The lifelong actor, 32, has become one of the industry's most active and passionate forces on and off screen; here's a map of his path

By Anthony Breznican
August 02, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Born on Feb. 17, 1981, in L.A.

Books first job, for a peanut butter commercial.

Gets big break as the alien Tommy on NBC’s 3rd Rock From the Sun after building up his résumé with small roles (Family Ties, Roseanne).

Stars in Manic with Zooey Deschanel. ”The director, Jordan Melamed, deserves a lot of gratitude from me for taking a chance. All anyone knew me from was 3rd Rock.”

Jan. 2005
Scores first Sundance hit with Rian Johnson’s neo-noir Brick, in which he plays a teen gumshoe.

May 2005
Impresses critics as a gay prostitute in the gritty drama Mysterious Skin.

Nabs lead in The Lookout. ”That was a real turning point. It’s the movie Christopher Nolan saw when he decided to put me in Inception.”

Jan. 2009
Launches hitRECord, his production shingle, with Sparks, a short Sundance film. ”That brand name stands for my philosophy of being creative.”

July 2009
Reteams with Deschanel The friends collaborate in (500) Days of Summer. ”One of my favorite movies that I’ve been in. It didn’t do big box office, but it’s become something a lot of people have seen and liked.”

Joins Nolan family with Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. ”One of the things I’ve noticed about Mr. Nolan’s directing is that…he always prioritizes the delicate matters of story, character, and feeling.”

Time-travels in Looper, in which he sports eerie makeup to play a younger Bruce Willis.

Premieres directorial debut Don Jon at Sundance. ”I had started a lot of screenplays, but this was the first one I finished. I think it was just the first point in my career where I was able to get a movie made. I had enough sway to gather up a small budget to make this movie and keep control over it.”

Jan. 2014
Will return to TV with variety show hitRECord on TV!, to debut on the Pivot network.