Director Rian Johnson opened up the Looper panel today at WonderCon 2012 by explaining that it’s a time-travel action movie that he had conceptualized as far back as when he directed Brick.
Loopers are hit men hired by future-dwelling organized crime members who are able to send their targets back into the past, where the loopers shoot them and dispose of them back in time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt ‘s character is a looper who is surprised when he discovers his latest target is his future self. He stars in the film along with Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, and Piper Perabo. At the heart of it is the question, “What would you do if you sat across the table from your older self?”
Johnson then introduced Joseph Gordon-Levitt who said his favorite thing to do as an actor is transform and be somebody other than himself. (Check out the first look at Gordon-Levitt from the film HERE.) Looper by far is the most transformative role as an actor he’s done and he’s anxious for people to see it. He said he had the most fun embodying the character of Bruce Willis as a younger man. For him, Sin City was the Willis performance he fixated most on, because he wanted to capture the recent Bruce Willis (rather than the more age-appropriate ‘Moonlighting’-era Willis). It was great for Johnson to see Gordon-Levitt, whom he’s known for years, transform himself into Willis’s persona.
They shot the film in New Orleans. Johnson said it was incredibly challenging to write a time travel movie, with all its complex intricacies. He compared the subject of time travel to the world’s hardest ingredient in an Iron Chef battle.
Gordon-Levitt said he’s been working as an actor for 25 years now and it’s getting to a point in his career where he’s working on movies that he personally would love to see. He said that as a director, Johnson had a lot in common with Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, both of whom he’d recently worked. All three approach their work because they “fucking love movies” and not just for the money. He described Spielberg as having the enthusiasm of a kid every day on the set of Lincoln. Gordon-Levitt also feels fortunate to be able to choose projects he loves because his 3rd Rock residuals leave him pretty self-dependent.
For Johnson, a challenge of a film like this is figuring out the push and pull of what to reveal and what not to, as much of Looper depends on the element of surprise.
During the Q & A portion of the panel, Johnson was asked what’s been the difference in the actor/director relationship between him and Gordon-Levitt from Brick to Looper? Johnson felt he’s learned so much since Brick. Gordon-Levitt said the shared experience allows the two of them to do so much more because now they know each other better. Johnson says you should be able to tell how much fun they had on-set just by seeing the film.
Johnson says they cover a lot of moral exploration about suicide and other issues within the movie, but didn’t want to spoil too much. Also he mentioned he’s returning to direct more episodes of Breaking Bad. Gordon-Levitt was asked if he’d love to do a musical, since he sings. He said he would, but it would have to be a special project. Johnson hopes to work with Gordon-Levitt “for the rest of my life.”
Gordon-Levitt and Johnson were asked how they felt working in scifi, a relatively new genre for them. Gordon-Levitt reminded him that he DID play an alien for 6 years on TV, which elicited a lot of laughs from the crowd. Gordon-Levitt mentioned he’s a big fan of the Matrix and Quantum Leap; Johnson said he also loves sci-fi.
Johnson mentioned that he brought on Shane Carruth (director of Primer) to help him with the time travel conceptualization. He’s convinced that Carruth knows how time travel ACTUALLY works. Anyone who’s seen Primer would agree.
Gordon-Levitt studied Willis to get to know his mannerisms. He mentioned moments when his mom visited the set and was freaked out by how different he looked from himself as a young Bruce Willis. He thanked the efforts of the makeup artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji, whom he called a mad genius, capable of makeup alchemy. He mocks up the makeup in Photoshop, but has an insane lab to make those concepts real. Gordon-Levitt said he loves watching an artist work, but it’s a little unsettling when the canvas is your face.
Gordon-Levitt said in our culture we tend to pigeonhole people into their roles, such as actors, and he feels that strict categorization was “bullshit”, and you should be able to do whatever you want to express yourself without the constraints of what other people think you can do.