What draws you to keep working with Rian Johnson?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I just love working with someone that has a real voice as a filmmaker. There are lots of ways to make a movie and, let’s be honest, most movies follow a formula….which can be pretty boring. But then, you get certain artists who you can tell right away that it’s one of their movies, and Rian Johnson is one of those. It’s an honor to be in his movies. It was an honor to be in his first movie. And he wrote this role for me, which has never happened to me before, that a writer actually wrote a role for me to act in. That meant a lot.
Are you a big fan of genre-style movies? Is this something you get excited about as an audience member?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh yeah, absolutely! I think a lot of my favorite filmmakers – Stanley Kubrick or the Coen Brothers – they sort of take a genre and then put their own unique twists on them. That’s what Rian has done, you know? On the title page of the script for ‘Brick’ it said ‘a detective story’ and the on the title page for ‘The Brothers Bloom,’ which I got to read even though I wasn’t in it, it said ‘a con-man’s story’. On the title page for ‘Looper,’ it said ‘a sci-fi story,’ and I love that because genres give a vocabulary. They give 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 they don’t expect.
And you play a younger version of Bruce Willis?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, he plays an older version of me (laughs).
(Laughs) Did you and Bruce Willis meet and talk about how you were going to play the same character?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I was basing my character on him. I watched his movies and I would take the audio out of his movies and put them on my iPod so I could listen to him. But most of all I just got to hang out with him, 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’m not a good impersonator (laughs), and second of all, I just didn’t think that would be appropriate. It’s not like a comedy, you know? But creating a character that was more him than me was fascinating. Then we had this special effects makeup, 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 is a trip….it’s sort of a dream. As an actor that’s what I get off on most is becoming someone else.
What did you learn most about Bruce as you were studying his work and what was the biggest challenge for you?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Bruce is actually a very understated guy. It’s interesting because he’s such a large personality, your first instinct is to try to be large. But in fact, he draws a lot of his power from stillness and he actually speaks quietly. Again, it sort of tricks you at first because you wouldn’t think he speaks quietly because his voice makes such a powerful impression. It took me a second to figure that out. I do think that actually a lot of the closest moments that I got to him are the quieter, stiller moments.
You’ve worked with some pretty amazing directors. Is the director almost as important as your interest in a part?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The director is more important. The director is the most important because, ultimately, as an actor, when you watch a movie it looks like an actor is giving a performance. They kind of are. What’s actually happening though is an actor has given a bunch of ingredients over to a director who then constructs a performance. That’s moviemaking. It’s different than say theatre acting when you’re giving a performance right to your audience. Rian is not only a great writer, he’s a great director, and he’s also a great editor – and that means a lot! I trust him to take all this footage that you shoot, tonnes and tonnes of footage, and I trust him to take those little pieces and put them together and create a performance. He makes me look good (laughs).
What was that three-hour make-up process like?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Kazuhiro Tsuji is the name of the make-up designer. Ask any make-up designer in Hollywood about him and they’re like, “Oh, wow, Kazu!” He’s brilliant. Watching him work is like actually watching an alchemist. That’s so much fun 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 Kazu makes art completely within the physical world. I’m not kidding you, he seems like a magician. He has a line of these different bottles, brushes, solutions and formulas, and it all went on my face. Once it was done, I literally looked like somebody else. It was bizarre.
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