Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the man of the hour. Hot off his hilarious gig hosting Saturday Night Live last week, it seems like Gordon-Levitt is everywhere; he starred in this summer’s biggest blockbuster, “The Dark Knight Rises,” the action-packed bicycle-chase movie “Premium Rush,” and come November you’ll see him starring alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated “Lincoln.” As if all that’s not enough, he’s also currently working on his directorial debut, “Don Jon’s Addiction,” while always making time for his company, “hitRECord” – an open-collaboration online production company which has its members work together to produce everything from films and music to short stories and photography. In his latest film, “Looper” (out in theaters today), he plays a specialized hit man whose job is to eliminate targets sent to him from the future. To play the daring role, Gordon-Levitt teamed up with writer/director Rian Johnson, whom he previously worked with on the acclaimed high school noir film “Brick” – which is precisely where my conversation with the down-to-Earth young actor began.
What is it about Rian that makes you want to work with him?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well first of all I just love him, he’s a great friend of mine. We’ve been close ever since we made “Brick” together. So it’s rare that you get to work with someone you know personally and are close friends with. So that’s the first thing. And I also just – even if I didn’t know him – I think I’d be an enormous fan of his. He makes movies that are sincere and intriguing and unpredictable and fun, and, you know, that’s what I want.
What kind of prep work did you do to play a younger version of Bruce Willis?
JGL: Well, I studied him. I studied his movies, I watched a lot of his movies. I would rip the audio off of his movies, and put that on my iPod so I could listen to him…Bruce even recorded himself doing some of my voiceover lines and sent that to me so that I could listen to that. But the most important thing I think was just getting to know him and spending time with him, hanging out, having lunch, having dinner, talking…and letting it seep in.
In the movie you make a lot of decisions that are kind of difficult for a human being to make, and you choose characters that kind of have dark complexes — I haven’t seen you play a role this dark since “Mysterious Skin” — so is it really difficult for you to put yourself in that situation?
JGL: You’re right, and that’s one of my favorite things about “Looper” and I’m glad you brought that up…there’s a lot of moral ambiguity in it and I think that’s realistic for the way the world is in real life. No one is black or white, everyone is a shade of grey, and while it is a convenient and often crowd pleasing device to have heroes and villains, that’s not really the way the world is. And in “Looper” every character feels like they’re doing the right thing, and there’s some horrible, atrocious things happening. And that’s violence for you. And “Looper” is really the story about the source of violence and how violence begets violence and whether you can solve any problems with more violence.
Are we going to see a trailer for “Don Jon’s Addiction” any time soon?
JGL: We finished shooting about two months ago and we’re in the process of editing it now…Scarlett [Johansson] did a really good job; she’s playing this character that’s I think really different than anything she’s played before. Julianne Moore is, I think, you know, one of the greatest actors alive; Tony Danza played my dad, he’s also really different than you’re used to seeing him. And I had a ball, man, I’m just having a great time.
What’s it like directing yourself?
JGL: Yeah it’s, you know, it’s something that I’ve been working up to for a while and I do feel that, like, the time I’ve spent with hitRECord was important in being able to do that. Because I’ve practiced seeing myself on screen – and that can be a disturbing or odd experience for many actors, and I remember it used to be for me. It’s just really a matter of practice, to get used to it. If you’ve spent enough time looking at yourself eventually you get used to it, and those feelings of anxiety go away and you’re able to, you know, kind of be productive and analyze it more objectively. So all these little videos that I’ve been making for years on hitRECord I think really helped me be able to look at the monitor, see myself, and not just be like ‘Oh god, I look so weird!’
Do you experience that in “Looper,” because of all of the special effects make-up?
JGL: Well it’s actually just the opposite, because I see someone else, which is, you know, really reassuring, ‘cause that’s what I wanna see when I see a movie that I’m in – I wanna see somebody else. I feel like if it’s reminding me of myself then I’m not doing the job right, you know, so, the make-up certainly helps that. And that’s my favorite thing as an actor, to become somebody else and so I think “Looper” is really the most transformative role that I’ve gotten to do. And I love it for that.