Rian Johnson has seemingly achieved the impossible. He’s made a time-travel sci-fi epic that makes sense – and is also a western. The Looper director talks to TARA BRADY
A LITTLE WAY into the hotly anticipated new movie Looper, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sits down in a diner with his older self, played by Bruce Willis. The younger man is a Looper, an assassin specialising in targets sent back from the future. Willis, Gordon-Levitt’s latest designated victim, decides there’s little point in attempting to use the condiments on the table between them to recreate the temporal zig-zagging that landed younger Joe and older Joe at this peculiar junction.
What a shame.
Writer-director Rian Johnson, who has been developing this time-travel adventure for almost 10 years, is certain he could have made the condiments work.
“Definitely. In the context of that table at that exact moment, it all checks out when you use the condiments. I spent a lot of time working it out. I accept that when you’re dealing with time travel into the past there’s always going to be a certain point where paradoxes take over. But I did come up with a system. And I’m pretty confident it works in terms of moving the ketchup and the mustard and the mayonnaise around.”
Looper reunites Johnson, an agreeable, spectacle-wearing banjo player, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the star of Brick, the director’s debut film. The pair have been talking about the sci-fi adventure for eight years, in a series of what-ifs and script drafts.
“He’s one of my dearest friends,” says Johnson. “I wrote it for him largely because I just wanted to work with my friend. He was the first person to read it. But I also knew that Joe was specifically suited in terms of studying and mirroring another actor. It’s the kind of thing he really enjoys doing. Joe has all that charisma of a leading man, but he is really a character actor at heart. He does that Daniel Day-Lewis thing of vanishing into the characters he has created.”
He laughs: “It wasn’t like I said: ‘You got this: I’ll be at the craft services table’. But usually you cast an actor, you have a meeting with them and they show up a week or two before you start shooting if you’re lucky. To have this kind of long-time collaboration with someone for a part is a real luxury.”
They used prosthetics to bring GordonLevitt’s facial furniture in line with Willis’s. But mostly, says Johnson, it fell to his studious performance to bridge the gap.
“It’s all Joe: it’s his voice and his mannerisms that allow you to believe they’re the same person,” says the director. “He studied Bruce. He wrapped himself around Bruce. He hung out with him and watched how he talked and moved. But one of the many, many great advantages of casting Bruce is that you can go back and see exactly how he looked and sounded at Joe’s age. Joe had 30 years of watching Bruce Willis movies to fall back on.”