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Sundance 2013: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Editing Porn, Sex Scenes, and Directing Himself

PARK CITY, UT: Let’s get this right out in the open: Don Jon’s Addiction, the new comedy from Joseph Gordon-Levitt premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, is filthy. It concerns a womanizing New Jersey ladies’ man whose dependence on hardcore Internet porn is so intense that he actually prefers it to the real thing. His voice-over narration, explaining in graphic detail exactly why he feels that way, is one of the film’s funniest scenes; his precise description of the porn/masturbation process will probably ring a bit too comfortably true for some gentlemen in its audience. Both of those scenes, and others throughout the movie, are illustrated by the pornography in question. It may very well be the most hardcore porn we’ve ever seen in a mainstream movie (there’s even a credit for a “pornography consultant,” which sounds like good work if you can get it). But, as Mr. Gordon-Levitt explained following a Saturday morning screening, the film’s not as graphic as it sounds.

“It actually feels like you’re seeing more than you are,” he says. “We spent a lot of time carefully picking what clips we would use of the pornography, and cropping the clips, so that you’re not actually seeing anything that you don’t see in a rated-R movie… Before when we were in the editing process, before we had time to do all that careful selection and cropping, we just put some temporary porn clips in the middle of the movie. And it was kind of hard to watch. It would take you out. You’re not used to seeing penises and vaginas in a mainstream comedy! So we decided to take out all the penises and vaginas, and that’s what we’ve got here.”

For what it’s worth, “what we’ve got here” is a witty, brazen, and sexy picture from the prolific actor, here making his feature debut as writer and director as well as star. He’s got a good ear for guy-talk dialogue, and a welcome sense of candor–he’s putting some stuff out there about guys and porn. As a director, he’s got a keen visual wit; the film has a fast, popping montage style that recalls early Aronofsky. And though much of the film deconstructs the difference between fantasy sex and the real deal, it has a real, honest to God sex scene that seems a quiet criticism of the tired acrobatics in most films.

“If you’re doing a scene that has any kind of sexual activity, as long as the scene makes sense in the story, it really isn’t any different from any other scene,” Gordon-Levitt said of the film’s many sex scenes. “I very much wanted all the sexuality in this movie to serve the story and get to a point.”

And mention must be made of his work in the leading role, an inspired comic interpretation of a Situation-style Jersey muscle-head who cares only about (in order) “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my girls, and my porn.” It’s a very funny performance, and one that, as he explained Saturday, actually came easier in spite of his on-set multi-tasking.

“Having been writing for years,” he says, “that’s way more time than I ever get to prepare for any other acting roles. So the acting was actually pretty easy, when it came time to do it.”

Don Jon’s Addiction is screening this week at the Sundance Film Festival.