Joseph Gordon-Levitt And Rian Johnson Explain Looper's Time Travel Laws
One of the greatest things about the science-fiction genre is that it allows the creator to build a world from the ground up. Whether they want it to reflect the world we live in now, or be completely unrecognizable, the author has the chance to do whatever they want. The drawback of this is that rules of the universe need to be created, and thatís particularly important in the case of time travel. So how does writer/director Rian Johnson handle it in his upcoming film Looper?
A few weeks ago I attended WonderCon in Anaheim, California and was given the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview with Johnson and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and with the release of the movieís first trailer yesterday I wanted to share it with you. Check out the discussion below in which they talk about making Gordon-Levitt look like Bruce Willis, why they continue to work together, and the movieís co-genre.
Counting the cameo in The Brothers Bloom this is now the third time that you two have worked together. What draws you to keep working with each other?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I just love working with someone that has a real voice as a filmmaker. There are lots of ways to make a movie and, letís be honest, most movies follow a formula, which can be pretty boring. But then, you get certain artists who you can tell right away that itís one of their movies, and Rian is one of those. Itís an honor to be in his movies. It was an honor to be in his first movie. And he wrote this role for me, which has never happened to me before, that I writer actually wrote a role for me to act in. That meant a lot.
Rian Johnson:We did Brick together and weíve stayed friends since then, so itís that combined with the fact that heís just such a phenomenally talented actor and such a pleasure to work with. With Joe, and with the other actors and crew, thatís the way that we work. Weíre slowly building up a little family of friends that we like making movies with. I think itís always better that way.
A lot of times, itís hard to find the audience for a film and get people interested enough to go out and see the film. Here you have people clamoring just to see the first possible footage that they can feast their eyes on. What does that feel like? How gratifying is that?
Gordon-Levitt: Itís nice. I love movies. I donít just like them, I love them. So, to be somewhere like WonderCon, amongst other people who feel that strongly as well, is exciting.
Johnson: We were talking about the push and pull of how much you tell and how much you hold back. When I see a news story on a site, about a movie that Iím interested in, itís like the mouse going for the pleasure button and I click it. But then, when I see the movie, itís like, ďOh, I would have enjoyed the movie that much more, if I hadnít known that.Ē For me, this is the first time Iím working with a movie where there is that thing of, ďHow much do we give away? How much do we tease?Ē Itís an interesting process.
Johnson: I guess the first big thing is how Joe plays a younger version of Bruce Willis. We did some prosthetic make-up on him.
Gordon-Levitt: Some prosthetic make-up?
Johnson: [laughs] We slathered his face with uncomfortable gunk.
Gordon-Levitt: It was two-and-a-half hours every morning, but it was so worth it. Itís a different face, and that was obviously the foundation of the character. Well, thatís not true. The foundation of the character was just Bruce, and studying him, watching his movies and listening to his voice. For me, it was definitely one of the more interesting challenges Iíve ever tackled, as an actor. I think I could kind of say that itís my favorite performance of my own.
Given that the role was written for you, Joe, how did you decide that the best actor to play the older version of the character was Bruce Willis? Because you donít immediately make that connection?
Gordon-Levitt: You donít? [laughs]
Johnson: If Bruce worked out a littleÖ [laughs]. We cast Bruce in it, because we I had written it for Joe and then we cast Bruce and then we dealt with, ďOkay, how do we figure this out?Ē Because as our ingenious make-up designer pointed out, they actually look very dissimilar. They donít look alike, at all. So, our approach was weíre going to pick a couple key features and alter those. But what really amazed me was when Joe showed up on set and started shooting, I was still very, very nervous Ďcause we had committed to this extreme make-up and I knew that itís not like we had totally transformed him, so that he looked like Bruce in Moonlighting, or something. It was a hybrid. But, when Joe kicked in the performance, I knew that was going to take it a long way. It was amazing how much of a transformation there was, once Joe started not only doing the voice Ė the other thrilling thing about it, for me, was that it wasnít imitation. He was creating a character, but it was a character that could be a young Bruce Willis. It was an amazing high-wire act that Joe was pulling off every day. For me, it was just really fun to watch.
Were there particular nuances or mannerisms that you kind of keyed in on?
Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. The answer is yes, but if I start to articulate them it would sound silly [laughs].
Johnson: Yeah, I love sci-fi, and Iíve always wanted to do a sci-fi film. Sci-fi is fun because it always goes with another genre. A straight sci-fi film, I donít know what that would be. Blade Runner was a sci-fi noir. Alien was a sci-fi monster movie. I love the genre so much. In terms of switching it up, itís because I write these things too and Iím a very slow writer. By the time Iím done, Iíve spent three or four years on each of these movies and I just want to do something totally different because Iím so sick of that previous one.
Whatís the co-genre of this film?
Johnson: You know, thatís interesting. I actually just want people to see the movie. I could give an answer to that, but part of the fun of the movie, I think, is just figuring out what it is. But it is something that, specifically in that one meta way, keeps you guessing throughout the course of the movie.
With this type of film you have to think that studios are thinking franchise right away. Is that something you would be up for or are you just focusing on this film?
Johnson: I donít think about it. I donít think in those terms. Storytelling wise, youíve gotta take it as far as you can possibly take it with each individual movie. If youíre holding out something for a sequel or some cliff-hanger, thatís not how I think of a satisfying story.
Gordon-Levitt: Itís a very complete story. Rian doesnít write stuff with money in mind [laughs]. Itís not that kind of process.
Could you see the character continuing to grow, in additional stories?
Johnson: Iíd be curious to hear your answer to that, once you see the film.
Johnson: Initially, when I cast Joe and we were talking about it before we had cast Bruce, we were talking about the option of just doing make-up or something else.
Gordon-Levitt: The egotistical actor in me was like, ďLet me do both!,Ē [laughs]. But Iím so glad thatís not what we did.
Johnson: The reason that I actually came down against it was twofold. First, I think with aging make-up on younger actors, I donít feel like Iíve ever seen it completely work. Thereís been some tremendous work thatís been done, but I feel like, if you know what an actor looks like whoís young, as a movie-goer, I can usually see right through it. The bigger thing for me, and the big hook of the movie for me, what emotionally pulled me into it, was the idea of a young man sitting across from an older man whoís himself. You can make someone up. Joe is a fantastic actor. But, thereís something about a span of 25 years between two people that you canít fake. That just buys you something thatís intangible and very essential to what this movie is basically about. And so, I thought it was really important to have two actors actually sitting across from each other, with that age gap between them.
Gordon-Levitt: And thereís no way that I could have delivered a performance, the character that Bruce did. Bruce is magnificent in this movie. He gives a really strong performance. Thatís not something I could have done, at all.
Weíve never seen this universe before. How can you describe the universe to fans?
Johnson: Well, itís the near future and itís very, very grounded. It is 30 years in the future. Itís kind of dystopian. Everything has fallen apart a little bit. But, itís not as completely conceptualized as something like Blade Runner. It is a little more grounded and a little more down-to-earth. The truth is that, even though we had some fun with the futuristic elements, the movie is very action and character driven. The world that it takes place in, for me, it was less about making a very distinct future world and more about these characters really driving us through this thing. It was more about, ďWhatís a world that we can pull off on our budget that looks real and makes sense, as a future?Ē
Were there any cool futuristic gadgets or things that your character gets to play with?
Gordon-Levitt: Itís a different answer than youíre asking for, but what I thought was really cool about this future was that it wasnít chalk full of shiny new toys. I thought it spoke really honestly to some of the dark truths about where our society is headed. Weíre not doing so hot these days, in many respects. Seeing kids living in tents, and stuff like that, we donít like to think about it here, in the United States, because itís not happening so often here, yet. Itís happening in India. So, to see the future Kansas City Ė itís set in Kansas City Ė and to see that kind of poverty, I thought was really powerful.
This is a time travel movie and with time travel comes rules. Did you start from scratch to create your own idea of how time travel works, or were you influenced by other methods?
Johnson: The biggest influence, in terms of how to handle it from a storytelling point of view, was the first Terminator movie. I loved that film, for so many reasons. The genius thing about how it handles time travel was how it set up the premise and then time travel gets out of the way, so youíre not spending the whole movie explaining things on chalkboards. I also love time travel movies that do that. Primer is one of my favorite films. But, for this specifically, itís really the characters and the action that drives it through. For me, it was about, ďHow do we use time travel without making the audience think about time travel the entire time?Ē
Speaking of Primer, Shane Carruth worked on this film as well, did he not?
Johnson: You know, he ended up giving some notes on the script and we started to collaborate on the concept for some effects, but it was a sequence that ended up getting cut from the movie. So heís a special ďthank you.Ē
Back to top