Looper: Casting Bruce Willis and Gordon-Levitt

In the film, Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a “looper” – a hit man for the mob.  When future gangsters want to rub somebody out, they send the target back in time, where Joe is waiting to do him in.  After all, what better place to hide a body than in the past?  It’s all a big party for Joe until the day comes when the mob decides to “close his loop” – that is, send his future self back for assassination.

Meanwhile, in 2074, Old Joe (Bruce Willis) has seen the years and the mileage.  But when the new gangsters in town try to “close his loop,” he will take matters into his own hands.  He gives his younger self the slip – that is, Young Joe “lets his loop run” and now, Old Joe is on the run from his past self and trying to change his future.

As the movie calls for an older and a younger version of the same character, there was an interesting casting challenge for the filmmakers.  Rather than seek out two actors who naturally look alike, they instead sought out the best actors for the roles – and let the chips fall where they may.  “I had written the younger part for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, besides being my favorite actor, is also a good friend and we wanted to work with each other again,” says Johnson.  “When the possibility of Bruce Willis to play the older Joe presented itself, I got so excited because Bruce is such a good actor and was so right for the part in so many ways.  It raised a problem, though, because they really look nothing like each other.  We had to find a way to bridge the gap, and the solution was two-fold.

“The first thing was makeup,” Johnson continues.  “Joseph Gordon-Levitt went through nearly three hours of makeup and prosthetics every single morning to adjust his nose, his upper lip and his lower lip.  There was no way we were going to make him look like a young Bruce Willis, but we decided we’d pick a couple of key features and alter them just enough to give the audience something to grab onto so they could decide to go with it.”

“I had the pleasure of working with Kazuhiro Tsuji, who is arguably the best special effects makeup designer in the world,” says Gordon-Levitt.  “He’s a magician.  You can’t tell that there’s make-up at all, but I spent three hours in the makeup 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.’”

But makeup was just part of the story.  “The other part – 90 percent of it – is Joe’s performance,” says Johnson.  “It’s incredible to watch – he doesn’t imitate Bruce, he creates a character that feels like a younger Bruce.  He’s doing a very specific voice and he took on a lot of Bruce’s mannerisms.  It’s great acting, and a pretty phenomenal thing to see come to life.”

“I didn’t want to do a Bruce Willis impersonation – that’s not really my forte.  I wanted to create a character that felt like it could be a younger version of this guy – just give it a bit of that Willis flavor,” says Gordon-Levitt.  “Bruce is a really understated guy, so to see him to a little double-take when he looked at me was really thrilling.  At one point, he said, ‘Man, you sound like me.’  I tried to play it cool – ‘Oh, thanks, dude’ – but inside, I was thinking, ‘YEAH!’”

Willis says that he was impressed by Gordon-Levitt’s performance.  In one scene, he says, “I was sitting across from Joe across a table.  I was supposed to act and get all my lines right, but I just found myself looking at him and thinking how weird it was,” he says.  “It’s really a strange thing to see someone that looks like a young version of yourself.  He’s a great actor –I love his work and I just love what he did in this film. He picked up some of my cadence of speaking, which was odd, and yet, really cool at the same time.”

“That scene was so much fun to shoot,” says Johnson.  “You have these two great actors sitting across a table, bantering back and forth, and that’s always fun to watch.  It was more than halfway through production when we shot that scene – we had mostly been working with Joe and Bruce separately – so to see them sit across from each other was exciting.”

Emily Blunt 

Emily Blunt plays Sara, a young mother living in a farmhouse outside of the city who will play a key role when Young Joe takes refuge on her property.  Hunted by the mob after letting his loop run, and formulating a plan to try to close his loop, Sarah will play a pivotal role in determining which way the future turns out.


“When Joe – this hired killer – shows up and he’s obviously got an agenda, Sara is obviously very dubious about him,” says Johnson.  “It’s only slowly, over the course of the second half of the movie, that she sees that he’s trying to figure out what the right thing to do is, that she begins to trust him.”


In the film, Sara has a skill that will play an important role in the future – even if it’s only a parlor trick in the movie’s present.  “She’s what they call ‘TK’ – she has telekinetic abilities,” says Blunt.  “In the movie, people have them to varying degrees of power.  Her powers are greater than some, but nothing compared to other characters in the movie.”


Johnson says that the telekinesis power he presents in the film maybe isn’t as exciting as we might imagine.  “TK began as a genetic mutation – everybody got really excited about it, it was on the cover of all the magazines, and then everyone realized it was just a pretty weak thing where all you can do is float something about the size of a quarter,” says Johnson.  “It went from ‘We’re going to have superheroes!’ to a parlor trick that people can do in bars.  Sara has this power, but she’s a little better at it than everybody else – and that might be part of the reason why she’s removed herself and her son from the city.”


Sara lives in a farmhouse outside of the city, where she is trying to raise her son.  “Her relationship with her son, Cid, is strained,” she says.  “He doesn’t call her Mom –he calls her Sara, which is just a stab in the heart to her every time he does it.  She’s trying to establish a connection with him and nurture him, and he’s putting the stoppers on it at every turn.”

Paul Dano

Paul Dano takes on the role of Seth, a fellow Looper whose loop is closed in a particularly messy way.  “He’s kind of a loner type – maybe a guy who doesn’t totally fit in with some of the other guys –but he latches on to Joe,” he says.  “When he lets his loop run… I don’t think he has a particular reason.  His older self is singing a song that evokes a childhood memory, and he’s hit with a rush of emotion.  Time sort of stands still for him.  I don’t think he can explain why it happens.”


Noah Segan plays Kid Blue, Abe’s lead gat man.  “He’s a gangster and a killer, but I don’t think he’s a psychopath,” says Segan.  “He’s a guy who is determined to accomplish what he sees as his job at any cost.  He’s honed his skills, and he’s going to stay on track and hang on to that.”


For the role of Suzie, Johnson cast Piper Perabo.  “Suzie works in a dance hall, and sees clients in the back,” she says.  “Loopers are not their best clients – they’re not even allowed in the club on some nights – but she does see Joe occasionally and they have a strange relationship. He’s a pretty good guy, compared with the other killers that she sleeps with.  There’s a kindness to him that allows her to catch her breath for a minute.”


Rounding out the cast of the film is Jeff Daniels as Abe, the crime boss in the present day.  “The city is run by this small-time mobster named Abe – he’s kind of become a bit of a father figure to Joe.  He’s got his gang of gat men and he runs the city.  The thing is, Abe is actually from the future,” Johnson explains.  “He was sent back to run the Loopers and keep them in line.  He got bored, so he formed a little gang, and now, he runs the city.”


“No one expects Jeff Daniels to play the heavy,” says Bergman.  “Even one of our casting people was surprised that Rian wanted him for the part.  But he’s great – he knocked it out of the park.”