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Comic-Con: Gordon-Levitt, Johnson Talk Time Travel and Willis in 'Looper' (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 15, 2012 at 4:29PM

Of the various sci-fi thrillers on display at Comic-Con, one that intrigues me is Rian Johnson's "Looper." The writer-director came up with the idea ten years ago after reading a lot of Philip K. Dick. The concept: in the future when time travel is possible but outlawed, the mob zaps hit men into the past to dispose of their victims.
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Looper"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Looper"

Of the various sci-fi thrillers on display at Comic-Con, one that intrigues me is Rian Johnson's "Looper" (Sony, September 28).

The writer-director came up with the idea ten years ago after reading a lot of Philip K. Dick, he told the Hall H crowd last week. The concept: in the future when time travel is outlawed, the mob zaps hit men (called loopers) into the past to dispose of their victims. Johnson wrote the lead role for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in Johnson's debut Sundance hit "Brick." He's a hit man who gets the assignment to kill his older self, played by Bruce Willis. "Joe is someone who is willing to throw themselves into this total transformation," said Johnson. "That's what he loves to do."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

"It's time someone wrote a part for me!" Gordon-Levitt told the Hall H crowd. "They send me my future self to kill. Unfortunately it's Bruce Willis, so I am not able to kill him."

Gordon-Levitt was eager to play his mature self as well, but Johnson wanted an older actor who could intimidate him. When he landed Willis, Johnson had to find a way to make the two men resemble each other (see video interview below). "We added a little bit of prosthetics to Joe's nose and lips," he said. "His performance ends up selling it, he's doing the young Bruce. It's not just imitation."

Emily Blunt also gets involved. "I can't say too much about my character," she said. "She and her family get embroiled in this whole debacle because Joe is a pussy. She's tough, she's a bad ass, we live in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest." Johnson's script is "rich in complexity and the emotion is complex as well. He writes in a singular way, not derived from anything else you've ever seen, it's rare when that happens."

To prepare, Gordon-Levitt watched Willis movies, listened to audio on his iPod; Willis also recorded some of his voiceover lines. "The most I learned was hanging out with him," said Gordon-Levitt. "What's striking about Bruce is that he is actually a soft-spoken man. He doesn't want other people listening to him. He doesn't have to speak up. A lot of big macho guys talk loud, like they have to have a big presence in the room. A guy like Bruce isn't scared of anything, he doesn't have to raise his voice."

"Looper" is more like "Terminator," suggests Johnson, in that the "time travel sets up a situation with these characters and then gets out of way." Although the director had a bigger budget to work with than his last film, "Brothers Bloom" (also produced by Ram Bergman and independently financed by Endgame), the creative process was the same.

"'Looper' is a  big action sci-fi movie," said Gordon-Levitt, "but I think the same sensibility remains. The important thing isn't the size of the budget or how many people see it, but the intention of the filmmaker. Rian loves movies, that's why he's doing this. Some movies get made and the goal is to make money, which is not as interesting as someone telling a story from their heart... And by the way, Chris Nolan has similar sensibility; he started with smaller movies and he maintains that sensibility."
 

This article is related to: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Comic-Con


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.