Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt will make his feature directing debut on an untitled comedy he’ll star in with Scarlett Johansson. Gordon-Levitt wrote the script, and Nicolas Chartier’s Voltage Pictures will finance the film and sell international rights in Berlin. Ram Bergman is producing for Ram Bergman Productions in association with Gordon-Levitt’s hitRecord Films. Shooting will start April 16.

While Gordon-Levitt would not give up too many details, I got this much: the film is a sexy comedy about about a modern-day Don Juan, and his quest to become less of a “selfish dick.” He plays that character, and there is another female lead role that will be filled shortly.

The move into the directing chair comes at a time when Gordon-Levitt is coming off the lead role as a cancer-stricken man in 50/50, and when he has a killer dance card for 2012. He stars in The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper and Lincoln, all opening this year.

Getting behind the camera on a feature is hardly a lark. Gordon-Levitt, a child actor whose credits included 3rd Rock From The Sun, became burnt out in his teens and left the business to attend Columbia University and experience life. Lucky for him, when he came back he’d grown into a cross between Heath Ledger and Keanu Reeves, and has turned in strong adult performances in films including The Lookout, (500) Days Of Summer, and Inception. Despite his success, Gordon-Levitt tells me that all along, his major motive for returning was a burning desire to direct.

“I was a child actor for years and quit at 19, went to school awhile, and a big part of why I came back was that I ultimately wanted to make movies,” Gordon-Levitt said. “I spent a year working with Chris Nolan, Rian Johnson, Steven Spielberg, and I did my best to pay attention. I’ve also been making short films for a long time now, I’ve directed a ton of them, and that is a huge part of why I feel comfortable and confident in this.”

Gordon-Levitt’s short film learning curve included an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s short story Sparks, and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo, both of which played the festival circuit. He worked on the comedy script for three years, and while he tried others, this was the first that came together, while he was shooting 50/50. “This is the first time I finished a feature film I thought was good enough to make into a movie,” he said. “I’ve written others, including one mammothy huge sprawling thing that encompasses my entire point of view of everything since I was 20 years old.” Those efforts are in a drawer somewhere.

“I wrote myself a helluva role, one that people wouldn’t necessarily thought of me for,” said Gordon-Levitt, who’s braced for the challenge of both directing and starring. Though he’s been acting his whole life, Gordon-Levitt figures there will be an adjustment. Many actors hate watching their own work onscreen and some, like Daniel Day-Lewis, refuse to watch their own films at all. “I’ve thought about that a lot,” he said, “but that’s a big part of what I’ve learned making and appearing in short films. It takes practice to get used to seeing yourself and not being freaked out and self conscious by the sound of your own voice.”

Now that he’s locked financing for his directing debut, the big dilemma facing Gordon-Levitt is whether he’ll be able to keep his plan to play a small supporting role in Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s slave-era drama. “It will be tricky schedule-wise, but I was honest with Quentin upfront,” Gordon-Levitt said. “He was so cool and encouraging. He said, ‘You strike me as the kind of guy who would want to direct,’ and I took that as high praise.” Gordon-Levitt’s repped by CAA, which will sell domestic.

(Gordon-Levitt photo: Getty Images)