‘500 Days of Summer’: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Instantly Knew Who Should Star as Summer When the Director Asked Him

(500) Days of Summer is one of those movies that has earned a major cult following. Released in 2009, the film employed a non-linear narrative structure, detailing a love story that was anything but conventional—and audiences loved it.

(500) Days of Summer also helped to solidify Zooey Deschanel as a leading actor capable of playing complex, quirky, and funny characters, and these days, it is still one of her best-loved films. As it turns out, while many actors were interested in the role of Summer, there was only one performer who was seriously considered by the rest of the cast and crew as being able to bring Summer to life in a way that would ensure fan devotion. 

zooey deschanel smiles while wearing a white dress
Zooey Deschanel | Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

‘(500) Days of Summer’ is an iconic indie film

(500) Days of Summer tells the story of a relationship, between a girl named Summer Finn and Tom Hansen, a writer who works for a greeting-card company. An independent production, the movie focuses on events from Tom’s point of view, using a non-linear structure to show viewers bits and pieces of the relationship between Summer and Tom from beginning to end and all the parts in between. 

While (500) Days of Summer might not have had a huge cast and crew, or a large budget to work with, it made waves when it was released, getting nominated for multiple awards and becoming a “sleeper hit.” It also helped launch Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to major movie stardom, and even today, it remains an audience favorite.

It took director Marc Webb nearly a year to get ‘(500) Days of Summer’ greenlit

Bringing (500) Days of Summer to life was a lengthy, tiring process for showrunners, and in the end, it proved to be a real labor of love. According to a 2019 report by Entertainment Weekly, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber always intended to write a “subversive” love story, one that took them over a year to write. In fact, the two noted that their rough draft was around 150 pages, with “the longest first act in screenplay history.”

Still, their story grabbed the attention of Marc Webb, who said that he pursued the script for “nearly a year” before he was brought on board to direct the project. “I would plague [Fox Searchlight] with storyboards and presentations and ideas and animatics sort of on a weekly basis to try go get them enthused, and then slowly they started saying yes,” Webb noted. “But I joke to my friends [that] the movie still hasn’t been greenlit. There was never a moment where they were like, ‘You’re making this movie!'”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt suggested Zooey Deschanel for the role of Summer

After Webb finally got the green light to begin production on (500) Days of Summer, he got to work finding the right actors for the part. It didn’t take him long to find Joseph Gordon-Levitt to portray Tom, but casting Summer proved to be more difficult. “For a while, there were a lot of actresses who were circling it, who would always say, if you flipped the perspectives and you made it a female — you made Tom a woman, basically — then they would be more inclined to dive in,” Neustadter recalled. 

Ultimately, it was Gordon-Levitt who would be instrumental in casting Deschanel as Summer. As Webb said “I asked him (Gordon-Levitt) who he thought Summer was, and without missing a beat he said Zooey [Deschanel]. And we ended up hiring Zooey first and then very quickly thereafter hiring Joe… There’s something about both of them that feels real.” Showrunners’ instincts proved to be right on the money, with viewers connecting to both Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt in their respective roles. There’s no doubt that their chemistry contributed to the success of (500) Days of Summer, making it the hit that it is today.

RELATED: 12 of the Best Star-Studded Movie Soundtracks of All Time