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The Walk star Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks training with the real Philippe Petit

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Robin Marchant/Getty Images

He may not have balanced on a wire 110 stories in the air, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt still learned how to walk a tightrope for his role as real-life daredevil Philippe Petit in The Walk.

At the world premiere of The Walk at the New York Film Festival on Saturday, Gordon-Levitt talked to EW about training with Petit himself, who walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.

“He’s such an optimist, Philippe,” Gordon-Levitt told EW. “He’s such a positive thinker, and when someone believes that you can do something, then you yourself believe you can do it, and that’s when you can actually do it, when you believe in yourself.”

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Petit trained Gordon-Levitt in a “nonstop” workshop, beginning by teaching him how to walk on a rope on the floor. Eight days later, Gordon-Levitt could walk on a wire 10 feet in the air — and director Robert Zemeckis ended up using actual footage of Gordon-Levitt on the wire in the film.

“I started not correcting him, but I started giving him all my passion and all my sense of theater and my poetry of the wire because I cannot walk on the wire without that passion and the love for the wire,” Petit told EW. “I had to give that to the actor, and we see it on the screen.”

At the premiere, Gordon-Levitt also drew comparisons between Petit and another real-life role: Edward Snowden. Gordon-Levitt, who has said that he secretly met with the NSA contractor in Russia, told the AP that the two men aren’t all that different, saying, “Both took enormous risks, showed incredible courage, broke the law, and did something they very deeply believed in.”

 

The Walk premieres in IMAX on Sept. 30 before going wide on Oct. 9.