"You can't let your mind go to the bad case scenarios," Joseph Gordon-Levitt tells PEOPLE

By Gabrielle Olya
Updated September 07, 2015 10:40 PM
Advertisement
Credit: Sony

Joseph Gordon-Levitt can now add “tightrope walking” to his resumé.

The actor, 34, had to master the skill to portray Philippe Petit – the French tightrope artist who walked a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 – for his upcoming film, The Walk (out Oct. 9).

Fortunately, Gordon-Levitt had the opportunity to train with the man himself.

“Philippe set up this elaborate eight-day workshop, where it was just me and him together,” he tells PEOPLE. “He said, ‘By the end of this workshop, you will walk on this wire by yourself.’ And I thought to myself, ‘That sounds ambitious’. But he was right.”

Gordon-Levitt was able to draw on his acting experiences to help him master this new skill.

“There’s a real similarity to walking on a wire and acting on a movie set actually, and it has to do with focus,” he explains. “You can’t let your mind go to the bad case scenarios. When you’re up on a wire, you can’t focus on, ‘What if I fall? What if the wire breaks? What if this? What if that?’ You just fix your eyes on the endpoint of your wire, and you never look away, and you never focus on anything else.”

“When you’re shooting, you can’t focus on, ‘Oh what do I look like? What do all these people think of me? Oh look, there’s someone making an adjustments to the light five feet from my face,’ ” he continues. “You have to just focus your mind into the story that you’re telling.”

Although portraying someone who is real and still alive to see the film was “definitely an additional pressure,” it also has its perks – Gordon-Levitt already received a seal of approval from Petit!

“Philippe actually saw the movie recently, and he called me and said, ‘I just watched the movie, and I wanted to call you first before anybody to tell you I loved it,’ ” he says. “It really meant so much to get to hear that from the man who you’re portraying.”

For a full list of fall’s must-see movies, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday