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Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson at the “Don Jon” press conference in NYC | Melanie Votaw Photo

When you gather together four actors of the caliber of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza, you’re guaranteed a good time – even if it’s a press conference. Talking about their new film, “Don Jon,” the four sat before journalists at New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel on September 12, 2013.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo
Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo

“Don Jon” (check out the Tumblr site here) is Levitt’s first foray into writing and directing a feature-length movie, and he also plays the lead.

A satirical comedy about a guy straight out of the cast of “Jersey Shore,” Don Jon (obviously, a deliberate twist on “Don Juan”) is addicted to pornography and even likes it better than sex with real women – despite the fact that he manages to lure a beautiful woman home with him almost every night.

Eventually, Don Jon meets a woman he can’t resist, and she gets under his skin, causing him to give up his philandering ways and become her boyfriend. That woman, Barbara, is played by Scarlett Johansson.

But Barbara has some issues of her own. While Levitt’s character is caught up in porn, Barbara is caught up in believing that romantic movies are real. This is not a match made in heaven.

What follows is both funny and touching, as Don Jon eventually meets an older woman named Esther, played by Julianne Moore, and she teaches him a few things about life that had never before crossed his rather narrow mind. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly play Don Jon’s parents.

Scarlett Johansson at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo
Scarlett Johansson at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo

Below are some of the highlights of the press conference, but I can’t resist pointing out that during a brief discussion about Barbara’s reaction when she finds out about Don Jon’s porn addiction, Scarlett Johansson said, “I think girls watch porn. They probably watch more porn than guys.” (I hope she doesn’t regret having said that!)

Levitt on what “Don Jon” is really about:

It’s a movie about how we can sometimes have unrealistic expectations of each other and how media can contribute to that…. I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, “Oh, I wish that my life was like it was in that movie” or “I wish I had someone like you in that movie.” And when I hear that, frankly, I get a little startled sometimes because real life is not as simple as it is on the screen.

I think real life is actually a lot more beautiful, and there’s a lot of details and nuances that you could never possibly capture in a movie or a TV show or a pornography clip or a commercial or a pop song. So, we wanted to kind of poke fun at comparing your real life to the expectations….

I was largely responding to the way that people seem to be reacting to all kinds of media. I thought that a story about a young man who watches too much pornography and a woman who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies would be a good way to bring to life the way that we can all sometimes relate to all kinds of media, whether it’s a pornography flick or a commercial for a hamburger. You see a woman on the screen, and you reduce her to just a thing, a sex object….

My mom was very much active in the 60’s and 70’s in the feminist movement, and she was always really keen to make my brother and me aware of this happening.

Julianne Moore at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo
Julianne Moore at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo

Levitt on the challenges of writing a script:

The hardest part was the very beginning alone because I think any time you set out to make something, anybody is going to be confronted by those voices in your head that say, “You don’t need to do this. Someone else could probably do this better. You should probably just quit right now.” Certainly, I met those voices, too, and those are difficult to overcome.

I think the only reason I did finish writing the script was because I was having a lot of fun doing it. And I was sort of, “Well, maybe it won’t come to anything. I’m not going to worry about that now. It’s making me laugh. I’m having a good time, so I’m going to keep writing it.”

And then, once I had a draft, I started showing it to people. And once I got some positive feedback … Scarlett was one of the first people that I showed it to. She really liked it, and we had these really interesting conversations based on what I had written. So, those voices of doubt started going away, being replaced by voices of real people.

All of the actors on their characters:

Tony Danza at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo
Tony Danza at the “Don Jon” press conference in NYC | Melanie Votaw Photo

Moore: I thought upon reading the script that the great thing about Esther is that due to her circumstances, she’s someone who can’t be anything less than 100 percent authentic, which is a hard thing to be. But because of where she is, she doesn’t have the strength for anything else.

Johansson: One thing that I was so attracted to was this idea that Barbara’s got a lot of conviction. She’s, I think, sort of guilty of what I certainly am and I’m sure a lot of people are – wanting your partner to fit into the little box you put them in, and then they can be more like you, and everything will be great. [laughter]

Danza: I’ve had dinner with my character. [laughter ] I know people who are disconnected and who live in their own world and still have to be the king of the roost.

Levitt: I think we all know or have a certain amount of Don Juan in us. There’s a reason this is a classic literary figure throughout the ages. We all have a little bit of that archetype, that Don Juan, in us, that person who’s just really selfish, who just wants what they want and doesn’t care about the consequences and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks or feels and treats everybody in the world like a thing, like an object on the shelf…. It’s very tempting to do that because it’s easy.

Danza: You’re making me think about my life! [laughter]

Levitt: And mine! Like I’m saying, I’m as culpable as anybody. We all have that tendency.

Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo
Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore at the “Don Jon” press conference in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo

Levitt on the most gratifying aspect of making his film:

Having human beings and great artists begin to embody those characters, that was certainly the most exciting part of the whole multi-year process. I think that’s the most exciting thing for anything you’ve made – more than a good review or a round of applause or a good box office score. Somebody else, another artist has taken what you’ve done and used it to express themselves.

Tony Danza and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon"
Tony Danza and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Don Jon” | Relativity Media

Levitt on the talents of Scarlett Johansson:

I was absolutely impressed about Scarlett’s multiple turns on SNL [“Saturday Night Live”], and she’s a really extraordinary actress in that she can balance that comedy with sincerity. I think that’s really evident in “Lost in Translation” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and any other number of movies we could bring up. That’s a hard balance to strike, and she does it masterfully. And that was certainly part of why I always thought of her [for this role].

Johansson: This press conference is going really well! [laughter]

“Don Jon” opens in theaters around the country on September 27, 2013. Levitt muscled up for the role (something he says he has no intention of keeping up), and he and Johansson portray characters unlike any we’ve seen them play before. Obviously, considering the subject matter, the film is a bit on the explicit side. Check out the trailer below.

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