Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis & Emily Blunt Interview For ‘Looper’
In the futuristic action thriller ‘Looper,’ time travel will be invented – but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” – a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good… until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination. The film is written and directed by Rian Johnson and also stars Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, and Jeff Daniels. ’Looper’ is released in cinemas September 28th. This interview is a compilation of these three individual interviews for the film: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. My interview with Rian Johnson for ‘Looper’ will be posted tomorrow.
Joseph, ‘Looper’ re-teams you with writer/director Rian Johnson, who you‘ve remained good friends with since filming ‘Brick’ almost a decade ago. How was that experience of working with a friend, and working on something I can imagine he told you the idea about a number of years ago?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. Rian and I first met nearly ten years ago. It wasn’t too long after we shot ‘Brick’ that he started telling me about his idea for ‘Looper.’ He ended up writing the lead character for me, which is the first time that’s ever happened to me as an actor, so to play that was a great honour. It’s a treat to work with a true friend, and Rian and I….it was 2003 that we shot ‘Brick,’ it didn’t come out until 2006. We’ve done even little things together before we started on ‘Looper,’ making little videos and songs all the time. For years we’ve been talking about this idea, about ‘Looper.’ And the standard for an actor in a movie is that you get the script a few months before you start shooting – which is just a different process, I’m not saying ones is better or worse, but it is out of the ordinary and really special to have this much investment in the material and have such a personal connection with the director.
Thematically, what interested you about ‘Looper’?
Emily Blunt: I think the film ’Looper’ is about redemption and I think it’s about the redeeming qualities of love. And also how nurture can alter natures path in some ways. And I guess the question is nurture versus nature, and how much are we programmed genetically and how much are we programmed by how people treat us? It’s so rich in complexity, and conceptually it’s so exciting, but also emotionally it is too! When I first got the script for ‘Looper,’ I read about 30 or so pages and I was already on the phone to my agent. I hadn’t even gotten to my character and I was like, “Get me this movie!” Because I loved it so much (laughs).
The trouble for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe comes when he “lets his loop run,” in the form of your older Joe….
Bruce Willis: Yeah. Letting your loop run means that you’ve shown up to work, your older self has appeared in front of you, and – for whatever reason – you’ve let your older self escape. It doesn’t happen often, because if all goes correctly, your older self should have a sack over his head and be gagged and tied. You should just shoot him without knowing what you’re doing. But my character shows up in front of his younger self untied and no sack over his head. I get the drop on him and escape.
Without giving much away, your character is in part motivated by how bad things have gone in the future….
Bruce Willis: Yeah. Everything is under the control of a guy called The Rainmaker. He’s orchestrating mass executions – a reign of terror. But my character knows where the Rainmaker lives in young Joe’s time. When I go back in time, I go on a mission to track down the Rainmaker and fix the future. Of course, nothing is as easy or as simple as it seems (laughs).
What sort of research and references did you use to shape your character Sara in ‘Looper’?
Emily Blunt: My character is not so much involved in the time travel element of ‘Looper.’ So I very much drew from movies like Peter Weir’s ‘Witness’ and Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’ those kinds of films. They were really inspirational for me for creating that atmosphere and that tension, that pastoral tension that takes place on the farm (laughs). But my character also has a past and she used to live this very kind of bad life in the city which she’s deeply regretful of, so she knows about “Looper” and she knows all about time-travel, and she knows all about the criminal world. She’s left all of that behind her to raise her son, but she’s got a lot of regrets. Sara, she had a really rich past for me to delve into. She’s a really tough cookie, tough nut to crack.
Playing younger Joe, the younger version of Bruce Willis’ Joe in ’Looper,’ what was the approach of bringing that to life?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I didn’t want to do a Bruce Willis impersonation – that’s not really my forte. I wanted to create a character that felt like it could be a younger version of this guy – just give it a bit of that Willis flavour. Bruce is a really understated guy, so to see him to a little double-take when he looked at me was really thrilling. At one point, he said, “Man, you sound like me.” I tried to play it cool – “Oh, thanks, dude” – but inside, I was thinking, “YEAH!” (Laughs)
In preparing for the role, what sort of things did you do to capture Bruce Willis‘ mannerisms?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I studied Bruce Willis’ movies, and I would take the audio from some of his movies and put them on my iPod so that I could listen to him. Bruce actually recorded himself doing some of my monologues and sent me the tapes so that I could listen to that, and that was all really useful. But I think the most important thing for me was just getting to know him, hanging out having dinner, talking about whatever, that was where I think I really learned what I wanted to do with the character.
What sort of background did you have with his movies before ‘Looper’?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I think every guy my age idolises Bruce Willis a little bit (laughs). I was a kid when the first ‘Die Hard’ came out and I would always want to see the new ones when they came out. But then beyond ‘Die Hard’ he’s the star of ‘Pulp Fiction,’ he’s in ‘Sin City,’ he’s in ‘Twelve Monkeys’….I don’t know how many other huge action stars there are that have also been in some of the greatest movies of recent times. And that’s Bruce for you – and he is, I think, actually even more impressive in person. He’s huge, I never thought he was so big (laughs). Bruce is actually a really big, broad, imposing dude. Which is interesting because his attitude is the opposite of that, he’s the most gentle, understated, just graceful, chilled out guy.
With Joseph Gordon-Levitt portraying a younger version of yourself in ‘Looper,’ I can imagine that may have been an odd experience at times – especially considering the scenes where you meet face to face?
Bruce Willis: I was sitting across from Joe across a table. I was supposed to act and get all my lines right, but I just found myself looking at him and thinking how weird it was (laughs). It was an honour. It’s really a strange thing to see someone that looks like a young version of yourself. He’s a great actor, I love his work and I just love what he did in this film, ‘Looper.’ He picked up some of my cadence of speaking, which was odd, and yet, really cool at the same time.
What was the approach for you acting opposite someone like that considering the dynamic?
Bruce Willis: It seems like an impossible task to try to act with someone who’s supposed to be you, supposed to be the younger you. And at some point you have to let go of it and just believe that you’re in the story, that you’re part of the story. Science fiction films especially are like magic tricks, and it kind of fools you. When I saw ‘Looper’ I was so surprised that the magic trick that we were trying to do works. Because it’s so hard to look at someone else and go, “Arr yeah, that’s like a young me!” (Laughs) You just have to believe it and go with the magic trick part of it. Being in an emotional place is much easier to manage.
Emily, how did you find it working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this sort of transformative role, he really went there with his part?
Emily Blunt: What’s brilliant about Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that he’s kind of a shape shifter, you know? He is able to play such a diverse range of characters and he’s also a fantastic mimic. So he took on that Bruce Willis voice, that New Jersey twang, he worked really tirelessly to watch Bruce work, he watched his films, watched his interviews to see how he moves, how he looks, how he checks somebody out – all of those things. It was incredibly detailed work and preparation that he did, and I think it shows because I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is kind of unrecognisable in ‘Looper.’ He’s incredible.
You went through nearly three hours of makeup and prosthetics every single morning to adjust your nose, upper lip and lower lip to play the younger Joe. How was it working with the special effects makeup designers on this transformation?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I had the pleasure of working with Kazuhiro Tsuji, who is arguably the best special effects makeup designer in the world. He’s a magician. You can’t tell that there’s make-up at all, but I spent three hours in the makeup chair every morning getting a nose, lips, eyebrows, ears, and contact lenses. We were never going to be able to make me look exactly like Bruce Willis, because we just look completely different, but I think we did enough that the audience doesn’t have to think about it – they just have to feel, “Yep, that character is the same guy as that other character, 30 years later.”
For me, ‘Looper‘ has the dual elements of being incredibly entertaining, yet at the same time emotionally involving and smart…..
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: That’s my favourite type of movie, one that will give you a good time – and this is a rocking sci-fi movie, but it also asks some really important questions that get to the heart of the human condition. And that’s what I want when I go to movies, I want a fun time and something to talk about when it’s over. I don’t want to be just walking out of the cinema and be like, “Ok, cool, what are we going to eat?” I like to have something to have a conversation about, something to think about – something maybe I’ll keep thinking about for a while. And ‘Looper’ has really got both of those elements.
The crux of ‘Looper’ is what would you say to your future self or past self if you were sitting across from each other and have a conversation. Obviously that can never happen in real life, so that’s what is so great about science fiction – that can happen. And kind of the centre piece in the movie is the diner scene where Bruce’s older Joe and my younger Joe, the same character, are sitting across from each other talking.
Bruce Willis: It’s a really smart script – really smart. And it just made me want to do it. I didn’t really compare it to anything else. ’Looper,’ it’s a science fiction film, a really great science fiction film, and the only thing I can compare it to is other films that I’ve been in that have a science fiction background – but this is unlike anything else, it was very exciting. But the film above anything, it was an emotional process above being a science fiction film. I don’t think Rian Johnson ever referred to it as a science fiction film to us. It was a day to day activity to try to make everything look and feel real, trying to deal with the idea that when I look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe, that it’s really me. There are a couple loves stories woven through ‘Looper,’ and those stories are why people do what they do in the film – I really liked that.
What part of ‘Looper’ really moved you?
Bruce Willis: While I was shooting the film I never thought I was doing anything wrong as the character, I never thought that my character does really terrible things. And I never judged my character of old Joe, I was just so caught up in those goals of what old Joe wanted to do in the film that I took it for granted that I had to hurt other people – and really innocent people. I never thought that was a bad thing while I was doing it. When I saw ‘Looper,’ I was emotionally moved some of things I was doing for my characters goals, sort of loving goals.
As both writer and director on ‘Looper,‘ how did you find it working with Rian Johnson? He must know these characters and this world inside out….
Emily Blunt: (Whispers) He’s my favourite director, ever. And I think he knows that, I think I told him (laughs). He’s the best director I think I’ve worked with. He’s got a fantastic point of view and it’s very clear, he’s got a very clear opinion and perspective on things all of the time because he wrote it. And then at the same time he’s not precious about it. So he’s very encouraging of collaboration and you never felt straight jacketed by him and his vision for ‘Looper.’ He really was interested in what you could bring to it, and I think that’s quite rare in a writer/director – particularly about a film which must have been envisioned in a very powerful way for him in order for him to write it. To have that openness is rare and I loved it, I loved every minute of it. Rian would give you really clever notes, nothing was on the nose, nothing was too generic. He really understands actors and what they need and what the process was. With the emotional stuff he would stay out of the way, with some of the other stuff he’d be very clear about what wasn’t quite working – and he was always right.
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