Last week, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt released the trailer for his directorial and screenwriting debut, “Don Jon.” In the movie, Gordon-Levitt also plays the protagonist, a “Jersey Shore”-esque fellow whose self-described occupations are his “body, pad, ride, family, church, boys, girls, and porn.”
Gordon-Levitt, who moonlights as the founder of collaborative production company hitRECord, is no stranger to social media— he has 1.7 million Twitter followers. The “Don Jon” website is hosted on Tumblr, and most recently, Gordon Levitt started a new Twitter account representing his titular character. (Yes, it’s actually him doing the tweeting.)
In response to Twitter user @haledoux asking Don Jon, “Blonde or Brunette?” the character says, “I luv em all.” And, among other pithy remarks, “go trojans!!!!!!” The Atlantic gave him a hard time for it: “His tweets look like he’s frenetically straining in the role,” Esther Zuckerman wrote in an article titled “Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Lame New Twitter Isn’t Selling His Movie.”
Zuckerman is overreacting. He might be banal, but Don Jon is certainly tweeting in character, helping to define his personality before the movie even hits theaters. His latest flurry of tweets might center on getting dinner at McDonald’s, but readers are engaging in conversation with him. Almost all his tweets are responses to follower questions, and in its short existence (since May 21), Don Jon’s Twitter account has amassed over 13,500 followers. Of course, a large part of that following is due to Gordon Levitt’s self-promotion, so it will be interesting to see if the fans last—or grow—when faced with Don Jon’s “flawed but lovable” personality.
We’ve seen the expansion of entertainment via fictional Twitter accounts before, with character accounts for Lady Mary Crawley’s eyebrows, the Bronx Zoo Cobra (created in the wake of an actual cobra escape from the zoo, and now also a snake songwriter) and Lizzie Bennet of YouTube series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”An official Homer Simpson account has over a million followers.
Some works of Twitter fiction last, others fade. Accounts that are too “zeitgeisty” often don’t have much lasting power. Angie’s Right Leg hopped away; there were only so many photos it could bomb. PBS’ fake reality TV show character (created for a New York ad campaign), The Dillionaire, is uninspiring with 70 followers and a deluge of bad pickle puns.
For temporary publicity, a meme-like account in the manner of Angie’s Right Leg might be enough, but just like in real life, more substantial characters inspire longer-lasting engagement. 100,000 people didn’t follow ABC’s official Richard Castle Twitter overnight, while accounts for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson give us hope the former is still alive. Don Jon is interesting for now as an original online presence, but with four months still to go before the film hits theaters, potential moviegoers may grow tired of guido punchlines.
In order to survive as a long-running fictional Twitter account, you can’t exist in your own bubble. Richard Castle reacts to real-life happenings like the Boston bombing, and the Bronx Zoo Cobra comically keeps followers apprised of its species’ slithery habits. Maybe Don Jon’s followers will stoke enough responses to keep the conversation going, but it’s dangerous for his online presence to rely on audience. They may well move on (as audiences often do from fads that don’t adapt to changing conversations and trends), and Don Jon could end up a passing meme unless he builds momentum through internal drama or tweets content relevant outside of his fictional world.
In considering a Twitter persona as one branch of a digital campaign, decide how long you want the impression to last. Is this character fiery, viral material (that will be abandoned as soon as the glitter fades), or should he or she accompany the audience throughout a long-term entertainment experience? Then, take the risk, making sure to keep close tabs on audience reactions.
Regardless of how much we love his blunt opinions or hate his porn and gym obsessions, Don Jon’s Twitter account begins to bring the over-the-top character to life. And rather than a production company or marketing team taking control, an in-character conversation with the audience seems like a natural next step for an actor in the Internet Age.