Joseph Gordon-Levitt on how the unlucky life of ‘Mr. Corman’ was born out of luck

Jospeh Gordon-Levitt in 'Mr. Corman.'
Apple TV +

In Apple TV+’s latest dark comedy, ‘Mr. Corman,’ fans will get the inside look at one man’s life through the lens of anxiety, unluckiness and some fantasy elements.

In the new 10- episode season, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt stars as Joshua Corman, a 5th grade teacher who can’t help but feel like he “blew the whole thing” when he thinks about life. That comes out in different ways for him through panic attacks, imaginative elements peppered throughout each episode and through his relationships that mirror many experiences Millenials go through when questioning where they are in the world.

Gordon-Levitt not only stars in the series but also wrote and directed most of the episodes, and the actor sat down to talk about how the unlucky story of ‘Mr. Corman’ was born out of his own luck.

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Where did this idea really stem from for you?

You know, it sort of started as a big pot of gratitude. I feel really grateful for so many things. I found a partner that I love so much and we have our kids. I have wonderful parents. I get to do work that’s meaningful to me and I’m healthy and safe. I feel so lucky, and luck is really the operative word… because have I worked hard? Maybe, but a lot of people work hard. I’ve also had a lot of lucky breaks and it’s something I think about that all of the time: What if my luck had been different there or there? You don’t get to choose your parents and what if one of my parents was healthy and one of my parents wasn’t? Or what if I hadn’t happened to run into the love of my life yet and she and I hadn’t gotten together? What would my life be like?

What if I hadn’t gotten these lucky breaks as an artist? I feel very lucky as an artist and I don’t think it’s just because I worked hard—I think I got lucky. [But] what if that luck had been different? When I think about what else I would do if I wasn’t in show business, I’ve always been really drawn to teaching—I think teachers are heroes. I’ve had some incredible teachers in my life who have made such a difference to me and if I could wave a magic wand, teachers would be the ones that were celebrated and valorized and everyone was talking about them, much more than entertainers. 

‘Mr. Corman’ is very grounded in reality but there are also fantasy/ other-worldly elements in the show. Why were they important to the story? 

Early on in the process when I had written my first draft of the script, one of the first people I showed it to was writer-director Rian Johnson, who’s a good friend of mine and a wonderful artist—he really encouraged me. He said I love how grounded and realistic it is, but I also know you and I know that you love when things get messed with and when the form of things are played around with and wouldn’t you have fun doing that?

I think he was so right and I also think that’s how real life is. Sometimes real life feels like realism, but sometimes real life doesn’t feel like realism—it feels kind of bigger than that and the feelings can explode in your mind in ways that don’t even make sense. Those sequences where [Josh is] floating in space and the stars become sperm and the moon becomes an egg or when he ends up doing an old-fashioned song and dance number with his mom on the rooftop of his childhood home, those are sequences that are about those feelings. Those feelings that are bigger and harder and weirder to describe than what grounded realism is good at capturing. 

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Another aspect of life the show explores is anxiety. What are you hoping people it take away from that?

I spoke to a doctor of neuropsychology about the scripts and she read the scripts and gave her input on it. I thought her contribution was really valuable. One of the questions I asked her was: What’s your biggest hope or fear of what Hollywood should not get wrong in portraying this? She said, I hope it doesn’t stigmatize it, I would hope that it would normalize it.

I thought that was really wise and something we kept in mind—myself, the other writers I working with and the other director Aurora Guerrero who directed the episode where Josh is feeling the most acute anxiety. To your question of what do I hope people take away—it’s just what the doctor said. I would hope that this could normalize it to a degree and try to alleviate some of the stigma that exists. One of the things she talked about was a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about these feelings that they have, they feel like it would make others uncomfortable or other people would judge them. That kind of stigma can be really harmful because if people don’t talk about it that’s often when the feelings get worse versus if you can talk about it and get support, that’s often a good first step towards hopefully feeling better.

So, if ‘Mr. Corman’ can contribute in some small way to starting a conversation either because someone related to something they saw in the show, or they thought that it was surprising, or even if they thought it was funny…because I don’t know, in my life I laugh at some of the darkest sh*t. If I can help alleviate the stigma and help people talk about it or as a the doctor put it, normalize it—that to me would feel very gratifying. 

With 10 episodes in this season, we explore sometimes alternate realities or even points of views of different characters, but they do all feel like chapters in Josh Corman’s life. Is there one episode or a few that capture the essence of ‘Mr. Corman’ to you? 

For one, I would say watch episode 4 where Arturo Castro takes the lead because Arturo is just brilliant. I love him as a person and as an artist and he’s just great in it. Miley [Delgado], the actress who plays his daughter, it’s the first thing she’s ever done and she’s awesome.

There’s episode 7 which is probably the weirdest one where we kind of broke from convention the most drastically. You mentioned alternate realities, and that episode is called ‘Many Worlds’ and it’s sort of taking the exercise to the nth degree thinking about what are any number of ways that this protagonist’s life could have gone either because he made different choices or because of different luck? [We see] all of these different things and they are visually represented in some bold ways. I’m excited about that one because it’s pretty unusual.

The last one, I would say—and I do love them all—but the 9th episode is a very straight kind of two-hander. It’s almost like a one-act play where Josh finally gets to talk to his dad and you’ve been hearing about the dad all season long. You kind of get the impression that the chaotic childhood Josh went through because of his dad being an addict was part of what’s always going on with him. But, it’s always sort of in the margins you never get to really understand it and then in the 9th episode, he turns up. Hugo Weaving played my dad and he gave such an incredible performance. So, I’m really proud of that one both for what it does for the whole season and just those moments especially with Hugo I think are good. 

MrCorman” will premiere globally on Aug. 6 on Apple TV+ with the first two episodes of the ten-episode first season, followed by one new episode weekly, every Friday.

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