Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in the time-travel thriller “Looper," opening Friday. They about the film’s rewards and challenges and, naturally, how they would deal with time travel in real life.
Though lots of far-fetched plotlines are peppered throughout the time-travel thriller “Looper,” opening Friday, one of them – about a hitman whose assigned target is his future self – stands firmly at its center.
And though the actors portraying the two characters look nothing alike, all it took to make the idea work was a couple of strong performances and an able assist from the makeup and prosthetics departments.
So we’ve got Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “(500) Days of Summer”) as the young Joe, and Bruce Willis as the older Joe, each seen separately in “present” and “future” settings, then brought together to duke it out via that time-travel scenario.
Both actors sat down next to each other at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month to talk about the film’s rewards and challenges and, naturally, how they would deal with time travel in real life.
Gordon-Levitt, 32, didn’t even have to think about what he’d do with a time machine.
“I’d like to see the future,” he said. “I consider myself an optimist, and as dire as things seem, I think we’re gonna pull it off, and I want to see what it looks like.”
Willis, 57, did have to think about it for a few seconds, then opted for going back, not forward, in time.
“I would go back and make more mistakes, earlier than I made them,” he said.
Even Willis seemed a bit confused by his answer, but he quickly clarified it.
“I made a lot of mistakes early in my life, but if I had made more of them, I would have gotten to the answer to those mistakes earlier,” he said. “I have a lot of anxiety about making mistakes and hurting people’s feelings. There were things I did as a brash kid that I wasn’t paying any attention to – people whose feelings I hurt.”
His voice got softer. “You know what I’m saying. I’d rather not hurt people anymore.”
Pushing it just a little further, each guy was asked what advice he would give if he bumped into himself in the past.
Willis, who seemed to take the question very seriously, said, “I would remind myself every couple of minutes not to take myself seriously. Not to take hardly anything seriously. It goes so fast ... all of the things I worried about an hour ago? They’re completely forgotten.”
Gordon-Levitt, who came across as one laidback dude, said, surprisingly, “I might just tell my younger self to relax a little bit.”
The biggest challenge for Gordon-Levitt and Willis was to play each other and make it credible for audiences, as well as themselves. Gordon-Levitt tackled the task with all sorts of research, while Willis went for the gut, using his instincts and acting prowess right on the set.
Page 2 of 2 - “I studied his movies,” said Gordon-Levitt. “I would take the audio from some of them and put them on my iPod so I could listen to them. And Bruce recorded himself doing some of my monologs and sent me the tape so I could listen to that. That really helped, but the most important thing for me was just getting to know him, hanging out, having dinner, talking. That was where I learned what I wanted to do with the character.”
“There was the day-to-day activity of trying to make it look real,” explained Willis. “Dealing with the idea that when I look at Joe, it’s really me, and trying to make that honest and believable. At first it seemed like an impossible task to try to act with someone that’s supposed to be the younger you. But at some point you’ve just got to let go of it, and believe that you’re in the story and are part of the story. When I saw the film I was so surprised that the magic trick we were trying to do actually works.”
An interesting point of the discussion came when one question was asked, but each actor heard it or at least reacted to it differently. It had to do with movies being an escape for those watching them, and whether or not the actors ever lost touch with reality on the set.
Willis thought it was about the craft of acting. Gordon-Levitt focused on the idea of getting away from reality.
“Our job is the same thing every time,” said Willis of acting. “You would think that it’s different because the stories are different. But why you go to the movies is the same reason that we like to make movies: It’s all about human emotion. It’s about what you want and what your goals are. Everybody here does things all the time that are driven by what you want to do and what your goals are. Our job in this film was to be as honest as we could in the sometimes strange circumstances of science fiction.”
Gordon-Levitt’s answer, coming from a completely different mindset, was more direct.
“I do get the desire to escape in a movie and I guess sometimes that’s fun,” he said. “But usually when I sit down to watch a movie it’s not that I’m trying to get away from something, it’s more that I’m looking for something. So it’s a connection more than an escape.”
LOOPER (R) Starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt. www.loopermovie.com.