Joseph Gordon-Levitt is best known from his years as a teen actor on TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun,” as well as the romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer” (now generating Oscar buzz), but he has been acting in films and commercials since growing up Jewish in Sherman Oaks, the son of a former news director of Pacific station KPFK-FM, and attending the music magnet at Hamilton High.
Now he is the titular character in Spencer Susser’s “Hesher,” a tale of loss inspired by Susser’s own childhood experiences of emotional upheaval upon the death of his mother.
In the film, TJ (Devin Brochu), is a 13- year- old boy in San Fernando, CA who has lost his own mother in a car accident. He and his widowed father (Rainn Wilson) are moving through life in a state of numbness and mourning. TJ‘s father is comfortable in his drug-induced paralysis, which medicates his grief.
Enter “Hesher” (the word is slang for “heavy metal enthusiast”), a long-haired dude who is a canvas for multiple tattoos, loves to smoke pot, and who is more comfortable in his underwear than fully dressed. He insinuates himself into TJ’s life, and before the family knows it, he has moved in and doesn’t seem to be moving out. Living in close quarters, TJ is left in the middle between an emotionally vacant father and a “Hesher” who acts without prior thoughts or cares. Natalie Portman plays a shy grocery store clerk who also becomes involved with the family.
Hesher, the character, has no back story. Like the Yiddish proverb, “Death does not knock at the door,” he just shows up like a sudden death, causes tumult with his loud, irritating ways—much like bad heavy metal music—and never seems to leave.
While many viewers may find Hesher to be menacing and threatening, Gordon-Levitt sees him as a “sweetheart.” “Sure, he blow things up, but I do not think it it out of anger. He is just being happy,” the actor said. “A lot of stuff that stresses us out, he just could not care less about. He just doesn’t care what you think.”