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Joseph Gordon-Levitt smiles during the press conference for his new movie Looper during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 6, 2012. (AARON VINCENT ELKAIM/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt smiles during the press conference for his new movie Looper during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 6, 2012. (AARON VINCENT ELKAIM/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The year’s leading man is loving the ‘now’ Add to ...

In the science fiction drama Looper, which kicked off the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hitman who confronts his future self (played by Bruce Willis), and isn’t too crazy about what he sees. Here in 2012, though, after a run of films including Inception, 50/50, Premium Rush and The Dark Knight Rises, Gordon-Levitt, 31, is exactly where he wants to be.

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“I’ve been lucky, recently, and I’m very grateful,” he said in an interview yesterday. His haircut was hip, his red socks were covered with anime characters, and he radiated a sincere, engaged vibe, kind of like Keanu Reeve’s more articulate younger brother. Girls love him – I know several who’ve watched his romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer about 500 times – and it’s easy to see why.

“My whole life, I’ve wanted to do what I’m getting to do now,” he continued. “It took a long time to get here – I’ve been doing this for 25 years. And there’s been stuff along the way that’s like, I feel good about this, but it’s also a step. For a while it felt like, toward what? But now I can say, toward what I’m doing now.”

He thinks Looper is some of the best work he’s ever done, partly because it’s so hard to see him in it. Playing a younger Willis required three hours in makeup every day, which was “sort of a pain in the ass,” Gordon-Levitt said. “But when I’d look at my face in the mirror and see somebody else, it was enormously inspiring. I like playing characters who are really different from myself. The challenge in this was, how do I become someone so immediately different from myself that audiences, as soon as they see me, don’t see me at all?”

To incorporate as much Willis-ness as possible, he watched a lot of Bruce’s later films. Not the earlier ones, because he wasn’t strictly playing a young Willis – he was trying to create a character for himself that would credibly lead to Willis now. He listened to Willis’s voice on his iPod, and Willis even recorded Gordon-Levitt’s monologues, so the latter could hear how the former would say the words.

But Gordon-Levitt wasn’t sure he was pulling it off until he and Willis shot a loud, verbal fight scene. “At one point in between takes, Bruce – really off-handedly, in his understated way – said, ‘You sound like me,’” Gordon-Levitt remembered, grinning. “I was jumping up and down – inside. I kept it cool on the outside. But that was a victorious moment.”

Later this year we’ll see him become Daniel Day-Lewis’s son in Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. And he’s also becoming a hyphenate: He’s currently editing Don Jon’s Addiction, his debut as a writer-director-star. It’s a black comedy.

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