Easily the best science fiction movie since Inception, Looper is a highly original time travel movie about hitmen whose targets are sent to them from the future. Things become life-threatening for a hit man named Joe (played by Johnson muse Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when he fails to kill his older self from 30 years in the future (played by Bruce Willis). Joseph Gordon-Levitt has recently had a slew of successful performances, appearing in movies like Hesher, 50/50, The Dark Knight Rises, and Premium Rush. In the fall, he will be playing Robert Todd Lincoln opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's much anticipated Lincoln film. Gordon-Levitt is currently in post-production on his directorial debut, Don Jon's Addiction. When not making films, he is involved with his "open-collaborative production company" hitRECord.
I sat down with Gordon-Levitt in a roundtable to discuss Looper, the friendly relationship he has with Rian Johnson, the connection he likes to have with the public despite his celebrity status, and more.
Looper opens nationwide on September 28.
You did 'Brick' with Rian Johnson a long time ago. Do you guys have a relationship where you communicate to each other about your choices, or interact artistically? Will he have much of an influence on your directorial debut 'Don Jon's Addiction,' or at least be a spiritual influence?
Yeah. He's really one of my closest friends, and he has been since we met making Brick. It wasn't long after we finished shooting Brick that he told me about this time travel idea that he had. We have been in touch, and more than in touch. Occasionally we talked about what became Looper, but also making other things, little videos or songs and stuff like that. We're neighbors, we're real tight. As far as Don Jon's Addiction, yeah. The very first draft that I had that I wanted to show to anyone else, he was the very first person I showed it to. He read it, and he's absolutely a mentor in that way, and really supportive of me going for it.
You got onto the film '50/50' pretty soon before it started shooting. What kind of differences are there between that film's set and that of 'Looper'?
I think it was six days. But that actually kind of helped, because it's a movie you don't want to over-think. The whole Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg style is very real, very improvisatory, and just diving right into it. A Rian Johnson movie is different - it is all highly composed, there's no improvising or anything like that. Which isn't to say that he isn't open to collaboration, but it's just an obvious very different tone. They're different approaches. Both movies that I did for Rian require a lot of work in preparation.
You make these big movies, like 'The Dark Knight Rises,' or 'Inception,' but at the same time these films have an intimate quality. 'Looper' is no different.
That's what I want out of a movie. I don't want to just look at a movie and feel like I'm being marketed to, or feel like I'm watching a campaign or gimmick. I want to connect to the artists involved, and feel like they have something to say that they're offering from their heart. Rian does that. So does Chris Nolan, even though he's making the biggest movies that there are. He manages to still make it personal, and I think that it's less about the size. You can do it on the scale that Chris Nolan does it, or the scale that we do it on hitRECord. The question is, are you sincerely offering yourself to your audience?
What's your favorite genre to work in? What appeals to you when you read scripts?
I think they all have their virtues, I think it's just a matter of what you do with the genre. Like, all of Kubrick's films are one genre or the other. What I do is pretty simple. I just look at the filmmaker, and want to have some connection with that person, feel a real collaborative spirit with them. And then if the material is inspiring, I feel some thing where I want to be that character. That's it. It doesn't happen all that often that things line up and get me excited.
Your character in 'Looper' is flawed, but similar to other characters you have played in the past in which they have both good and bad traits. Do you always look for that twist inside the person? Does it make it more emotionally raw to connect to that character?
Usually, yeah. You gotta have some type of combo of dark and light to make it feel like a human being. But I also do like playing archetypes; that can be pretty fun. Premium Rush is pretty straightforward action movie. It's really fun to do, and it inspired me to ride a bike that summer and have fun.
You've said that when you were building this performance, you didn't want to do an imitation of Bruce Willis. How did you get to that form of Bruce, and what movies of his did you study?
I didn't think an impersonation or an imitation would really serve the story. I'm not really good at impersonations anyways. I wanted to just make a character that felt like him. So, I watched mostly recent movies, because I was less concerned with making a young Bruce Willis, and making more concerned with making a character that would match to his character in this story. I watched Sin City, because I like that movie a lot, and it has a noir-ish thing to it, and a lot of voice-over. I would rip the audio from some of his movies and put them on the iPod so I did listen to them on repeat. He did record himself doing some of my voice-over monologues, and sent me the recordings so I could hear what they would sound like. The most important thing I think was spending time with him, having dinner, and letting it seep in.
There is a certain selfishness to both Young Joe and Old Joe in this movie. Did you work towards that trait with this character?
Everyone thinks they are doing the right thing. That's what I love about Looper. When people fight, no one thinks that they're being the bad guy. Everyone thinks that their fight is for the good cause.
With your hitRECord project and various other outreaches, you seem to have a desire to maintain the public's connection with the celebrity. Do you see yourself working toward that end?
That's exactly it, that's the point of all of this. I think we are all connected. There's a lot of forces that isolate us in our culture, and we're taught t be dog-eat-dog, and competitive, fight for status. That's not what it's about, that's not going to make anybody happy. I know people who are at the top of that heap, and aren't happy.