If you've seen any trailers for "Looper," you may not even realize it's Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the starring role. Under three hours' worth of makeup, the actor is barely recognizable. But, just like the time travel element of the movie, the makeup is a sidebar -- important to the film, but not the focal point.

In the genre-defying "Looper," we follow Joe (Gordon-Levitt), a hired assassin who's tasked with killing people sent back in time from the year 2077. Things get complicated when he's assigned to take out his older-self (Bruce Willis).

Moviefone caught up with Gordon-Levitt at the Toronto Film Festival, where we chatted about the makeup artistry, "being" Bruce Willis for a few months and, of all things, his mother.

One of the greatest aspects of this film is the time travel element -- it's a component of the film rather than the focus of the film. Absolutely. [Director] Rian [Johnson] has done this with all three of his movies. He takes a genre and uses it as a springboard to get at something, something that's universal. Kubrick did it too. All of his movies are in some kind of genre, but they're not a "genre" movie, per se. "The Shining" is so much more than a horror movie, "2001" is more than a sci-fi movie, and I think the same thing goes for "Looper."

The concept of the movie is so original -- is originality something that draws you to roles? I would say sincerity is more important than originality. You could cite all kinds of influences that this draws from. What's most important to me is -- are you sincere? Do you have something to say? I feel like this movie does.

Tell me more about the arduous three-hour-long makeup process you had to endure. Yes. Three hours every morning. [Laughs]

It must be so refreshing to walk around now without anything on your face! [Laughs] Any time I feel uncomfortable now in any given situation I can just think back on people prodding me with paintbrushes covered in glue and little pins to pop the sweat bubbles...

Sweat bubbles. Sounds gross. When you sweat, because there's no air, it bubbles. So the makeup artist [Jamie Kelman] would have to come and pop them with pins, then paint over it. It's a little gross, not gonna lie! The makeup artist who came up with this design, Kazuhiro Tsuji, is a magician. Ask any makeup artist in the movie business about Kazu, they'll be like, "Oh wow!" He's Rick Baker's protege. Kazu is a true artist in every sense of the word, and I have to give credit to Jamie too, for spending three hours every morning putting that stuff on my face.

Well, they did a fantastic job, since in several scenes you and Bruce look quite alike. Bruce and I don't look anything alike in real life. [Laughs] At all. I remember when we first met, and Kazu was like, "This isn't going to work, you guys." He pointed out specific proportions to us and said they didn't match. Rian pointed out that I didn't have to look exactly like Bruce, that a clone would ultimately be more distracting. Like the time travel point we were talking about earlier, the makeup isn't the point of the movie. It serves the larger story. It's just enough to make sure the audience understands that this is the same guy.

Did you do anything in particular to get his mannerisms down? I watched his recent movies, especially. I would take the audio off his movies, put them on the iPod so I could listen repeatedly to his voice. He also recorded himself doing some of my voiceover monologues and sent that to me so I could hear how it would sound in his voice. I think the most important thing I did, though, was getting to hang out with him, having dinner, having conversations.

Can we talk about Pierce Gagnon [the child actor in the movie] for a moment? He was amazing, and he was only five years old when you shot the film. You were a child actor as well, so your opinion carries a bit more weight. What did you think of his performance? I was six when I started! And I have to say, he was brilliant. He is a Grade A actor, definitely much better than I was at his age. It's interesting. I love it when a kid really brings it, but I can also be very critical of kids' performances. I've experienced it a bunch of times, where I'll say about a kid in a movie, "Man, that kid sucked." And then my friends will say, "Dude, it's a KID!" [Laughs] I always counter that kids have the potential to be the greatest actors.

In fact, his mom is doing a great job. She reminded me a bit of my mom, whom I would credit first and foremost for any abilities I have as an actor and artist. I've learned from a lot of great people, but she was the first one, the most important one. He has a great mom, who doesn't talk to him like a child, but talks to him like an actor and an artist.

"Looper" opens in theatres across North America on Sept. 28, 2012.

categories Movies