The actor did some soul-searching while crafting his deeply personal return to TV, debuting Aug. 6 on Apple TV+.
Mr. Corman

Mr. Corman (TV series)

Mr. Corman began as something like a therapy exercise for creator-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. "I was sort of taking stock of my life, and I would do things like brainstorm about what I was grateful for, about moments in my life where I thought I got lucky or unlucky, or moments where I thought I made the right decision or the wrong decision," the actor says of the Apple TV+ series' origins. "I was trying to dive into my own identity and my own perspective, and then change a few things and see how that cascaded."

That process eventually birthed his onscreen alter ego Josh Corman (Gordon-Levitt's first major TV role since 3rd Rock From the Sun ended in 2001), a fifth-grade teacher and would-be musician wrestling with self-loathing, anxiety, and family drama, among other troubles. A slice-of-life dramedy marked by bursts of surrealism (including musical numbers), darkly comic moments, and stark emotionality, Mr. Corman is propelled less by plot than by delving ever deeper into its title character.

"As you watch each episode, you'll learn more and more about why this guy is how he is," Gordon-Levitt explains.

Mr. Corman
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets some air in 'Mr. Corman'
| Credit: Apple TV +

One major thread throughout the season, for instance, is Josh's struggle with anxiety, a storyline that was "amalgamated" from incidents discussed in the writers' room, the actor says. "I haven't experienced anxiety exactly the way Josh has experienced it," he adds, "but I think all of us are probably going through it to some degree or another. Out of five [writers], a number of people had either firsthand or secondhand experiences with this exact thing. And from talking to experts in this field, I also think there's a spectrum. I don't think it's a black-and-white thing — 'Do you have an anxiety disorder or don't you?' It's not really that simple."

The creative team strove for authenticity, both in depicting anxiety itself — as Gordon-Levitt notes, he consulted with a doctor of neuropsychology on the script for one episode (see below) — and the experience of living with the disorder. Which meant, at times, not "shying away from moments of humor," the actor says.

"To me, that makes it feel real," he explains. "In my experience, even in the darkest, most tragic moments, some s--- is funny. I don't know if that's just the lens through which I see the world, or if that's just how the world is, but I know that even suffering through horrendous grief and loss, sometimes I'll laugh at something."

Mr. Corman
A meteor or a metaphor? Joseph Gordon-Levitt used the image of an asteroid to capture the feeling of anxiety in 'Mr. Corman'
| Credit: Apple TV +

And ultimately, "the goal was always just to be real," Gordon-Levitt says. "[Mr. Corman] is going to feel like the real world; it's going to feel like a real person. Sometimes that person might fly into a song and dance number because sometimes that's what life feels like. When you're trying to wrestle with a dynamic with your family or something, a song might be the best way to express in a show how it really feels."

The result is far and away the Inception star's most personal project to date, and he hopes its vulnerability will resonate with viewers. "This show in large part is about myself, or some version of myself," says Gordon-Levitt. "And there's something daunting about that, when you're really putting yourself out there. I don't get to hide behind a character and say it's not me. Even though Josh isn't [exactly] me."

He adds, "I find that a lot of my favorite art happens when artists are taking a really deep and honest dive into themselves. And that's what I've endeavored to do here."

Mr. Corman script page
Credit: Apple TV +

Below, Gordon-Levitt breaks down a key moment from Mr. Corman's second episode, in which Josh experiences an anxiety attack.


Gordon-Levitt consulted neuropsychologist Gina Grimshaw on the script for episode 2, requesting advice on depicting anxiety accurately. "I asked her, 'What is your biggest fear and your biggest hope for how a show would depict this?'" the actor recalls. "The first thing she said was, 'I hope this can be a force for normalizing as opposed to stigmatizing.' What we ultimately really want is to try to say, 'This is something that many, many people are experiencing, you're not crazy and you're not broken, and we can all talk about it.' I would love it if the show can be an easy conversation-starter [about mental health]."


"I had written that scene from my own firsthand experience of when I'm really upset or anxious," says Gordon-Levitt, who then took the script to Grimshaw. "But, like I said, my experience isn't exactly a bullseye for what would be called anxiety disorder. She said, 'I wouldn't bring it to the place of anger or crying. Maybe it's more fear-based because that's oftentimes what [anxiety] feels like, an uncontrollable fear.'"


This episode was one of the few that Gordon-Levitt didn't direct himself, with Aurora Guerrero (Gentefied) helming it instead. "I knew that to play these scenes, I would need to be able to go all the way into them and lose myself," he explains. "Aurora is such a sensitive human being, and she really picks up on people, what they're feeling, and what their perspectives are. She was a wonderful guide and supporter through playing these challenging scenes."


For all its authenticity, however, "Ultimately, this isn't a documentary about anxiety disorder," Gordon-Levitt says. "I can't claim that what ended up in the episode is any precise or calculated message; it's a lot messier. I think it was important for me as an actor to internalize all of these perspectives, and then, ultimately, honor the individual character's point of view."

Mr. Corman premieres Aug. 6 on Apple TV+.

A version of this story appears in the August issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or you can order a copy online. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. 

Related content:

Mr. Corman
Mr. Corman (TV series)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt created and stars in this not-quite-autobiographical dramedy about a fifth-grade teacher and would-be musician wrestling with self-loathing, anxiety, and family drama.

  • TV Show

Comments have been disabled on this post