‘Looper’ Director Rian Johnson Talks Transforming Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rian Johnson first won the hearts of film fans by mixing the noir and teen movie genres in 2005’s Brick, and coming up in 2012 he’s set to wow us all again by mixing the time travel movie up with the assassin thriller in Looper. This one sees Johnson once again working with Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who will be playing an assassin that kills people who have been sent back in time; one of those targets being Bruce Willis. You can basically think of Gordon-Levitt as a T-800 and Willis as Michael Biehn. Except, Looper has a twist. While I’m sure this will all be revealed in the film’s advertising, be warned, thar be spoilers ahead.

At some point in the film it’s revealed that Willis’ character is actually a future version of Gordon-Levitt’s. This, I’m sure, leads to a whole quagmire of time paradoxes and moral quandaries. But long before we all wrestle with the business of untangling that mess, Johnson had to deal with the problem of making us buy Gordon-Levitt and Willis as the same person. Sounds like a daunting task to me, and recently the director gave the L.A. Times a little bit of insight into the process.

The first step toward linking these two very distinct actors was putting Gordon-Levitt in some actual, physical prosthetics, presumably crafted by some effects guy who they locked in a room with episodes of Moonlighting playing on repeat. Going the route of prosthetics was a bit of a risk, because as Johnson says, “That was really scary because you commit to that and there’s no real way out of it.”

Hopefully the John McClane makeup won’t end up looking like crap, but if it does Johnson assures us that the biggest step toward making Joe into Bruce wasn’t anything he did at all. Instead it was inside of Gordon-Levitt all along! He continues, “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.” An obvious imitation would probably have been a bad strategy for this one, but I still hope Gordon-Levitt gets the chance to say, “welcome to the party, pal,” at some point. It will just feel like a letdown if he doesn’t.

We were already excited enough about this movie to put it on our most anticipated of 2012 list, but now that we’ve gotten a glimpse at the production design bringing the time travel element to life and are hearing more about the process the actors went through to make this one happen, my anticipation has grown too big for me to contain. I’m bursting. How about you? Are you bursting?

Weaned on the genre films of the 80s. Reared by the independent movement of the 90s. Earned a BA for writing stuff in the 00s. Reviews current releases at

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