'It's a normal thing': Joseph Gordon-Levitt opens up about anxiety and his new series 'Mr. Corman'

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt has more than 80 acting credits to his name, including the TV show "3rd Rock From the Sun," which kickstarted his career when he was 14. Now, Gordon-Levitt is returning to the small screen with his new Apple TV+ series, "Mr. Corman," which he created, wrote, directed, produced and stars in.

The series follows Josh Corman, a grade 5 teacher in his 30s who is unhappy with his life. He loves teaching but still misses his passion, which was creating music. He doesn't have a strong social life and recently broke up with his girlfriend, Megan (Juno Temple) and even his relationship with his family is fractured.

Mr. Corman, played by Gordon-Levitt, is a character who is unhappy and can't help but feel all those heavy feelings. It's something that audiences can relate to, as well as the actor himself.

"[Corman is] a lot like me. I think he's a lot like all of us; he's somebody who's doing his best and you know, has a lot to be grateful for in his life, and wants to be happy, but isn't necessarily happy all the time," Gordon-Levitt told Yahoo Canada.

"That's something I relate to, I think it's something that we could all relate to. And I have so much to be grateful for in my life. But sometimes my brain goes to these dark places, and I can't help it, I tried to stop it. I said, 'Hey, brain, don't do that, you know, you have so much to be grateful for!' My brain doesn't always listen to me."

Feelings of anxiety are 'a normal thing'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mr. Corman. Image via Apple TV+
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mr. Corman. Image via Apple TV+

Early on in the series, Josh is seen suffering from a panic attack. He is filled with anxiety and his mental health struggles further continue over the course of 10 episodes. Gordon-Levitt wrote the episode based on his own first-hand experience with anxiety.

"I've had experiences like that in my life, maybe not as intense as the character in the show, [but] I have other people in my life that are close to me that have had really intense anxiety experiences," he said.

"We also spoke to a doctor of neuropsychology to get the perspective from a scientist. And, you know, one of the things she said that really stuck with me was, 'I want to make sure that this doesn't stigmatize anxiety, but rather normalizes it, because so many people have these feelings.' It feels like everybody I talked to either has those feelings themselves, or is close with someone who has those feelings."

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Gordon-Levitt hopes that "Mr. Corman" will encourage people to become more comfortable talking about their mental health with loved ones.

"A lot of people don't feel comfortable to talk about it, because they'll feel like, 'Oh, people are gonna think I'm broken or weird, or people are going to think I'm whining or something.' But there's no reason to think that that someone's broken or weird or whining if they're experiencing these feelings of anxiety," he shared.

"It's a normal thing. And the best is to not blame people for it, but to be forgiving, and accepting and supportive and kind to each other about it."

How the pandemic brought JGL back to gratitude

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mr. Corman. Image via Apple TV+
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mr. Corman. Image via Apple TV+

Mr. Corman was three weeks into production in New Zealand before the pandemic halted filming.

"At first, I'll be honest, I was frustrated. We were in the middle of shooting 'Mr. Corman', this project I cared so much about, and we had to stop shooting," Gordon-Levitt admitted. "I was like, 'Oh, no, we have to stop.' But very quickly, I realized I don't have anything to complain about. People are going through genuinely hard times. People are getting sick and dying here. Who cares about me shutting down a TV show? I ultimately I just felt so grateful to be alive and get to be safe in my house with my family."

Adding the pandemic storyline allowed the main character's anxiety to be more relatable as the world went into isolation. The series, which handles this topic delicately, makes for a good conversation starter about how to normalize discussions of mental health, anxiety and loneliness — especially after the year we've had.

The first two episodes of "Mr. Corman" premiere Aug. 6 on Apple TV+ with new episodes weekly thereafter.