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Looper’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt on time travel, Bruce Willis and transformative characters

A time-travel action film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, Looper depicts a future where crime syndicates can send their enemies back in time to be “wacked” by killers known as ‘loopers.’ The film raises a moral time-travel paradox when hitman Joe (Levitt) working for the mob of the future recognizes one of his assigned “hits” (Bruce Willis) as his future self. Does he take him out? Will he cease to exist if he does?

Levitt talked about his hitman role in Looper at a recent Wondercon press conference. Asked what it was like to transform himself into a Bruce Willis character, Levitt replied, “It was about studying him and getting to know him. We’d hang out a lot. Yet there were a few really tricky moments. My parents came to the set. And when I was standing next to my mom, she kind of freaked out because I was a lot like myself but I looked totally different. Then a good friend of mine, Jerod, came to the set and said, ‘I can’t talk to you. I don’t like this guy.’ And that thrilled me because it meant that I had transformed enough to convince even my close friend that I was someone else.”

What does he like most about acting? “The transformative aspect of becoming someone else,” said Levitt. “This is the most transformative I’ve ever had to be in a role, both because of the makeup—it was like three hours every morning—and because it was closely based on another person that I wanted to match. It’s not an impersonation, but it’s definitely a character based on Bruce. The character I fixated on most was Bruce (Hartigan) in Sin City. I wanted to find something current. He’s done so many great movies over the years.”

Asked what it was like to work with writer/director Rian Johnson, Levitt replied, “It was a real honor to discover that Rian Johnson had written a script around me. I’ve been working as an actor for 25 years now, and it’s been a gradual progression to be able to work on movies that I love and to work with people that I love. Rian does this because he loves movies, which is rare in this industry. Most people in our industry do it for the money. And that doesn’t always lead to the best movies.”

How does Levitt pick films he wants to be in? “There’s no method to it,” said Levitt. “I read a lot of scripts and occasionally one is actually fun to read and I end up on my feet trying the words out. It’s kind of that simple. It’s sort of intuitive and emotional. I don’t have a check list.” As to whether he prefers sci-fi over other genres, Levitt replied, “I love sci-fi movies. The Matrix is one of my favorite films of all time. And “Quantum Leap” was one of my favorite TV shows. I also read Asimov when I was younger.”

Did he always want to be an actor? “I’ve enjoyed acting since I was a little kid,” said Levitt. “I also think that you really don’t have to pigeonhole people and say, you can only be this or that. You can be different things at one time.”

Looper is scheduled for a September 28, 2012 release.