In the indie comedy Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has created a guy who would rather watch PornHub than be in bed with his girlfriend, Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson. Jon Martello is a New Jersey wide boy obsessed with his pad, his ride, his body but mostly his porn, tuning in up to 20 times in a day.
It looks like that particular pastime might be history when Johansson turns up. But Don Jon is no straightforward rom com, just as 32-year-old director, writer and star Gordon-Levitt is no straightforward Hollywood player.
So, the film takes a confident – cocky even – leftfield turn, musing on male and female expectations, satirising Hollywood romance and striking out way beyond date-movie territory with its smorgasbord of sordid sex, as watched by Jon.
ESQUIRE: What gave you the idea for a comedy about porn addiction?
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: Pornography is the most extreme example of objectification, the way that we turn sex into this object. It’s just an extreme example of what happens throughout our relationships with media. They are selling you an over-simplified fantasy and we consume it because that kind of simplicity is appealing.
ESQ: But Jon’s girlfriend Barbara is equally obsessed with the fantasy of romance.
JG-L: Exactly. Barbara has learned about sex through Hollywood romantic movies in an equivalent way to how Jon has learned about sex through pornography. I am making a comparison between pornography and the rest of our media, even perfectly mainstream stuff.
ESQ: In the film, the couple watch a parody of a Hollywood romance, a parody starring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway. Then there are montages of Jon’s porn stash, showing wave after wave of X-rated booty. Have you created the most uncomfortable date movie ever?
JG-L: My theory is that if a couple is doing well and really likes each other then it’s a great, great date movie. Maybe if the couple is already on the rocks or doesn't communicate very well I could see it, as you say, being uncomfortable.
ESQ: It could be relatively inexpensive therapy...
JG-L: Well, it could start a conversation. And for me, that’s an ideal date movie. You go see a formulaic romantic comedy, there’s nothing to talk about afterwards. It’s this happy ending that life can never live up to.
ESQ: Jon’s addiction becomes abdurd when he’s in bed with a girl as hot as Johansson he still reverts to porn.
JG-L: I don’t think it seems ridiculous. The point I wanted to make with that is that it’s not about how hot she is. You can have a girl as hot as Scarlett Johansson and it’s really not about how good looking she is. What he wants is something with no interaction. It’s just pure consumption. That’s a really strong metaphor for how this character is with his whole life. He’s not interacting with anything.
ESQ: You don’t seem so keen on his life as a bodybuilder, either. Did you enjoy bulking up for the role?
JG-L: I definitely didn’t. It was really good research getting into that character headspace, being so into your appearance and working so hard on it. It’s not even that healthy, bodybuilding. I was eating multiple pounds of meat, chicken and fish every day. That’s too much meat. I don’t think it’s great for your heart; but it does make you big.
ESQ: Are you off the protein shakes now?
JG-L: Oh yeah, I stopped immediately after filming.
ESQ: What do youpersonally waste too much time on?
JG-L: Man, these days I work pretty much all the time. I’m glad to do it. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a balanced life. I don’t think I can keep it up at this rate forever but I’m having a good time.
Don Jon is out 8th November
Image: Yu Tsai