Rian Johnson on How Joseph Gordon-Levitt Will Embody Bruce Willis in Looper
01.18.12 by BrentJS
It's clear by his casting of then 24-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt — who at the time was really only known for his role as Tommy Solomon on the quirky TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun — as the lead character in his feature debut, Brick, that director Rian Johnson was able to see the future superstar inside of the fresh-faced young actor. Which explains why, six years later, Johnson turned to Gordon-Levitt once again when he needed a young actor with the acting chops — and guts — to portray the younger version of one of the biggest Hollywood superstars of all time, Bruce Willis, in his new time-tripping sci-fi thriller, Looper. In a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Johnson explained how Gordon-Levitt embodied Willis and why time travel is just the "set-up" of his new movie.
Johnson said that it was "really scary" when he decided to have Gordon-Levitt undergo extensive makeup and prosthetics to visually resemble Willis, but that it was the younger actor's "big and daring" performance that truly helped him embody the veteran tough guy.
That was really scary because you commit to that and there's no real way out of it. But the biggest thing is Joe's performance, he's really doing Bruce in a big and daring way, but he strikes a balance between obviously imitating Bruce and also building this organic performance.
In Looper, Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a contract killer for the mob who disposes of victims sent to him from the future. Joe is perfectly content with his work until his own future self (Willis) is sent to him for disposal, a situation that neither of them finds very agreeable. Does that plot make your head hurt? Johnson admitted that "time travel just never makes sense" in movies, but said that the genre is sort of a "tea-kettle cozy of genres" in that it provides the "set-up" that allows other stories to be told.
If you just tell somebody the plot, you're inevitably telling them the time travel stuff, but the movie actually uses that as a set-up. The best parallel I can draw is to the first The Terminator movie where time travel is used to set up this impossible situation between these people and then that situation plays itself out.