Joseph Gordon-Levitt Reunites With Rian Johnson In ‘Poker Face’ Twist

“I thought it would be fun to play a really bad person who just sucked himself in,” Gordon-Levitt tells IndieWire.

(Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers for “Poker Face” Season 1 Episode 9.)

After more than 15 years of working together, Rian Johnson gives longtime collaborator Joseph Gordon-Levitt the definitive “Poker Face” feature.

Gordon-Levitt appears in the penultimate episode of “Pokerface” Season 1 as Trey, a white-collar criminal under house arrest who turns out to be guilty of multiple murders — and the brutal stabbing of Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne).

“That scene was just a classic, well-orchestrated crescendo from Rian,” Gordon-Levitt told IndieWire ahead of the episode 9 premiere. “He had such a clear idea of ​​exactly what he wanted, especially to this day… I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to do that ultra-cinematic image of me stabbing another person in the chest with a knife, and it goes without saying that a Rian Johnson- I was finally able to do it.”

Unlike the chaotic fight between Lyonne, Judith Light, and S. Epatha Merkerson in episode 5, this sequence quickly ends violently. Trey is not acting out of self-defense or passion; he’s gotten away with murder before and knows he can do it again. For him, this is a quick and easy solution to his problems.

“What I usually do is almost always look for complexity in the characters I play,” Gordon-Levitt said. “What do they tell themselves? What are the circumstances that caused them to make bad decisions… with this character, I didn’t feel obligated to find complexity. I actually thought it would be fun to play a really bad person who just sucked himself in.”

Trey’s blueprint is drawn from the cold when he gets tired of being under house arrest in a beautiful mountaintop house and never tipping his delivery drivers. “I didn’t want to play him cartoonish, like a caricature of a bad boy brother,” adds Gordon-Levitt. “I thought it would be more horrifying if they made it seem like, ‘Yeah, this is just a real person who’s like that.’

Foreground: A woman in a hat sits on a sofa;  background: A man in a light gray sweatshirt, both in a treehouse - shot by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Stephanie Hsu "Spider face"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Stephanie Hsu in “Poker Face.”


Unlike the villains of the previous episodes, Trey actually spends a lot of time with Charlie in close quarters — scenes where it’s just Gordon-Levitt, Lyonne, Stephanie Hsu, and David Castañeda talking in a room, like in a play.

“Like in any story, and those are my favorite scenes where we get to step away from the mystery of the murder for a moment and dig into who these people are,” Gordon-Levitt said. “If the dialogue is Rian’s, that’s what makes it fun. And that’s the thing with any master of the genre, that it transcends the genre and ends up being a story about people.”

The dialogue is its own feat, building on previous episodes that rely on Charlie’s uncanny ability to tell when people are lying; for most of the episode, Trey no lies down. He asks what happened to Charlie and tells her where he is, but Jimmy’s (Castañeda) white lie sets the inevitable conflict in motion.

“He’s a sophisticated operator,” Gordon-Levitt said of Trey’s facade. “Who can lie better while telling the truth than financiers? Money itself is a big lie – but it’s also true.”

It was Gordon-Levitt’s first major role with the Johnson ensemble since 2012’s “Looper,” though he appears in “Knives Out,” “Glass Onion” and other films. Despite the gap and the transition from film to television, Gordon-Levitt says the only major difference between their last outing together was creative — they did a murder mystery of the week rather than a time travel movie or detective story.

“It’s kind of a magic trick that Rian does every time,” he said. “On the one hand, he is as pure an artist as an artist can be, and on the other, he fulfills the crowd-pleasing feelings of satisfying genre demands. It’s hard to find a balance and he does it – I don’t want to say effortlessly because he’s a hardworking guy – but it comes naturally.

“Poker Face” is now streaming on Peacock.

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