In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time-travel is possible — but is illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they 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 trouble for Joe begins when he “lets his loop run” — meaning he lets his older self escape.
As the movie calls for an older and a younger version of the same character, there was an interesting casting challenge for the filmmakers. Rather than seek out two actors who naturally look alike, they instead sought out the best actors for the roles – and let the chips fall where they may. “I had written the younger part for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, besides being my favorite actor, is also a good friend and we wanted to work with each other again,” says writer-director Rian Johnson. “When the possibility of Bruce Willis to play the older Joe presented itself, I got so excited because Bruce is such a good actor and was so right for the part in so many ways. It raised a problem, though, because they really look nothing like each other. We had to find a way to bridge the gap, and the solution was two-fold.
“The first thing was makeup,” Johnson continues. “Joseph Gordon-Levitt went through nearly three hours of makeup and prosthetics every single morning to adjust his nose, his upper lip and his lower lip. There was no way we were going to make him look like a young Bruce Willis, but we decided we’d pick a couple of key features and alter them just enough to give the audience something to grab onto so they could decide to go with it.”
“I had the pleasure of working with Kazuhiro Tsuji, who is arguably the best special effects makeup designer in the world,” says Gordon-Levitt. “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.’”
But makeup was just part of the story. “The other part – 90 percent of it – is Joe’s performance,” says Johnson. “It’s incredible to watch – he doesn’t imitate Bruce, he creates a character that feels like a younger Bruce. He’s doing a very specific voice and he took on a lot of Bruce’s mannerisms. It’s great acting, and a pretty phenomenal thing to see come to life.”
“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 flavor,” says Gordon-Levitt. “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!’”
Willis says that he was impressed by Gordon-Levitt’s performance. In one scene, he says, “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,” he says. “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. He picked up some of my cadence of speaking, which was odd, and yet, really cool at the same time.”
“That scene was so much fun to shoot,” says Johnson. “You have these two great actors sitting across a table, bantering back and forth, and that’s always fun to watch. It was more than halfway through production when we shot that scene – we had mostly been working with Joe and Bruce separately – so to see them sit across from each other was exciting.”
Looper is available on Video On Demand starting Dec. 31. Check your cable system for availability.
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