For most of his life, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been a familiar presence on our screens, both large and small. He started out as a child performer on shows like Roseanne and Dark Shadows (the ‘91 reboot) and managed to transition with grace from child performer to adult actor, first impressing in independent films like Mysterious Skin and (500) Days of Summer and then graduating to blockbusters like Inception and prestige pics like Lincoln. However, as Gordon-Levitt has become an above-the-title star, he has been relying less and less on his considerable Everyman charm and more and more on some borderline bonkers (or at the very least not at all Everyman) voice work. He’s passed the Ryan Gosling Newsies-after-sundown vocal point of no return, and with the release of a new trailer and a new accent for the upcoming Gordon-Levitt vehicle Snowden, MTV investigates the origins and development of this aural transformation.
3rd Rock from the Sun
Baby Gordon-Levitt played an alien on this late ‘90s, early ‘00s series, yet his voice was clear as a precious pubescent bell.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice is the least wild aspect of his appearance in this film, the directorial debut of Empire showrunner Lee Daniels, in which Dr. Gordon-Levitt’s volatile romance with Nurse Monique intersects with the drama playing out between mafioso Stephen Dorff and two assassin lovers played by Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr.
(500) Days of Summer
This is the most Joseph Gordon-Levitt that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has ever been. It is the film that cemented him as an Everyman for the ages, and his voice is as Everymanly as can be.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
The first of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice adventures, as a chemical accident transformed Gordon-Levitt’s typical mild-mannered soldier into the demonic Rex both visually and aurally. It’s a goofy performance in a goofy movie, and there was no sign that Gordon-Levitt’s voice work as the villainous Rex would begin a consuming passion that would eventually eclipse his willingness to speak like a regular dude.
Eighty percent Everyman, 20 percent yodeler. In fairness, I genuinely don't know what my voice would do if I were undergoing chemotherapy. Full Yma Sumac, maybe — anything is possible.
The beginning of the voice transformation. Gordon-Levitt plays a young Bruce Willis in this time-traveling thriller from future Star Wars: Episode VIII director Rian Johnson. Despite Willis and Gordon-Levitt both being long-faced white boys, Johnson and Gordon-Levitt mutually decided that a prosthetic nose (and maybe eyebrows?) were necessary to convince the audience. The uncanniness of the created face is somewhat distracting, and it’s possible you might not have noticed Gordon-Levitt’s approximation of Willis’s tough-guy drawl.
Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in this romantic comedy about a guido whose life is consumed by his porn addiction, and he directed the situation — à la The Situation's Jersey Shore accent — from front and center.
Extreme Voice Makeover. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the French dude who danced on a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s. Emphasis on French. So much emphasis on French, in fact, that the movie is très unwatchable. “How weeel we escape le police aftehr I walk acrhoss le rhope???”
The trailer for Oliver Stone’s take on whistleblower Edward Snowden promises a new modulation adventure in Gordon-Levitt’s vocal experimentations. While yes, it is possible he has forgotten to act any other way, it is also possible he has ascended to a higher plane of understanding where voice is the ultimate representation of man, the defining characteristic that determines how we are seen in the world. Edward Snowden’s swallowed vowels and vocal fry are indicative of his inner turmoil as a man crushed by his knowledge and pushed to operate undercover. You could say Gordon-Levitt has completed a transformation from people’s actor to actor’s actor, crossing the border of relatability into the uncanny valley of dialect coaches and vocal tics — or you could say he is an American hero, uncovering the secret truth of our everyday interactions and bringing it to the masses. The revolution will be vocalized.