Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Talks Wolfboy And The Everything Factory And His Many Roles - Exclusive Interview

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been killing the Hollywood game since he was a kid in the '80s. The actor has long since proven he can do it all — toggling between heavy action films, comedies, thrillers, and a slate of vastly different voice work. In addition to his roles in movies like "Inception," "Looper," "Don Jon," and "50/50," Gordon-Levitt voiced Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio," Detective Hardrock in "Knives Out," Slowen Lo in "The Last Jedi," and, of course, Luxcraft in "Wolfboy and the Everything Factory."

Gordon-Levitt voices an eccentric wizard with a purple beard on "Wolfboy and the Everything Factory," but that's not his only involvement in the Apple TV+ show. The actor also executive produces the series — something he's been doing more of in the past decade. Though Gordon-Levitt hasn't lent his writing talents to "Wolfboy," he actually wrote and directed "Don Jon" and his TV show "Mr. Corman."

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Gordon-Levitt dished on the prophecy angle in "Wolfboy and the Everything Factory" in relation to stories like "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings." He also revealed what role Zooey Deschanel should play in the kids' series and how he shares it with his kids. Gordon-Levitt even discussed his "gentleman's agreement" with Rian Johnson, what it was like working with Mindy Kaling on "The Mindy Project," and how director Robert Zemeckis helped him find his Jiminy Cricket voice.

The doom of pop culture prophecies

One thing that really stood out to me was the prophecy angle [in Season 2 of "Wolfboy and the Everything Factory"]. We've seen countless times in mythology and pop culture how prophecies are more destructive than helpful. How do you think the show uses prophecies compared to stories like Arthur, "Harry Potter," and "Lord of the Rings," and were you inspired by any of those projects?

That's a really interesting angle to ask about. There [are] some really good similarities and differences between some of the examples you just mentioned. With "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings," for example, these are stories where in particular, the antagonists are evil. Sauron is just a power-hungry kind of despot, as is Voldemort — I'm less of a "Harry Potter" expert. I know more about Tolkien, and one of the things I loved about the way this story unfolds, that the prophecy predicts, is that the Disarrays and Nyx are not evil. This isn't just a power-hungry despot with an army full of orcs. It turns out that Disarrays are actually a lot more similar to Sprytes than the Sprytes were led to believe.

In fact, there is no creativity without destruction. This is a very different kind of story than "We, the heroes, just have to beat these villains." I think it has a lot to say about [how] when you're raised to believe that these other people are bad, oftentimes, the story is more complicated than that. So I think that is a stroke of brilliance, taking the fantasy genre and doing something quite different than what's often done with it.

A gentleman's agreement with Rian Johnson

You've done a lot of great voice work over the years. What excites you most about voicing characters like Luxcraft, Slowen Lo in "The Last Jedi," Detective Hardrock from "Knives Out," and Jiminy Cricket from "Pinocchio"?

I love using my voice. The two Rian Johnson ones are because we had an agreement, a gentleman's agreement, that Rian, for some reason, wants me to be in all of his movies, which is a delight to me. On those two movies, I couldn't be in them because, unfortunately, it logistically couldn't work out. So he managed to give me voice parts so that I could still at least be in the movie somehow.

Getting to do Jiminy Cricket or getting to do ... I got to do the protagonist of "The Wind Rises" in the English version of Miyazaki's last movie. Voice acting is liberating because you're not limited by your appearance. Acting's a lot like playing pretend when you're a kid, and when you're a kid, you don't worry about what you look like. When you're acting on camera, you have to. But when you're getting to do a voice, you get to be a little closer to that kid whose limits are only of your imagination. You can be a cricket, or you can be a rotund wizard with a violet beard down to your belly, and I love that.

Do you have any fun stories from any of those projects?

With Jiminy Cricket, one of the conversations that I hung onto most was early on in the process, when Mr. [Robert] Zemeckis asked me to do that character. I said to him, "How much do you want it to be like the original? What do you want me to try to do here? Because if you want an imitation of the original, I'm not the best mimic. There are other, better mimics than me." And he said, "No, I don't want you to mimic it. I want you to ..."

He came to, "Well, you have kids. Pretend you're telling them the story and you're doing the voice, but you're not doing the voice [as] a perfect mimic. You're doing the voice how a dad would, who's telling a story to their kids. It's a little different, and [they] make it their own, but it's still enough so that the kids know who you are." I loved that. I thought that was such a smart piece of direction from Bob. I kept that in my mind the whole time whenever we were recording. I was always imagining telling the story to my kids.

Zooey Deschanel's zany brand

I can see Zooey Deschanel and her brand of fun and zany fitting in well with "Wolfboy." You worked with her on "500 Days Of Summer," so what was that experience like, and what kind of role could you see her play in "Wolfboy" if the opportunity presented itself?

That is a great question. First of all, I need to shout out [that] the first movie that Zooey and I did together was a little-known low-budget drama called "Manic," which was actually a really important turning point in my career. It's not a movie a lot of people know, and it's when I first met Zoeey. Don Cheadle is in it; he's awesome in it. It's a movie I'm really proud of, so I like to tell people about that movie when I get the opportunity.

What would Zooey be in "Wolfboy"? I feel like Zooey would be perhaps more of a Spryte than a Disarray. Zooey could be maybe a professor in the lab of movies and minks, perhaps. There's somewhat of a connection between a mink and movies and Zooey. I don't know if I can explain that any further, but that's the kind of chaos and order that would balance together. I feel like someone who was making movies, but not just movies — movies about a mink in particular.

A new generation of kids' shows

You mentioned your kids and telling stories to them. Did you show them "Wolfboy"?

Yeah. They haven't seen Season 2. We don't watch very much stuff, but we watch some movies, and we watch very, very select ... We'll watch videos of like, "Okay, you're interested in a particular piece of music. Let's find a concert of someone playing that music." Or ... we watch pieces of "Prehistoric Planet," speaking of Apple TV+, because one of my kids is extremely into dinosaurs.

We don't watch a lot of shows, but we have [shown] them "Wolfboy," and it's partially because they would get a kick out of hearing me be a wizard. But also, we made "Wolfboy" to be something that I would feel okay about showing my kids. So many shows for kids are hyper-stimulating. In my experience as a parent, when there's all that flash and all that energy and all that frenetic hyperactivity on screen, it doesn't do anybody any favors for how the kids grow or behave or internalize that stuff. So "Wolfboy" has a gentler tone. It's not as super fast or hyper-stimulating. There certainly are some big, grand, spectacular moments, but there's warmth and gentleness to it. It doesn't have that shrill, hyper thing that so many kids' shows do. So for that reason also, I was happy to let them watch it.

A gender-bent Mindy Kaling

You were in the very unique position of playing a [fairly meta] character on "The Mindy Project." How did that all come about, what was it like working with Mindy Kaling, and how did you prep for that hilarious approach to that pretty self-aware gig?

That's funny. I haven't thought of that in a while. I was flattered to receive the call from her and put myself in her hands. "What do you want me to do? Okay." So there wasn't, frankly, a lot of preparation or thought that went into it on my part. You'd have to ask her how she decided to have that role unfold the way it did. I thought it was really great and funny. Yeah, that was a blast.

Season 2 of "Wolfboy and the Everything Factory" is now streaming on Apple TV+.

This interview has been edited for clarity.