For his Guest DJ set, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt created a list of songs he used for inspiration while prepping for five specific roles, including two characters in movies coming out this summer – Zooey Deschanel’s suitor in 500 Days of Summer and the villainous Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Levitt, who has been acting since age 6, has distinguished himself with an interesting array of performances and his music choices also reflect a wide range – from hip hop and hard rock to spoken word.
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1.) She and Him - Sweet Darlin'
2.) Rage Against the Machine - Freedom
3.) Tom Waits - Trouble's Braids
4.) Jay Z - Say Hello
5.) Pearl Jam - Arc
Chris Douridas: Hi, I’m Chris Douridas and I’m here with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Hello, Joe.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Hello.
CD: Joe’s been acting in television and movies since he was six years old. He’s starring in two movies this summer, 500 Days of Summer and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
JGL: Yes sir.
CD: Now today we’re going to be playing excerpts of songs that you’ve selected that have inspired you over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. We’re gonna get into this, Joe, what did you bring in?
JGL: There’s two things that I make sure that I bring to my work everyday when I’m shooting: number 1 is the script and number two is music. A movie set is a logistical nightmare. Half of the challenge is maintaining your concentration while all this other crap is going on all around you and so earphones and music is key for me. I spent a lot of time coming up with what music will work to put me in the right place for this character, as well as the scene I know I’m going to be doing today. So, I brought five different songs for five different characters that I’ve played.
Song: She & Him’s “Sweet Darlin’”
JGL: The first character is from “500 Days of Summer.” It’s about to come out. It’s a movie with me and Zooey Deschanel. I don’t know if you know, do you know She & Him?
JGL: Zooey’s one of my favorite people in the world and I love her as an artist, as an actor and as a musician. In the movie, the character I play is supposed to be just desperately in love with her, smitten, and so in the morning I would listen to her album. It was perfect because I would have these beautiful melodies running through my head with her voice and how could you not have a crush on this girl after listening to this song?
CD: The voice of Zooey Deschanel with help from M. Ward. The group is She & Him, the track “Sweet Darlin’.” It’s part of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Guest DJ Project here on KCRW.com. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is with us, and stepping through some of your favorite characters that you’ve played over the years, a sample of the accompanying playlists that you would build around these characters.
JGL: That’s right, so the next character on my list…I went back ten years, the movie’s called “Manic.” It takes place in this private, juvenile psychological lockdown facility and the character is just in a lot of pain, can’t control his anger, almost killed somebody and ended up in this facility. So, I brought a Rage Against the Machine song. This music’s perfect to get hyped up and angry to.
Song: Rage Against the Machine’s “Freedom”
JGL: Rage has these two powerful sides to them. They’re an extremely political band and their lyrics are revolutionary and really smart but their music is so emotional and powerful. I think when I was making “Manic,” that character probably to be honest didn’t pay that much attention to the political content to the lyrics of Rage Against the Machine. Me, personally, absolutely that inspires the hell out of me but I guess that’s the difference between me and the guy I was playing.
CD: Just a taste of “Freedom” from Rage Against the Machine, it’s part of our Guest DJ Project here on KCRW.com, from our guest, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I’m Chris Douridas, it’s KCRW.com. We’re stepping through an assortment of characters that you’ve played over the years and the accompanying music you’ve used to inspire you when you’re prepping for the character or trying to hold your concentration on the set.
JGL: Yeah, well you’ve got three guys standing right next to you setting up a light or eating a hot dog and you have to pretend that your buddy just died or something, blocking out the sound and being able to go away into music is key. So this one is from the movie “Brick,” it’s a Tom Waits song. Brick was very lyrical, the writing was highly stylized dialogue. The dialogue is written in such a way that it’s not about realism, it’s more about how it feels.
Song: Tom Waits’ “Trouble’s Braids”
JGL: While the dialogue was very lyrical, we didn’t want to sound like we were reciting poetry in “Brick,” we wanted to sound like we were just speaking. Tom Waits is perfect ‘cause the guy is just lyrical -- not only as a great writer but the way he talks and sings, he’s just got a way of making it sound like these poetic words belong in his mouth. It’s called “Trouble’s Braids,” it’s really dramatic. I think it’s just the mood of “Brick.”
CD: It’s Tom Waits, “Trouble’s Braids” from Swordfish Trombones, I’m Chris Douridas, this is a song you’ll find that’s part of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Guest DJ Project here at KCRW.com.
JGL: So the next song is one I would listen to when I was hyping myself up to do G.I. Joe and I play this kind of hyper-villainous – I hesitate to even call him a guy. He’s an archetype, he’s a legend. He’s a bad guy.
Song: Jay-Z’s “Say Hello”
JGL: It’s a Jay-Z song. Jay-Z has the perfect grandeur and bravado for this character. Jay-Z literally calls himself “J Hova” after God. He calls himself God MC, me, J Hova. And the character that I play in G.I. Joe certainly fancies himself a kind of God. I tend to usually like to play characters that are not black or white but some shade of gray and so it was kind of interesting to play character that was absolutely the bad guy, he’s the villain. When you play with G.I. Joe toys, that’s the phrase you use when you’re playing when you’re 5 – ‘are you a good guy or a bad guy?’ ‘Oh here come the bad guys!’ ‘How many bad guys did you shoot?’ And that’s what I was doing, getting to be the bad guy. Say hello.
CD: “Say Hello” from Jay-Z, it is part of the album American Gangster. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is our Guest here at KCRW.com. It’s our Guest DJ Project, I’m Chris Douridas. The next song is…
JGL: Well, I always use music as part of the acting that I do and I’d say the project where I used it the most is the character that I played --which is probably the hardest I’ve done as far as just, I don’t know, how much time or effort or how much it hurt -- it was a movie called “The Lookout.” I was playing a guy who had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury from a car accident.
You know, it’s one thing to play someone who thinks differently or has different opinions or who comes from different places and that’s a challenge but to play someone whose brain physically doesn’t work the same way…I thought a lot about it and when it came time to decide what I was going to do for music, I had the idea to try to really limit what I listened to because his brain was very limited and often went in circles. He couldn’t sequence time right and he kind of felt trapped in his own limited head. He used to be this smart, up and coming, world on a silver platter guy and now he’s living this dull life with no apparent future and he can’t keep things straight.
So, I thought if I just listened to only one band, only one voice, that that might start to do something to me. And it did. I often would just listen to this one little minute piece of music over and over and over and over and over again.
Song: Pearl Jam’s ‘Arc’
JGL: I’m talking about Pearl Jam, it’s a band I’ve loved ever since I was really young so it resonates on that level.
CD: And there’s something about Eddie Vedder’s voice that has this anguish.
JGL: Yeah, he wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is important, but he still has toughness to him. The character in The Lookouthated himself. He killed two of his friends, injured himself to render himself this person that he doesn’t want to be. I think even worse than the condition is his own self loathing. I’m not saying that Eddie Vedder has self loathing, but the anguish that you’re talking about I think really fit.
CD: That is Pearl Jam, a track called “Arc,” a very short piece from Riot Act, part of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Guest DJ Project, I’m Chris Douridas, it’s KCRW.com. Joseph, thank you so much for joining us and bringing in these great stories and this wonderful collection of songs.
JGL: My sincere pleasure, I’ve been a lover of KCRW my whole life, I was born and raised in LA and I love this station. I’m proud to have my voice here.
CD: Thanks for putting so much work and passion into it.
JGL: Thank you.
CD: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject
Joseph Gordon Levitt
[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]