Exclusive: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Priority Was ‘Not Dying’ In ‘Premium Rush’

Gordon-Levitt talks to MTV News about getting in shape for his role as a bike messenger thrown into an 'extreme scenario.'

Few actors can claim to have a 2012 quite as full of big movies as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The 31-year-old actor isn’t just reteaming with his “Inception” director, Christopher Nolan, for “The Dark Knight Rises,” but he’s also starring in one of the most talked-about releases of the year, “Looper,” and preparing his directorial debut, “Don Jon’s Addiction.”

On top of all that, this summer he’ll headline “Premium Rush,” an action film about a bike messenger caught up in a conspiracy.

MTV News spoke with Gordon-Levitt about learning to bike like a pro, acting opposite Michael Shannon and trying not to die in the process.

MTV News: A bike messenger isn’t exactly your typical action hero. What was your reaction when you first heard the concept?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I just think it’s kind of a brilliant idea. It’s a summer popcorn action movie. Instead of glorifying cars and gun, it glorifies bicycles. I think that’s great.

MTV News: It’s kind of refreshingly lo-fi.

Gordon-Levitt: I think that makes the action, in a way, a lot more exciting. There’s no computer-generated action in this movie. It’s all guys that actually performed these things. I had four doubles in this movie. Every day, I rode all day, but there are four other guys who are good at different things. One of them is an actual bike messenger; he rides really fast in traffic. One of them is really good at riding a trial bike, a different sort of bike, which is good for jumping and stuff. Another guy does tricks but on a fixed gear bike. Another guy’s an actual Hollywood stunt man, so he’s getting hit by cars. Honestly, when an audience sees a real human being doing things, it’s just more exciting than computer-generated, what amounts to a cartoon.

MTV News: How realistic is the biking in this movie?

Gordon-Levitt: It’s pretty realistic. It’s definitely a fun action popcorn movie, so you know, it’s a guy in an extreme scenario. It’s not like a slice of life, everyday thing. It’s a movie like “Speed” or “Die Hard,” where a guy ends up in an extreme situation and has to deal with it. I’m on the bike most of the time. It is a movie that takes place a lot on a bike, of course, not the entire time. It all takes place in one day, and it’s a chase movie.

MTV News: How long did you train to get yourself into bike-messenger shape?

Gordon-Levitt: I trained every day for a couple months leading up to this movie. I rode hard every day and all day. That will take it out of you. You have to be in the proper condition to do that kind of thing. I was definitely in really good shape when we were shooting. You can’t get to be like what these guys do in a short amount of time. The guys who doubled me, they rode bikes their whole lives and are some of the best in the world. I wasn’t doing any crazy tricks or anything like that. That’s what the doubles were doing, but I definitely was riding a lot, riding through traffic, riding with cars, riding fast and doing scenes at the same time, performing dialogue and stuff. Those were definitely my favorite scenes to do. The cool thing was that we actually shot it. They would put a camera on the back of a motorcycle and go down the street, and I would ride and perform a whole scene on the phone, riding through traffic. That’s a really fun way to do a scene.

MTV News: Where are your priorities when you’re acting in a scene like that?

Gordon-Levitt: The priority is not dying. You can do another take and get the scene right, but then it’s just about rehearsing enough. Doing line, that’s something I’m good at. I can do that easy. It actually makes it more fun, makes the lines come to life more, to put them on a bike like that.

MTV News: Similarly, having Michael Shannon as the villain has to make that character easier to fear.

Gordon-Levitt: Man, that guy! I think he’s one of the best going, honestly. When I found out that he was going to play the villain, I was like, “Oh, wow. Now this is a movie.” To be perfectly frank, he is by far my favorite part of the movie. Honestly, he is so good. It’s definitely worth seeing “Premium Rush” just to see Michael Shannon play this villainous New York cop in an action movie. It’s f—ing great.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Premium Rush.”

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Writer/editor for MTV. If it involves cowboys, spies, or hitmen, I'm there. All three would be ideal.