition of their nominated song “Ordinary Love,” and Karen O and Ezra Koenig staged a charming version of “The Moon Song” from “Her.” But possibly the biggest surprise of the night was Idina Menzel’s disappointing performance of “Let it Go.” Easily the most anticipated of all the performers, Menzel fell flat, seeming terrified and unconfident. It actually made the song’s subsequent Oscar win seem awkward.

All the acting categories shook out exactly as they were predicted. Frontrunners Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto took home Best Actress for “Blue Jasmine” and Best Supporting Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club,” respectively. Slightly less assured pick Lupita Nyong’o won Supporting Actress for her work in “12 Years a Slave,” and McConaughey won Best Actor, also for “Dallas Buyers Club.” While all these actors were largely expected to win, it’s hard to argue with any of the choices. All delivered career best — or career launching — performances and charmed the pants off the awards circuit.

The biggest moment of the night was the final one, when Will Smith presented “12 Years a Slave” with the award for Best Picture. Steve McQueen was the first African-American to win an Oscar for producing and literally jumped for joy. “12 Year a Slave” only won three awards in total, but the fact that a grueling but stunning film about slavery won Best Picture, an award normally reserved for the most palatable, middle-of-the-road fare, made the supposedly most important awards in film seem relevant for the first time in quite a while.

Michael Floyd, an Austin-based actor, director, and writer, directs three short plays in Oh Dragon Theatre Company's upcoming production of "Didn't See That Coming." Ten short plays will be performed this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday/

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Michael Floyd believes the true reward of his work is in listening to the audience and not to the critics. He wants people to feel something after a performance.

An Austin-based actor, director and writer, Floyd directs three of the 10 short plays in Austin-based Oh Dragon Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Didn’t See That Coming” this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Floyd’s three pieces are “LA 8 AM,” “A Little Fresh Air” and “Up on the Roof.”

“Every play is interesting,” Floyd said. “Some of them are extremely funny, and some of them are melancholic. Even some of the most outlandish scenarios in the play have some real-life emotions — things that real people think about or feel.”

An Austin resident since late 2008, Floyd initially moved here to mend a troubled relationship. After witnessing Austin’s arts and theater community, he decided to stay and make the switch to directing.

“As an actor, I was a puppet on stage,” Floyd said. “I wanted control. Directing started with ego, but after that it was about wanting to entertain people and to make people think, and touch their hearts and minds with great work.” 

Floyd prefers directing for stage rather than directing films. While he hopes to make more films in the future, directing plays remains his focus for now.

“There’s an audience out there, and they’re watching you,” Floyd said. “You can actually feel them connecting with you and that connection between the audience and the performer, that is inspiring to me, and that is what makes me want to do more and more theater.”

In late 2012, Floyd and a friend formed a theater company, Untitled Theatre Works. The company was created to help new artists, directors, technicians and people with little or no experience in theater learn the ins and outs of the industry.

Kris Dillon, company member at the theater company, met Floyd when she interviewed with him in 2010. 

“He really has a clear vision of how he wants to stage the production before going into rehearsals,” Dillon said. “You can tell that [Floyd] has a solid education, as well as experience behind him.”

During the making of the company’s production “Dahlia” in 2012, Floyd met Jordan Plessala, an actor who was auditioning for the role of the main character’s wife.

“[Floyd] is an actor’s director,” Plessala said. “He makes an excellent director, but a poor friend, because he’s horrible for your ego. [Floyd] has made me feel like a superhero or like someone who could win an Oscar.”

Floyd is currently working to develop his directorial skills. 

“What has been more challenging to me has been directing,” Floyd said. “Directing doesn’t come naturally to me, but you can always learn more and you can always become better at whatever you choose to do.”

Film and Theater actor Andrew Bosworth will be performing at The City Theatre in Matthew Lopez's award winning production of "The Whipping Man." Bosworth plays a wounded Jewish confederate soldier who returns home only to find it destroyed and abandoned except for his two slaves. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Film and theater actor Andrew Bosworth believes he hasn’t done enough to satiate his curiosity as an artist. In his newest stage role, Bosworth performs as Caleb in The City Theatre Company’s production of Matthew Lopez’s play “The Whipping Man.” Bosworth will perform Friday along with co-actors Robert Pellette and Richard Romeo.

“Being on stage with Bosworth is like being on stage with the sun,” said Trevor Bissell, a veteran actor at the theater company. “You want to step into the glow with the hope that you can be as radiant as he is.”

Born in New Hampshire, Bosworth was raised in a family in which no one was really interested in the arts or in music.

“When I was younger, I never really liked myself very much,” Bosworth said. “So I tried staying quiet for a long time, but that wasn’t really a good outlet for my energy, so I took a drama class on a lark just because it was there. Luckily, I had a good teacher and it was a lot of fun, and I kept doing it and one thing led to another.”

Bosworth graduated in December 2008 with a double major in theater and sociology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While in college, he received his first big opportunity to star in a Broadway production, “Chess,” as part of the North Carolina Theatre.

“One of the main roles was not cast and they just wanted somebody to stand in, and I was like, “I’ll do that,’ so I was standing in and they said, ‘Why don’t we just give it to this kid?,’” Bosworth said. “So I got pumped up from the ensemble to the supporting lead in the show, which I was not, at all, expecting.”

In spring 2010, Bosworth toured all over North Carolina performing a series of Shakespearean plays, including “Hamlet” and “Taming of the Shrew,” as part of the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival educational tour.

“The shows were zany and whacky,” Bosworth said. “These were hour-long adaptations, where we each had up to three roles per show, going back and forth switching characters. I even got to play a girl.”

In 2013, Bosworth starred in the Austin Theatre Project’s “Falsettos,” an operetta, which is how he met Jeff Hinkle, director-in-residence at the theater company.

“He has this terrible intensity,” Hinkle said. “He had such a depth of performance during auditions ,and I just knew that he was going to get better and better during rehearsals. He was the most professional, committed actor I’ve ever worked with.”

Bissell, who has worked with Bosworth only on “Othello” so far, hopes to work with him more in the future. 

“His performance in ‘Falsettos’ evoked a visceral and true emotion,” Bissell said. “Every movement is deliberate. Every silent moment calculated.”

Bosworth believes improvisation is a key skill and likes to get into the details of his character and the story before every performance.

“He’s incredibly gifted, and, once he gets the part, he’s truly committed to doing the research for the character,” Hinkle said.

Although opportunities have come his way by chance, Bosworth has been eager to learn and to grow.

“My professor of theater in college told us, ‘You have to want it more than you want to eat. You have to want it more than you want to own a home,’ and then he paused and said, ‘You have to want it more than you want to be happy,’ and that really stuck with me,” Bosworth said. “That’s tough and not many people realize that.”

Academy Award winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, dead at 46

Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on the morning of February 2, 2014.

Best known for his Oscar-winning performance in "Capote," Hoffman was an incredibly gifted actor on both the stage and screen. His career began in 1991 with an episode of “Law and Order,” but took off after his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Boogie Nights." His repeated collaboration with Anderson is one of the many things that sticks out in Hoffman’s extensive filmography. He appeared in almost all of the writer-director’s films, including "Magnolia," "Punch Drunk Love" and 2012’s "The Master," in which Hoffman gives one of the biggest performances of his — or any — career. He recently directed and starred in "Jack Goes Boating," which his first time behind the camera. His last film was "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

Hoffman never lacked critical adoration, especially after the success of "Capote." He received four Academy Award nominations in the past decade and won one — Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2006 for his performance in "Capote." In a review of the 2012 Broadway production of  "Death of a Salesman," in which Hoffman starred as Willy Loman, New York Times critic Ben Brantley called him “one of the finest actors of his generation." Hoffman was, and should be, in the running for finest actor of any generation, not because of loud scenery chewing or showy transformations, but because he was a genuine artist and collaborator. Even when he finally got the recognition he deserved, Hoffman was never too good for the material or his costars. He’s as fun to watch in the goofier stuff as he is compelling in the heavy.

One of the best things about watching Hoffman act is that it never looks like he’s acting. He truly became every character he played. He could do big roles as well as anyone. "Capote" could have been one of those dime-a-dozen biopics where the actor chooses one or two social tics and and an accent and runs with it. But In "Capote," Hoffman recreated a real person rather than a caricature of one. His Truman Capote has completely fleshed out reactions, desires and emotions, where a lesser actor would have focused on just the voice or sexuality. And Hoffman nails that too, of course. It’s amazing to hear how perfectly he mimics his subject, not just the voice, but the way he straightens his glasses, the way he drinks and the way he lies. Nothing is motiveless in a Hoffman performance. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman had the energy to blow Meryl Streep offscreen, but the intelligence to know exactly how to use it. When he worked, it was like he was holding a nuclear reactor: he had limitless raw power, but complete control over how much he let out. That's why Hoffman was as great as he was — he always knew exactly what to do. That’s what made him the master.

A portrait of actress and UT alumna Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol is displayed in a 2011 exhibit at the blanton Museum of Art. UT is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Ryan O'Neal over the artwork. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Edmonson | Daily Texan Staff

For most of the last 33 years, an Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett has hung in the home of her longtime lover, Ryan O'Neal, and a jury's verdict Thursday ensures that is where it will stay.

For nearly a month, O'Neal has been in a courtroom as lawyers for UT sought to gain possession of the portrait, arguing that Fawcett bequeathed the artwork to the school upon her death.

O'Neal fought back and testified last week that the portrait was his closest remaining connection to Fawcett, who died in 2009. The actor's descriptions of talking to the portrait and feeling the presence of the "Charlie's Angels" actress were among the last words that jurors focused on, asking to hear his testimony again Thursday morning.

Within 90 minutes of reviewing the testimony, the panel returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of O'Neal. The actor wasn't present for the jury's decision, but his sons Patrick and Redmond O'Neal clasped hands and hugged after hearing the result.

Patrick O'Neal said he spoke to his father and "he was very happy." The actor's attorney Marty Singer said O'Neal was having a medical procedure and that's why he wasn't in court Thursday.

The artwork is valuable, with experts estimating it is worth between $800,000 and $12 million. Ryan O'Neal, however, told jurors he had no intention of selling it and wanted to pass it down to his only son with Fawcett, Redmond.

Fawcett left all her artwork, including a nearly identical Warhol portrait, to UT, Fawcett's alma mater. The model-actress however left nothing to O'Neal, who was her companion for nearly 30 years.

Within days of Fawcett's death, O'Neal took one of two portraits of the actress that Warhol created in 1980 from her condominium. O'Neal had the permission of the trustee of Fawcett's belongings and testified the portrait was a gift from Warhol for arranging the artist's portrait session with the model-actress.

University lawyers attempted to discredit O'Neal's ownership claims with footage from Fawcett's reality show and a "20/20" television segment documenting the portraits' creation.

O'Neal wasn't seen in the footage, and a producer didn't recall seeing the "Love Story" star at Warhol's studio. But she also acknowledged she had no knowledge of who owned the artwork or how it was delivered.

The case featured testimony from O'Neal and several of Fawcett's close friends, who said the actress told them one of the portraits belonged to O'Neal. Two witnesses who were disclosed late in the trial — Fawcett's chiropractor and a former nurse's assistant — also backed O'Neal's claims.

Singer and another of O'Neal's attorneys, Todd Eagan, said two years of litigation and the three-week trial could have been avoided if UT had conducted a more thorough investigation.

"He never should have been sued," Singer said.

David Beck, a University attorney, said Thursday that the jury was conscientious and noted the panel was split on who should have the portrait.

He said the school felt obligated to pursue the case against O'Neal due to Fawcett's wishes. "We had no choice," he said.

Beck said the school's lawyers would look at the case and decide its next steps.

The University showed jurors footage from Fawcett's reality show in which she told an auction house owner that she had two Warhol portraits and was considering whether to sell one. O'Neal's lawyers noted that Fawcett never said on-camera that she owned both pieces of art.

The school also showed the panel documents that Fawcett signed loaning the portraits to The Andy Warhol Museum in which she is described as the owner and artist.

Beck in closing arguments had urged jurors to give the school the portrait in accordance with Fawcett's wishes.

"You've seen Farrah. You've heard from Farrah," Beck said Monday in closing arguments. "Please, please, speak for her."

The portrait has been a cherished possession for O'Neal, who told jurors it is one of his strongest reminders of his nearly three-decade romance with Fawcett.

"I talk to it," O'Neal testified last week. "I talk to her. It's her presence. Her presence in my life. In her son's life."

The jury also determined a tablecloth that Warhol drew hearts on and presented to O'Neal and Fawcett was jointly owned by the couple. The tablecloth was given to the University, and O'Neal has said he wants it back.

Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin said he will decide what should happen to the item during a January hearing.

While O'Neal's portrait will remain in private hands, the University's version continues to hang in its Blanton Museum of Art and the school has other artwork that Fawcett created.

"We are disappointed that the jury saw the evidence a different way, but we will continue to honor Farrah with the Warhol portrait we do have along with her other works of art," the school wrote in a statement.

Editor’s note: Two Life & Arts staff writers discuss big releases that are garnering buzz for the awards season. This week they focus on “12 Years A Slave.” 

Colin McLaughlin: “12 Years A Slave.” Wow. Just wow. I’ve been doing my best not to jinx the movie or send people to see it with ridiculously high expectations, but I find it hard to see how anyone can be disappointed by Steve McQueen’s brutal examination of slavery. “12 Years” has yet to see a wide release, and so “Gravity” still looks like the film to beat. I don’t want to be like some other unnamed Oscar bloggers and state that “12 Years a Slave” is, without any doubt, this year’s Best Picture winner. At this early point in the race I think the question about this film isn’t, “Will it win?” but, “What could prevent it from winning?” Thoughts?

Lee Henry: Well, a week ago I would have had an answer for you, and that answer would have been “Saving Mr. Banks.” It was supposed to be the “King’s Speech” equivalent for this year: feel-good period piece based on a true story and featuring several beloved actors exchanging witty repartee. From what I’ve read, the movie only delivers on the last item. While that’s certainly enough to propel Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks into individual nominations, it’s not going to be enough to compete with “Gravity” and “12 Years.” Both Hanks and Thompson are Academy darlings with two wins under their belts, and both are as charming as anyone else in the business. Thompson has a much tougher category than Hanks though, who is being predicted by several pundits as a frontrunner to win.

 

CM: From what I’ve heard, “Saving Mr. Banks’” best bet is a supporting actor win for Hanks as Walt Disney. Not only will the role likely gain him a second nomination for this year, it also poses a serious threat to Michael Fassbender, whose role as the sadistic slave owner in “12 Years a Slave” had many calling the supporting actor race early. But Fassbender is giving the Academy the cold shoulder, refusing to campaign for supporting actor. We may see Hanks take home his third Oscar this year. 

LH: Yeah, Fassbender had a nomination all but ensured and he’s ruined it by playing the “I’m an artist” card. He’s not thinking about how this move negatively affects “12 Years a Slave’s” momentum. Regardless of Fassbender’s anti-campaign strategy, I think he’ll still get in. The award for supporting actor seems to be becoming a three-man race between Fassbender, Hanks and Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club.” We both saw “Dallas Buyers Club” over the weekend, and I think we can agree that his work as a male-to-female transgender HIV-positive drug addict is stellar. Now this may sound like an over-the-top made-for-Oscar role, but Leto owns it and creates a fully developed, tragically funny character. 

 

CM: I see Leto as the real potential upset in the supporting actor category. He’s never been nominated and he’s not much of a household name, but he’s delivered a solid body of work over the last decade in movies like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Lord of War.” With Fassbender’s status now up in the air, this year’s supporting actor race could become a battle between young first-time nominee Leto and two-time winning legend Hanks. The most exciting races in recent years have been defined by the old versus the new. 

LH: Agreed. Leto has an uphill battle ahead of him though. The Academy has rewarded women playing female-to-male transgender characters multiple times, most notably Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” but that’s never gone the other way. That’s a big hurdle for Leto to jump and he may not have the name recognition or actor cred. It all depends on how Focus markets him and his co-star, the equally awesome Matthew McConaughey. 

 

CM: McConaughey’s physical transformation alone was impressive. But, he radically alters his body and still manages to deliver the best performance of his career. He’s completely overhauled his career in the last 18 months with strong, varied performances in “Mud,” “Bernie” and “Killer Joe,” and “Dallas Buyers Club” could be one that sends him home with the Oscar.

Being stranded on an island with no company other than a bloodied volleyball couldn’t stop him, but a health scare just might. 

 

Renowned actor Tom Hanks, who currently stars in “Captain Phillips,” revealed in an interview with comedian David Letterman that he has type 2 diabetes.

 

In the interview, which aired Monday, Oct. 7, Hanks acknowledged that he had suffered with symptoms of diabetes for over 20 years but received official confirmation recently.

 

Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form, occurs when a person’s body does not produce enough insulin for proper use.

 

The unexpected news came after the late night host admired Hanks’ recently trimmer physique, which Hanks attributed to his recent diagnosis.

 

“I went to the doctors and they said, ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been living with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated. You’ve got type 2 diabetes, young man,’” the 57 year-old actor reported.

 

The “Cast Away” star continued by saying that his doctor recommends that he gets back to the shape he was in in his younger days of high school, a goal the dashing actor finds nearly impossible.

 

“Well, I’m gonna have type 2 diabetes because there is no way I can weigh as much as I did in high school,” Hanks joked.

 

When questioned by Letterman about how much he weighed in high school, Hanks answered with a shocking “96 pounds. I was a very skinny boy.” 

 

Despite his recent diagnosis, Hanks isn’t down for the count. After all, Hanks lost a whopping 55 pounds for his role as Chuck Noland in “Cast Away”. If anyone can get back to a healthy weight, it is Hanks. 

“Don Jon” is a surprisingly frank directorial debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wrote, directed, and stars in the sex comedy, released this weekend. Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a “Jersey Shore”-esque meathead with a penchant for porn, despite the revolving door of women in his life. That all changes when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a romantic comedy junkie with equally warped perceptions of love and romance, a topic that Gordon-Levitt tackles with sharp insight and wit. 

The Daily Texan participated in a roundtable interview with Gordon-Levitt during this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival.

The Daily Texan: How long has this idea to write and direct your own movie been on your mind?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I’ve worked with a ton of directors. I always loved being on sets, I loved watching movies as well as making them. When you’re an actor, there are certain parts of the process that you have nothing to do with, like where the camera goes or how it’s cut or music. So I was always really interested in being a part of that.

I think a real turning point though, was for my 21st birthday. I bought myself my first copy of Final Cut Pro, which is a video-editing software, and I started teaching myself how to edit. I loved it. I loved it so much I dropped out of college. I’d stay up all night making little videos, pointing the camera at myself, pointing it at a computer, cutting it into little short videos. It’s so much fun to me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Ever since then especially I’ve been pretty intent on one day making a movie.

DT: And where did the idea for the film come from?

JGL: It started with me wanting to tell a story about what is always getting in the way of love, which is how we objectify each other and media contributes to that. So I thought of a story about a guy who watches too much pornography and a girl who watches too many Hollywood movies would be a really funny way at getting at those questions.

I was thinking about the guy. Who is he, and why is watching too much pornography? If he’s just watching it because he can’t find a partner, that wouldn’t really get at the theme. But if he was a ladies’ man, if he were getting with all kinds of girls all the time, but still had this habit, this always going back to the one-way perfect objectification of pornography, that would really bring it out. I thought, “who’s the classic ladies’ man?” and that’s when I thought of the literary character of Don Juan.

Then I was thinking, “How would I play Don Juan, what would be a contemporary Don Juan? What if I made it funny? And what’s that version of Don Juan?” My first thought was machismo, east coast guy with a gym body and shiny hair. It made me laugh instantly and that was it. I loved the idea.

DT: How challenging was it to write your character as likeable?

JGL: That was always a fine line I wanted to walk. My favorite protagonists are the ones aren’t just your perfect hero, who have their flaws. You like them, they’re rooting for them, but they do some shit that’s just … Why are you doing that, dude? But that’s how people are! There isn’t a human being in the world that’s perfect all the time, just like there’s not a human being in the world that’s evil all the time. Everyone’s a mixture of both, and so to me, those are the most interesting characters.

DT: I’d like to talk about Brie Larson’s character. She’s totally absorbed in technology, and she ends up being the wisest character in the movie, despite doing almost nothing the whole time. Do you think her isolation from her family is why she’s so wise?

JGL: I thought of it the other way around. Because she’s sort of over her family, I see her as someone who’s sort of grown up a bit. She’s a few steps ahead of Jon. By the end of the movie, Jon has started to break out of his shell and engage with things and try to actually talk to his parents. His parents are close-minded people, and Monica, [Larson’s] character, has already come to that conclusion. By the time our story starts, she’s like, “These people don’t listen anyway, so why should I speak?” In that final scene, for those who’ve seen it, when she finally speaks, it’s because she sees that her brother is sort of saying something, and so she engages.

Just because she doesn’t have many lines doesn’t mean she’s doing nothing, and that’s kind of one of my favorite things about that performance. Oftentimes, my favorite moments of any given performance are those moments where the actor isn’t speaking. Yeah, she gave us a really nuanced and funny and genuine performance, saying very very very little in the movie. It’s a testament to her skills. The size of your part isn’t a linear scale with the number of your lines, and she really proved that.

DT: I love the moment where you and [Johansson’s] character discuss how she doesn’t want you cleaning your own house. I want to know about the genesis of that moment because most people would say that’s a good thing.

JGL: That’s what the movie is about, is these expectations and molds that we’re pressured into filling about what a man is supposed to be and what a woman is supposed to be. Both Jon and Barbara are trapped in these molds, and she doesn’t like the fact that he’s a man and he’s not supposed to be doing housework. It’s a ridiculous notion, but that’s the old-fashioned way of thinking, and Barbara clearly feels that way.

It’s a scene that we wrote late, while we were in the middle of production. I did it because [Johansson’s] performance was so charming, I wanted to make sure that the audience wasn’t rooting for that relationship and understood how problematic the Barbara Sugarman character is. It’s an idea that [Johansson] and I came up with together, and I wrote a version of it. We sat down and rehearsed it, and rewrote it together. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.