By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Joseph Gordon-Levitt is having quite a summer. He appeared as police officer John Blake in the box office hit “The Dark Knight Rises.” He now stars as Wilee, a bike messenger in the real Gotham who winds up in the crosshairs of a crooked cop while delivering a package across town in “Premium Rush.”
Gordon-Levitt describes the bicycle action adventure, in which he spends most his screen time dodging cabs, pedestrians and his determined antagonist (played by Michael Shannon), as one of the most physically demanding roles of his career. David Koepp directs from a screenplay he wrote with John Kamps.
While every effort was made to protect Gordon-Levitt and his co-stars from injury during production, the 31-year-old actor got his arm sliced open when a car was parked where it wasn’t supposed to be and the actor went tumbling into the rear window of a taxi. The aftermath can be seen during the film’s closing credits.
The 31 stitches notwithstanding, Gordon-Levitt relished the experience. The native Angeleno and Dania Ramirez, who plays his girlfriend and fellow bike messenger, sat down to talk about their movie experience on two wheels and shooting in the Big Apple.
Front Row Features: Can you talk about your accident?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. I should start off by saying that everyone on the set, Dave, the director, and everyone on down was very safety conscious. (The accident) was a perfect storm of a lot of things all going wrong at once. To make a long story short, a diplomat broke through our lock up. In New York City, you have the United Nations so there’s diplomats driving around. They can break the law. So, he broke through our cones and double-parked right in the middle of where we were going. Basically, I ended up going through the rear window of a taxicab and getting 31 stitches. Everyone was worried.
Front Row Features: What happened next?
Gordon-Levitt: I was flooded with adrenaline right when it happened. You don’t feel any pain right when your arm breaks open. So, I was just like, “Oh my God. Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m okay. I’m sorry.” Dave (Koepp) ran up and was like, “Are you okay?” He was terrified. I was like, “You’ve got to record this, man. Look at this. This is crazy.” So, I convinced him to take out his phone and record some video. I was stoked that he actually put it in the movie.
Front Row Features: Did your injury affect the production schedule?
Gordon-Levitt: It was towards the end of the day.
Ramirez: He was at work the next day with a smile on his face.
Front Row Features: Did you do all your stunts like jumping off of cars and all that stuff?
Gordon-Levitt: Certainly not. The character of Wilee was played by five of us, me and four other guys. Everyone had their own specialties. One was an actual bike messenger. One was a Hollywood stunt man. One’s really good at trials bike riding, which is the chase towards the end of the movie where he’s on a different bike. That’s the kind of bike that’s particularly conducive to jumping and stuff. Then there was a fourth guy who’s really good at doing tricks on a track bike.
Ramirez: That’s the cool thing about the movie is that there is no CGI. The stunts are real. We were lucky enough to have great stunt people coming in to do the stunts.
Gordon-Levitt: I think it’s more exciting watching real human beings do crazy things than watching computer-generated cartoons.
Front Row Features: Compared to some of the other action roles that you’ve had in “G.I. Joe,” “Inception,” and the upcoming “Looper,” how would you compare the intensity of this to those roles?
Gordon-Levitt: As far as the physical challenge, I would say this was the hardest one. “Inception” would come in with a close second. I was on a bike every day, all day. The whole movie’s on a bike.
Ramirez: Most of the dialogue takes place while we’re riding bikes. A lot of the training that we did, and we trained for six weeks (in L.A.) prior to actually going to New York City, it was just a lot of endurance because you couldn’t run out of breath.
Front Row Features: Could you talk about meeting some of the real bike messengers and is their close-knit culture shown in the movie really like that?
Ramirez: Yeah, it’s a really tight community. One thing we found out about the bike messenger community is that they’re really caring and thoughtful people. It’s almost like they’re playing a character when they get on their bikes and ride around. They have to put on this bad ass persona but then when they get back (to their base) and get behind closed doors, they’re all kind of really tight-knit.
Front Row Features: Did you work with any actual bike messengers?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. Well, one of my doubles, Austin (Horse), is arguably the fastest bike messenger in the world. He races and competes. He happens to look a lot like me. I also found just the culture surrounding not just bike messengers but j the bike culture, there’s a really cool community of people that are really thoughtful. They think a lot about the environment and alternative energy. Riding a bike instead of a car is really healthy for you. It’s really healthy for the planet. It’s such a positive thing. A lot of the people I’ve met who are really into bikes are quite aware of that.
Front Row Features: During the course of your experience, did you guys pick up any little tricks on not killing yourselves?
Ramirez: Yeah. Pay attention. (She laughs.) Pedestrians kind of rule New York, and they’re actually way more dangerous than riding alongside taxis because at least they are going in the same direction as the bikes. Pedestrians are sort of like in their own world, and we had to become aware of everyone around us. Plus you can’t tell a New Yorker, “Hey, you can’t cross the street right now. We’re shooting (a movie).” They don’t care.
Gordon-Levitt: I thought a cool kernel of wisdom that multiple people told me was if you want to avoid hitting something, don’t look at it. Look at where you’re going. If you’re trying to thread a needle and get between two cars, say, as soon as you start looking at where you don’t want to go you’ll hit them. You have to kind of just have the confidence to stay straight and go forward. I think there’s something kind of allegorical with that and just life in general.
Front Row Features: Can you talk about working with Michael Shannon?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. Shannon’s the shit. There’s a tradition of really really fine actors playing the villain in a big chase movie, whether it’s Dennis Hopper in “Speed” or Alan Rickman in “Die Hard.” I think Shannon really fits into that tradition.
Ramirez: He’s brilliant. He plays that villain role so well and he’s so charismatic while he’s doing it. You want to hate him because he’s after the good guy yet you can’t help but smile and laugh at him.
Front Row Features: You trained here in L.A. for before going to shoot the movie in New York. Did you find a difference in the way people treat cyclists here versus in New York?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. There’s a big difference. New York drivers are just more used to it (bikes) because Manhattan is a city that is more conducive to riding a bike. You have to be a pretty good cyclist if you’re going use a bike as your main mode of transportation in L.A. In New York you can really do it and a lot of people do it. But there is a real bike culture here in L.A., even though the city is so car-centric. I see people going by all the time like “Oh wow, check out his kit.”