“What would you do if you were sitting across the table from your older self? Or your younger self?” That’s the central question of Looper, as posed by writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick) before he unveiled the very first look at his sci-fi head squeezer for attendees of this year’s WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif. Out Sept. 28, the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a hitman who specializes in a unique method of execution: His victims are sent back to him from 30 years in the future, to be dispatched within seconds of popping into the past. The job pays handsomely, and life is dandy for him, until one day his victim turns out to be his future self (Bruce Willis).
The premise meant that Gordon-Levitt took on what he called “the most transformative” role of his career, undergoing three hours of make-up a day to modify his face — especially his lips, nose, and eye-color — to look like a younger Willis. Gordon-Levitt told the WonderCon crowd that he even tried to sound more like Willis, listening to audio from his films, especially the 2005 noir thriller Sin City. The difference is so subtle that many (okay, me) didn’t even register it during the quick teaser trailer that unspooled before Gordon-Levitt joined the panel. The clip focused more on establishing the central story, and the gritty style Johnson brings to the material, than lingering on the actor’s tweaked visage. On set, however, Gordon-Levitt said one of his best friends and his mother were both so unnerved by his not-quite-right appearance that they couldn’t spend much time around him.
The film marks a reunion for Gordon-Levitt and Johnson, who bonded while working together on Johnson’s first film, the 2006 high school noir Brick — a film that also helped establish Gordon-Levitt as more than just the kid actor from 3rd Rock from the Sun. Johnson told Gordon-Levitt about his idea for Looper soon after they finished filming Brick, and he eventually wrote the film with Gordon-Levitt specifically in mind.
The actor seemed determined to repay the favor, spending much of his time on the panel singing Johnson’s praises by evoking two other directors that Gordon-Levitt recently worked with: Christopher Nolan (Inception and this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises) and Steven Spielberg (this fall’s Lincoln). “Chris and Steven and Rian all do it for the same reason, because they f—ing love movies,” said Gordon-Levitt. “Most filmmakers do it with money at the finish line.” Johnson was so moved, he stood up and hugged Gordon-Levitt. Later, Johnson told someone asking if the two planned on working together again soon, “I hope to be working with this guy for the rest of my life.”
Of the many 2012 films previewed Saturday at WonderCon — including Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Snow White and the Huntsman, Battleship, and The Amazing Spider-Man (which showed off the same footage that screened last month at the film’s global sneak peek event) — I feel safe in saying that Looper was by far the biggest, and most intriguing, surprise. Check out two first looks at Gordon-Levitt’s new face from the film on the following page, and then weigh in on how effective you think the look is.