Rian Johnson‘s upcoming Looper is clearly filled with thought-provoking elements, but certainly one of its more interesting aspects has to be the way in which Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are playing the same character, but at different ages. Much ado has been made about the effects work used to make Gordon-Levitt more lantern-jawed and Willis-looking, but not a whole lot has yet been said about how Gordon-Levitt approached his performance. How exactly does one go about trying to play a younger version of a star whose screen presence is as well-defined as Bruce Willis’? i09 caught up with the actor and his director and got some answers on this subject, as well as a few others.
When talking about his preparation for the role, Gordon-Levitt said, “I studied him [Willis], and watched his movies, and ripped the audio off of his movies, so I could listen to them on repeat. He even recorded some of my voice-over monologues [from Looper] and sent me that recording, so I could hear what it would sound like in his voice.” That sounds like a good way of studying Willis’ cadence and perfecting the way that he talks, but does that mean Gordon-Levitt’s performance is going to simply be a glorified impersonation?
Johnson illuminated the process further by stating, “One thing that I think was really smart that Joe did was, he didn’t look at Moonlighting episodes.” He continued, “He didn’t look at the first Die Hard. He didn’t look at Bruce when he was Joe’s age, he looked at him today. He watched Sin City quite a bit. He watched his recent films. That seems like a slight distinction, but I think that was really critical. Because he was basing his performance on Bruce today, instead of imitating Bruce as a young man. He was creating a new character, whom you could buy as the Bruce that’s on the screen, instead of doing an imitation of what Bruce was actually like when he was younger.”
This definitely sounds like it could go a long way toward lessening the weird, Uncanny Valley-feeling effect audiences are likely to get from watching somebody play a young Bruce Willis, when they already know what a young Bruce Willis looked like. If you can accept this character as being a separate person from Bruce Willis in your mind, it should be much easier to invest yourself in the periods of the film where Gordon-Levitt is portraying him.
It’s hard not to take pause at one of Johnson’s comments though. Did Gordon-Levitt really not study the first Die Hard? Sure, Willis was a younger guy when that movie was filmed, but can you get anymore quintessentially Bruce Willis than his first turn as John McClane? Not studying Die Hard sounds like a risky proposition indeed.
Given the level of anticipation that’s been building for this film, maybe we all needed a little doubt sitting in the back of our minds, so that we don’t go into the theater overhyped and end up disappointed. And maybe this little tidbit will be exactly what we all need to instill that little bit of doubt. Or maybe Gordon-Levitt has this all under control, and his methods will end up making for a better young Bruce Willis than even Bruce Willis was able to be back in the day. What do you think? Is Looper going to be the best movie ever, or just the best movie released in our lifetimes?