On Movies: In the character loop

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the action thriller "Looper": "The crux of the story is what would you say to your past self, or to your future self, if you could have that conversation?"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the action thriller "Looper": "The crux of the story is what would you say to your past self, or to your future self, if you could have that conversation?" (ALAN MARKFIELD)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is exploring many human beings of late: A future hitman in "Looper," a president's son in "Lincoln," a porn addict of his own creation.

Posted: October 01, 2012

TORONTO - So why wasn't it Bruce Willis undergoing nearly three hours of makeup and prosthetics every morning during the shoot of Looper to make him look more like Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

Why was it Gordon-Levitt's job to get up at the crack of dawn and submit himself to the nose job and lip curl and eyebrow realignment so that he and Willis could look like the same guy, separated by 30 years?

"There was no consideration of that," Gordon-Levitt says, with a laugh. "I think it's only proper that the younger man would defer to his senior."

In Looper, the tricky time-travel thriller from Rian Johnson, Gordon-Levitt - not quite looking like Gordon-Levitt after all - plays a Kansas City hit man in 2044 who is assigned to kill his future self, played by Willis, who has been sent back by the mob to materialize in a field and get whacked.

In the jargon of the film, it's called "closing your loop."

But the hit is botched, and so Gordon-Levitt and Willis' Joe - call 'em Young Joe and Old Joe - go toe-to-toe. They chase each other around, and then drop into an old diner to discuss their fates, face to face. Steak and eggs and coffee - with the concepts of grandfather paradoxes and butterfly effects if not there on the table between them, at least hanging in the air. At other points in the film, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo, and Paul Dano show up. Looper opened Friday.

"We had discussions about time travel and the logic of the film," Gordon-Levitt says. "But I think time travel is really a springboard for Looper. The crux of the story is what would you say to your past self, or to your future self, if you could have that conversation? Obviously, in real life you cannot have that conversation, but the beauty of science fiction is that you can dramatize questions like that."

In fact, Gordon-Levitt says the talk on set had more to do with their characters - "these human beings" - and less with toggling back and forth through the decades.

"It was the same discussion that would take place for any drama," says the actor, 31, camped out in a hotel this month the day after Looper opened the Toronto International Film Festival.

He adds that the "same thing goes" for The Dark Knight Rises, the end chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, in which Gordon-Levitt plays the pivotal role of a Gotham City cop.

"It's a superhero movie, but we didn't spend that much time talking about Bat-suits or anything. We really spent our time talking about the drama, the characters."

Gordon-Levitt teamed up previously with his Looper director, Johnson, on 2005's cool, low-budget high school noir, Brick. And although he has worked steadily since the early 1990s (he was the younger version of Craig Sheffer's character in A River Runs Through It), it wasn't until (500) Days of Summer, released three years ago, that Gordon-Levitt's film career really began to take off. Of course, he had another career, in TV - he was Tommy the alien teen in the hit sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun - but that's another story.

After (500) Days, the loopy romance in which he and Zooey Deschanel starred, he showed up in the high-profile hits G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. There was also the Golden Globe-nominated 50/50, and Premium Rush, this summer's nutball chase pic, in which Gordon-Levitt plays a New York City bike messenger on the run (and on his fixed-gear bike) from a crooked police detective.

And on Nov. 16, Steven Spielberg'sLincoln comes out. Daniel Day-Lewis is the 16th president of the United States. Gordon-Levitt is his eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. "It's uncanny what Daniel did. . . . I've never seen an actor do anything like it. I had absolutely no problem believing that I was speaking to Abraham Lincoln."

So, he's been a little busy, right?

"I've been very fortunate," says Gordon-Levitt, who also keeps his hand in hitRECord, an online music venture and record label he started in 2004.

"In 2011 I got to work with Rian and Chris and Steven," he says. "Obviously, the latter two are more well known, but I would put Rian in that echelon of artists."

All of which inspired him to try his hand at writing and directing. He's in post-production on Jon Don's Addiction, shot in Los Angeles and New York this year. It's about a modern-day Don Juan type who's hooked on porn.

"I wrote myself a part in it," he says ( the part - he's Jon Don). "And I wrote Scarlett Johansson a part, and she agreed to do it, which was great news - she's excellent in the role. Julianne Moore's in it, she's excellent. And Tony Danza plays my dad. . . .

"Jon Don objectifies everything in his world," he explains. "Porn is sort of the central metaphor, but his own body, his friends, his family, his church - everything is an object for his consumption, rather than an individual to be engaged with. That's what the story is about."

And it's a story that didn't require Gordon-Levitt to wear a prosthetic proboscis. Not that he minded the Looper makeover.

"It was actually kind of liberating," he says, going back in time - in his head - to the Looper production last year. "One of my favorite things about being an actor is becoming something very different from myself. And the makeup certainly helps with that. To sit up after those hours of application to see a different face in the mirror is a bizarre experience, and an inspiring one."


On Movies:

TORONTO - It was a scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that convinced Stephen Chbosky he had found his Sam.

"It was one moment in particular where she is with Daniel Radcliffe," says the writer and director of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. "Emma cries, and it broke my heart. I knew right then that the emotions were there."

Emma, of course, is Emma Watson - Hermione Granger in eight of the biggest movies of all time. And here she is, curled up on the opposite end of a couch from Chbosky, who has transformed his hit young-adult novel into a film, a coming-of-age drama set long ago and far away, in Pittsburgh, 1991.

Chbosky and his lead actress had premiered their film the night before to a sold-out crowd at the Toronto International Film Festival. Watson's Sam has nothing to do with witchcraft and wizardry. She's a brainy and beautiful senior at a high school where a sensitive freshman nerd, Charlie ( Logan Lerman), is lost and alone - until Sam and her flamboyant stepbrother, Patrick ( Ezra Miller), take the kid under their wing. Wild parties, wild ruminations about life and the arts, and a wild soundtrack of New Order, the Smiths, Cocteau Twins, and David Bowie ensue. And Charlie falls in love with Sam.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower opened in area theaters Friday.

Watson was born in 1990, so, technically, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is of her time. But in reality it's a period piece the actress had to research. The clothes, the hair, the music - she was still in a pram, being pushed around Paris (she didn't move to the United Kingdom until her parents divorced, when she was 5) at the time the story takes place.

"I asked this question to Steve when we first met," she says, picking from a bowl of M&Ms cupped in her hand. "So, how '90s are we going with this? And what he said to me is that this film is a classic, and so there has to be a timeless quality. Yes, there's the feel of being set in a real time and real place, but no, it felt like we were doing something very present-day."

Emotionally speaking, that is.

"You know, just because there's Twitter now in 2012, doesn't mean I'm not going through exactly the same emotions that my counterpart in 1991 is going through."

Adds Chbosky: "That central search for who you really are, what you really believe, and who are the people that you are going to give your heart to - every person has to do that, and it's new every time."

Watson, who attended Brown University (and left it last year), took that "central search" - the rite of passage between childhood and young adulthood - while making the Harry Potters. She was 11 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in 2001. She was 21 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 was released a decade later.

"Yeah, I went through all the same typical things," she notes. "Everything was just kind of exaggerated, heightened. . . . It's difficult for me to talk about this, because this is the only experience I've had, so how can I compare it? But my life, sure, has been very different.

"I've been asked my whole life about how I feel about the fact that all of these child stars grow up to be such tragic messes.

"Well," she says, chuckling, "what do you want me to say, really? Here I am, just doing my best. It's certainly abnormal, and can cause abnormal reactions."

Chbosky, who could get a job running the Emma Watson Fan Club if his film and literary careers go south, says he sees the actress getting better and better with each new project. Since making The Perks of Being a Wallflower in spring and summer of last year, Watson has gone on to work with Sofia Coppola ( The Bling Ring) and Darren Aronofsky ( Noah). Not too shabby.

And she has signed to star in Guillermo del Toro's Beauty and the Beast, to film next summer.

"I guess it means I'm doing the right thing," she observes, adopting a self-deprecatingly cautious tone.

"You know, what's so very smart about Emma?" says a rhetorical Chbosky. "She's not a calculating career person. It's an instinct that she has. Very often, young actors - and actors in general, really - they'll pick parts. She picks movies.

"And it's so smart. If she believes in a movie, then she gives everything to the part. And I think it will always serve her well, and always lead her to the best people, the best directors."

Watson takes another M&M, and then takes her cue. "It's funny. Somebody asked me the other day, 'Are you only taking on supporting roles because you don't think you're good enough to be a lead?'

"Well, that's a bold question, isn't it! I'll do my best not to be offended! But once I recovered from spluttering, I said that it just never even occurred to me. If there's a great project or a great part, whether it's big or small - I mean, I was in two scenes in My Week With Marilyn, but I was still so thrilled to get to work with Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh and to be part of that movie. It's a great movie. Why wouldn't I? It's a great little part.

"Is my ego really so big that I'm not prepared to take on a supporting role?" she says. "I just want to be a part of great films. It's not really about me quite that much, you know what I mean?"


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|