Although he comes across very relaxed when talking about his upcoming release, Looper, you could say that writer/director Rian Johnson was quite calculated in crafting this science-fiction piece. And to his surprise, a few of the stereotypical challenging items – when shooting a major cinematic production – fell into place rather easily.
Johnson admitted in a telephone interview with yours truly that he took some bold chances with Looper. Specifically stating that the script goes to places in the middle and the end that had everyone involved a little nervous. But as mentioned just a few sentences ago, things went relatively smooth when I asked about if there were any of the often-heard “pushback” directives from the studio heads…
“No, man. It was kind of the opposite, actually. Doing a sci-fi, it has such a built in audience. And especially once Bruce Willis signed on, having him in a sci-fi film, it actually came together nicely – in terms of us getting the money much faster than any of the other two films I’ve done. But obviously, the movie takes some chances and goes to some places you wouldn’t expect it to. And some of those places are pretty dark. So there were elements in the script that everyone was kind of, ‘are we really going to do this?’ But at the end of the day, I’m lucky enough to have some really brave producers. And once I talked them through it, they gave me the trust and said go ahead and take a shot at it.”
And with regards to the moments (middle and ending) that he felt were more-or-less risky…
“Both of those moments, I hope, are very much earned and very essential to the movie. They’re not just moments that are meant to shock.”
Sticking with those moments, we talked about the writing process and how he creates/gets to these sequences?
“You start on the path and figure out where it honestly should take you. So it’s not like you come up with set pieces and build that movie around that; you figure out where these characters have to get to. And then there are certain things where you’re like, ‘oh, no…are we going to have to do this?’ And I think that is a wonderful reaction! That means the audience, at that point in the movie, will be saying, ‘Oh, no…are they going to have to do this?’ And that’s my favorite feeling in the theater: when you’re cinched up in your chair and you’re like, ‘Oh, No!’ That feeling is one of the great experiences you can have sitting in the dark in a movie theater. And as a writer, when you’re feeling that (while writing), I think it’s a really good sign.”
Our chat then shifted to whether or not the trailer properly sells his vision. For those that read yours truly, trailers and I do not get along (a.k.a. do not watch them). But as noted in Johnson’s last quote and what became evident the more we yapped, he essentially crafted a movie that pleases his expectations when going into the theater. And he believes the trailer does the best possible job it can in showcasing what Looper intends to tackle.
“The trailer shows you the action and sci-fi elements, and those are very much there as a big part of the film,” he said. “But what the trailer doesn’t show you, in what I hope will be a pleasant surprise for audiences, is the emotional element and what the movie actually ends up being about. And I think that will take some people by surprised, or at least I hope it does.”
The flick also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who portrays a younger version of Bruce Willis’ character. A common theme in Hollywood is for filmmakers and actors to re-team after successful previous collaborations. Johnson and Gordon-Levitt worked together on 2005’s indie, Brick, where they also became good friends.
“In this case, I wrote the part for Joe,” said Johnson. “I wanted to work with my friend. But, it also made a whole lot of sense, because the part requires a huge transformation; it requires the other actor to really step into the skin of the older actor. And Joe is particularly good at that.”
He describes JGL as, “A leading-man with the heart of a character actor. He loves disappearing into roles.”
Johnson added that even if he didn’t know Joe, he would have gone after anyway.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten him though (laughing).”
After easily snagging, or as Johnson put it, “Shockingly easy,” getting Bruce Willis to join the party, while having lunch with him, his quest to completing this provocative and daring tale came together better than expected.
We closed yapping, maybe even complaining, about how we would love to see short films being screened before theatrical presentations instead of trailers. But that is a story for another time…
Looper opens everywhere on September 28th.