Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the star—and director and writer—of the poignant new comedy Don Jon talks about staying cool amid chaos, and the Disney movie that still makes him cry.
1. I picked the right path.

I started acting when I was a kid, but I quit for a few years and went to college to figure out if a film career was what I really wanted. For my 21st birthday, I bought video-editing software, and as I stayed up all night playing around with it, I realized there's nothing I enjoy more than making movies. Every second isn't a blast—there are plenty of long days—but I love it.

2. Less is more.

I'm a big fan of brevity. When you get trapped in your words, you can lose the real message. Whether I'm having a conversation or creating a movie, I always ask myself, "What am I trying to communicate?" Usually the most concise way is also the most elegant.

3. When I watch Dumbo, there will be tears.

It's one of the first movies I remember seeing, with my mother. That scene where Dumbo's mom reaches through the cage bars and cradles him with her trunk? So classic. I still put it on now and then, and always have a good cry.

4. It's possible to keep calm and carry on.

One of the most important things I've learned from directing is how to manage when things don't go according to plan. No matter how much I prepare, I try to remain open to the unexpected instead of panicking.

5. You can't really know anything for sure.

My character in Don Jon has concrete ideas about what being a man is all about—someone who goes to the gym, obsesses over his car, and watches pornography—but his experiences eventually help him break out of that mold. He's a great example of how being willing to change what you think you know can introduce entirely new possibilities.

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