Rian Johnson's insanely entertaining time-travel sci-fi thriller "Looper" opens this weekend, and, as you can see above, I got a chance to talk with Johnson along with star Joseph Gordon-Levitt about a key scene in the movie.
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The film is set in Middle America in 2044, when the nation is divided between the wealthy and the utterly destitute, the masses drive broken-down clunkers from the 20th century, and the preferred currency is the Chinese Yuan. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is one of the wealthy. He has a vintage Miata in the garage, spends his nights clubbing, and has a pile of silver locked in a basement vault. He works as a looper, an particularly kind of assassin who kills people from 30 years in the future, when time travel has been invented. He shoots them with his futuristic shotgun as soon as they appear, as if by magic, in a cornfield, and then dumps the body. But when Joe is confronted with the prospect of whacking the middle-aged version of himself (played by Bruce Willis), he hesitates just long enough to let his mark escape. According to the looper code, letting a target run is a huge no-no. Joe the younger is desperate to find his older self and make good with his gangster employers. Of course, Joe the elder isn't just looking to run and hide; he's a man with a plan. This is Bruce Willis, after all.
The scene Johnson and Gordon-Levitt discuss comes about a third into the flick. Young Joe and his middle-aged counterpart sit down in a decidedly 20th-century-looking diner and glower at each other over steak and eggs. It's the first time the two really come face to face in the movie, and it was a scene that prompted a lot of discussion on set.
"We talked about the diner scene in particular," said Gordon-Levitt, "when it came to the makeup and the voice and the mannerisms and making a character such that the audience would buy that I am the younger version of this character that Bruce is playing."
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In order for the scene to work, Gordon-Levitt had to become a young Willis. That included enduring three hours of makeup a day. He also spent weeks listening to Bruce Willis movies like "Sin City" on his iPod to get the star's cadence and mannerisms just right. Johnson was very pleased with how it turned out. "It was amazing to finally see this performance that Joseph had been building right up against the genuine article."
"When they're sitting right across from each other," said Gordon-Levitt, "the character will live or die right there."