Joseph Leonard Gordon-Levitt (born February 17, 1981) is an American actor. He began as a child actor, becoming known for his role on the series 3rd Rock from the Sun, and subsequently developing into adult roles, having strongly concentrated on independent films (including Brick and The Lookout) and receiving positive reviews for his performances. Jam! Showbiz has noted that Gordon-Levitt has "defied the cliched fates that befall most underage actors when they grow up", while The New York Times has described him as "one of the hottest young stars in the indie firmament".
Gordon-Levitt, the younger of two sons, was born in Los Angeles, California. He is Jewish. His father, Dennis Levitt, was once the news director for the "politically progressive" radio station KPFK-FM. His mother, Jane Gordon (daughter of director Michael Gordon), ran for Congress in California during the 1970s for the Peace and Freedom Party and met Dennis Levitt while she was working as the program guide editor for KPFK-FM.
Gordon-Levitt joined a musical theater group at the age of four, and played the scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz. He was subsequently approached by an agent and began appearing on tv and in commercials for Sunny Jim peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs, Pop-Tarts, and Kinney Shoes.
Gordon-Levitt began his acting career at the age of six, appearing in several late 1980s made-for-television films and two episodes of the series Family Ties. After having a lead role on the short-lived 1991 remake of Dark Shadows, a prime time soap opera, he made his feature-film debut with a background role in 1992's Beethoven. Later that same year, he played a young version of Craig Sheffer's character in A River Runs Through It. At the age of twelve, Gordon-Levitt took the lead role of Gregory in the film Switching Parents, which was based on the true story of Gregory Kingsley, a boy who won the right to legally divorce his parents. In 1994, he played a Hutterite boy in the comedy, Holy Matrimony, and appeared in the lead role of the successful Disney film, Angels in the Outfield. In 1996, he began playing Tommy Solomon on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, a role which made him well known. The San Francisco Chronicle noted the irony that Gordon-Levitt was a "Jewish kid playing an extraterrestrial pretending to be a Jewish kid". During the late 1990s, he also appeared in several films, including The Juror (1996), as Demi Moore's character's son, the horror film Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, as a pre-credit victim, and the Shakespeare-based teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, in which he had a leading role. He was also a guest star in the first season of That '70s Show, appearing in the episode "Eric's Buddy" as a gay schoolmate of Eric Forman's, and performed the voice of the main character Jim Hawkins in the Disney animated feature, Treasure Planet (2002).
During the 1990s, he was frequently featured in teenage magazines, something he resented. He has also said that during this time period, he did not enjoy being recognized in public, specifying that he "hates celebrity". Gordon-Levitt left 3rd Rock from the Sun during its final season, asking to be released from his contract. For the two years following, he quit acting and attended Columbia University (the only university he had applied to), taking French poetry, history and literature. Since his study at Columbia, he has become an avid and self-confirmed Francophile. He has said that moving to New York City from his hometown "forced" him to grow as a person. Gordon-Levitt dropped out of the university in 2004 to concentrate on acting again.
Gordon-Levitt has said that he made a conscious decision to "be in good movies" after returning to acting. Since the early 2000s, he has appeared in what has been described by the Boston Herald as a series "of acclaimed and underseen indies" that "pegged him as a rising star on the indie film circuit". These include 2001's drama Manic, which was set in a mental institution, 2004's Mysterious Skin, in which he played a gay prostitute and child sexual abuse victim, and 2005's Brick, a modern-day film noir set at a high school (San Clemente High School), in which he had the lead role of Brendan Frye, a teen who becomes involved in an underground drug ring while investigating a murder. Brick received positive reviews, with The Minnesota Daily's review commenting that Gordon-Levitt played the character "beautifully", "true to film’s style", "unfeeling but not disenchanted" and "sexy in the most ambiguous way", and another review describing the performance as "astounding".
Gordon-Levitt's next role was in The Lookout, playing Chris Pratt, a janitor involved in a bank heist. The film was released on March 30, 2007. In reviewing the film, The Philadelphia Inquirer described Gordon-Levitt as a "surprisingly formidable, and formidably surprising, leading man", while New York Magazine stated that he is a "major tabula rasa actor... a minimalist" and that his character works because he "doesn’t seize the space... by what he takes away from the character"; the San Francisco Chronicle specified that he "embodies, more than performs, a character's inner life". Several critics have suggested that his role in The Lookout will turn Gordon-Levitt to a mainstream actor. His upcoming films also include Killshot, playing an assassin opposite Diane Lane and Mickey Rourke, and Stop-Loss, directed by Kimberly Peirce and revolving around American soldiers returning from the Iraq War.
Gordon-Levitt has an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City. He manages the website, "Hit Record", which features Escargots, a short feature that he created, and other works.