Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made the rounds in the world of TV and film. His first major role was a long-haired, wise-cracking teen (well, an extraterrestrial in the body of a teen) in the TV comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun.
From there he moved on to bigger roles in blockbusters such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. But now he's barely recognisable as a young Bruce Willis in the sci-fi thriller Looper.
The film is mostly set in the year 2044. Time travel is a reality and outlawed by the government. The mob, however, have access to the necessary technology and employ it to get rid of people.
"They zap their victim back to the past where a hitman called a Looper, employed by the future gangsters, assassinates them and disposes of the body," says Gordon-Levitt, who plays Joe, one of the Loopers.
His next target seems awfully familiar. It turns out to be his future self (Bruce Willis), after the mob decide to "close his loop" by eliminating him. Joe's hesitation allows his future self to escape. He needs to track him down to save himself in the future. Meanwhile his future self is looking for a boy who holds the key to his survival …
One of the biggest challenges for Looper director and writer Rian Johnson was casting two actors that could essentially play the same person at different periods in time. But rather than finding two with similar looks, Johnson sought the best actors for the roles.
"I had written the younger part for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, besides being my favourite actor, is also a good friend and we wanted to work with each other again," says Johnson. "When the possibility of Bruce Willis playing 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."
Gordon-Levitt spent three hours a day in make-up to look more like a young Willis. They focused on a few features - nose, lips, eyebrows - and let special effects make-up designer Kazuhiro Tsuji work his magic.
The next part was acting like a young version of Willis. But Gordon-Levitt didn't want to just be the same guy, but do things the way someone 30 years younger would. (In real life, Willis is 26 years older). Instead, he went for a more subtle and believable approach, very much like the strategy with the make-up.
"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 flavour," says Gordon-Levitt. "Bruce is a really understated guy, so to see him do 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!'"