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Bruce Willis stars as Joe in Looper.

Action star Bruce Willis compares his new time-travel flick Looper – which kicks off this year's Toronto International Film Festival – to a magic trick.

Willis and co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt portray the same character in the movie, which is about hitmen who kill thugs sent back in time.

Gordon-Levitt's character is tasked with offing the future version of himself (played by Willis) – but he panics when the moment comes.

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To convincingly play a younger version of Willis, Gordon-Levitt donned heavy layers of special-effects makeup. He also studied Willis's past films and listened to hours of tape to learn how to mimic the Die Hard actor's voice.

Willis gave Gordon-Levitt's performance and impersonation skills a thumbs up, at a festival news conference, and applauded director Rian Johnson's vision of a futuristic world.

"Sci-fi films are like magic tricks," Willis said. "At some point you have to let go of it and just believe you're in the story. I was so surprised the magic trick we were trying to do works."

He also praised Johnson for conjuring up a futuristic world yet still creating believable relationships between characters.

"There are reminders the whole way that we're in a different time situation but it's a real emotional film," he said.

The stars of Looper are set to walk the red carpet Thursday night and the film is due to open in theatres Sept. 28.

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