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Looper Interview: Johnson and Gordon-Levitt
Make Up, Willis, and the Genre
By Robert T. Trate
September 20, 2012
Mania was given the opportunity to sit down and chat with the director and star of the Sci-Fi time traveling film Looper. Director Rian Johnson (Brick) and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises) were open about working in the genre, making Joseph look like Bruce Willis, and what it takes to craft a film.
Mania: This is a totally different genre for you, Rian. Why?
Rian Johnson: I love science fiction movies. I love time travel movies, and that felt really appealing. Because of the other movies I have done, it feels very good to do something different.
Mania: Are you a big fan of genre movies? Are they something that gets you excited as an audience member?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Absolutely. I think a lot of my favorite filmmakers, Kubrick or the Coen Brothers, take a genre and put their own unique twist on it and that’s what Rian has done. On the title page on the script for Brick it said “A Detective Story”. On the title page for The Brothers Bloom, which I got to read even though I wasn’t in it, it said “A Conman’s Story”. On the title page for Looper, it said “A Sci-Fi Story”. I loved that because genre’s give a vocabulary, a frame of reference for the audience to enter into a movie. Then, once they have their footing, that’s when you can start doing things that don’t expect.
Mania: In Looper, you play a younger version of Bruce Willis...
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, he plays an older version of me (laughs).
Rian Johnson: (laughs)
Mania: Did he copy or study you?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: That was sort of a joke. I was basing my character on him. I watched his movies. I would take the audio out of his movies and put them on my iPod so I could listen to him. Most of all, I just got to hang out with, have dinner, have conversations, and get to know him. It was a fascinating challenge because I didn’t want to do an impression of him. First of all, I am not good impersonator, and, second of all, I didn’t think that would be appropriate. It’s not a comedy. I created a character that was more him than me. It was fascinating. Then we had this special effects make up every morning for three hours, so my face is not my face. To look in the mirror every day and see someone else’s face was a trip. It is sort of a dream. As an actor that is what I get off on most, becoming somebody else.
Mania: What did you learn most about studying Bruce? What was the biggest challenge for you?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Bruce is actually a very understated guy. It is interesting because he has such a large personality. Your first instinct is to try and be large, but, in fact, he draws a lot of his power from stillness. He actually speaks quietly. Again, it sort of tricks you at first because you wouldn’t think that he speaks quietly because his voice makes such a powerful impression. It took me a second to figure that out. I do think that a lot of the closest moments that I got to him are the quieter, stiller ones.
Mania: This is going to be something to see.
Rian Johnson: It’s pretty cool.
Mania: So, why three hours of make-up, then? Your character never looks like you, at all?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yes, it is a different face. When you see the film, you’ll understand. Kazuhiro Tsuji is the name of the make-up designer. Ask any make-up designer in Hollywood and you say his name. He’s brilliant. Watching him work was like watching an alchemist. It’s so much fun, too, because a lot of the great artists today are all about what they can do with computers, which is cool and I love making art with computers, but Kazuhiro completely makes art in the physical world. He seems like a magician. He has a line of different bottles, brushes, solutions, and things and they are all going on my face (laughs). Once it is done, I literally look like someone else.
Mania: Rian, as a filmmaker who wants to work in different genres, is it easy to connivence the powers that be to let you go in entirely different directions?
Rian Johnson: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve worked with my producer Ram Bergman and a couple of great companies who have taken a chance on us, which is one of the great things about it. I think that is why you are seeing really interesting filmmakers work in Sci-Fi right now, like the stuff that Duncan Jones is doing. You are seeing a lot of smaller Sci-Fi movies. Movies that take some risks that maybe bigger ones can’t. I think that one of the things that is appealing about it is, besides just loving it growing up watching Sci-Fi, there is something about the Sci-Fi genre that gets the audience interested in it. So, maybe you can take some risks you normally couldn’t if you were doing a drama. It allows you to reach a little further and surprise people a little bit more.
Mania: Joseph, you have worked some pretty amazing directors. Is the director almost as important as your interest in the part?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The director is more important. The director is the most important. When you watch a movie and it looks like an actor is giving a performance, they kind of are. What’s actually happening is that an actor has given over a bunch of ingredients to a director that constructs a performance. That is movie making. It’s different than say, theatre acting when you are giving a performance right to your audience. Rian is not only a great writer/director, but he is also a great editor. That means a lot. I trust him to take all this footage (tons and tons of footage) and put all those little pieces together to create a performance. He makes me look good.
Rian Johnson: The other side of that is Joe is a fantastic filmmaker. Hearing an actor articulate that as acting as part of the whole process, to be so conscience of that. For me to watch an actor like Joe, it really is magical. To see a great actor work; in many ways I don’t see how it’s done, I just get this child-like wonder watching. He is articulating it very well, but it is a back and fourth to the extent in which he creates the performance. When you get into the edit room, you are assembling it, you’re putting it together, it wouldn’t work if you weren’t riding what he is giving you, finding what his performance wants to be in the edit room. It’s not one or the other, it’s a strange symbiotic relationship.
Looper arrives September 28th, 2012.