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Joseph Gordon-Levitt

After grabbing eyeballs in The Dark Knight Rises as John Blake the cop, Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to the big screen today with Looper, a sci-fi thriller where he plays a hitman in 2044. An email chat with t2.

Looper has been described as a “time-travelling, mind-bending film”. How much of a challenge was it for you?

It wasn’t really a challenge. The time-travel idea came about after Rian (Johnson, the director) and I were done shooting for Brick which was in 2003. Rian wrote the character of Joe in Looper for me and it was an honour because this is the first time that someone wrote me a part. Normally, as an actor, I get a script a few months before it starts shooting. Looper was an idea that Rian and I were talking about for the better part of a decade. I saw the script years ago and we’ve been talking about it since then and working towards making it come together. I really liked being involved from the very beginning, middle and end.

Playing a younger version of Bruce Willis meant that you had a few hours every day in the make-up chair. Was this the most difficult aspect of the film?

I spent three hours in the make-up chair every morning getting a nose, lips, eyebrows, ears and contact lenses. We were never going to be able to make me look exactly like Bruce Willis because we just look completely different, but I think we did enough that the audience doesn’t have to think about it. They just have to feel, “Yep, that character is the same guy as that other character, 30 years later.”

What research and observational work went into playing a younger Bruce Willis?

Initially, I was a little worried about playing a younger Joe because 30 years later Joe was played by Bruce Willis! I studied his movies, and I would take the audio from some of his films and put them on my iPod so that I could listen to him. Bruce actually recorded himself doing some of my monologues and sent me the tapes so that I could listen to that, and that was all really useful. But I think the most important thing for me was just getting to know him, hanging out, having dinner, talking about whatever. That was where I think I really learned what I wanted to do with the character.

Was it a fan-boy moment for you sharing screen space with him?

I think every guy my age idolises Bruce Willis a little bit. I was a kid when the first Die Hard came out and I would always want to see the new ones when they came out. But then beyond Die Hard, he’s the star of Pulp Fiction, he’s in Sin City, he’s in Twelve Monkeys. I don’t know how many other huge action stars are there that have also been in some of the greatest movies of recent times. And that’s Bruce for you — and he is, I think, actually even more impressive in person. He’s huge, I never thought he was so big! Bruce is actually a really big, broad, imposing dude. Which is interesting because his attitude is the opposite of that — he’s the most gentle, understated, just graceful, chilled-out guy.

How was it collaborating with Rian Johnson once more after Brick?

Rian and I first met nearly 10 years ago while we were shooting for Brick and he has been one of my best friends in the world since then. It’s a treat to work with a true friend. We’ve even done little things together before we started on Looper, making little videos and songs all the time. For years we’ve been talking about this idea, about Looper. It’s special to have this much investment in the material and have such a personal connection with the director.

You have been part of some huge films like Inception (Arthur, ally of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb) and The Dark Knight Rises and now Looper. How do you pick your films?

All three movies are very different, but what is common among all three is that it was fascinating for me to work with great people in these films. Apart from that, the character and the script in all three films were strong, so for me, there was no denying them.

You are being described as the most exciting new-age actor in Hollywood. How much of that is pressure and how much a spur?

Not really. I like to take things as they come. The script of the film is very important to me.

You play president Lincoln’s son to Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. How was that?

It was monumental. I am playing Todd Lincoln and sharing space with two legendary people, Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg. It was fascinating. Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest men of all times and I was deeply honoured to work with him. I would do anything he asked me to do. He is just so perfect. Working with Steven really did play a big part in encouraging and emboldening me to try the role.