Why Joseph Gordon-Levitt Was Robert Zemeckis' Only Choice For The Walk

Joseph Gordon-Levitt being cast by director Robert Zemeckis to star in the new true story thriller The Walk may be seen as somewhat controversial. After all, there are a number of immensely talented French actors who could have been hired to play legendary French acrobat Philippe Petit in the film, but the director ultimately saw it fit to cast an American in the role. Because it’s a somewhat unusual choice on Zemeckis’ behalf, you might think that the filmmaker would have possibly perused other options other than Gordon-Levitt – but it turns out that’s not actually true, as the Looper star was really the only actor he found to have all the necessary tools for the performance.

Earlier this month, I had the absolutely wonderful opportunity to hop on the phone and talk with Robert Zemeckis about his brand new cinematic adventure, and it was towards the middle of our conversation that I turned the questioning towards the subject of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s casting. I asked the director if there was any point when he considered hiring an actor from France to play the part of Philippe Petit, but he dismissed the notion, telling me that the star he picked was the only one he wanted for the lead. He explained,

No - Joe being a Francophile and speaking perfect French, I consider him like a French actor. He fit the bill, and he had all that going for him, but he’s also a magnificent actor and has a real, deep appreciation for the circus arts and for performance art. And, you know, he fit the bill for me perfectly.

Obviously that kind of confidence in choosing a lead actor is impressive, and it turned out that choice worked tremendously well in Zemeckis’ favor. While the filmmaker obviously knew who he was getting involved with when he cast Gordon-Levitt as the star of The Walk, he wound up being immensely enthralled by the performers work ethic and desire to make his performance as authentic as possible. Said Zemeckis,

When you get an actor of Joe’s caliber. That becomes the mission for him, and I’m sort of there guiding everything for him. Joe said at the very get go, ‘I want my accent both when I’m speaking English and French to be perfect Parisian,’ and he said, “I’ve got to make that perfect.” And he just went and studied and of course he had the great benefit of being able to study the real Philippe. And he obviously didn’t mimic the real Philippe. He took the essence of Philippe and made it into his own Philippe as all good actors always do.

You’ll be able to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s turned as the great wire walker Philippe Petit later this week, as The Walk arrives in IMAX theaters nationwide. If there isn’t an IMAX theater near you, however, you’ll be able to catch the film in wide release starting October 9th.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.