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We sit down for an exclusive 1:1 interview with Looper director Rian Johnson

09.24.2012

LOOPER was the first film I checked out at this year's edition of the Toronto Film Festival, and what a way to start! I'd been following the development of LOOPER ever since it was announced. The director, Rian Johnson, has always struck me as a really interesting guy to watch. I loved his first film, BRICK, and I also thoroughly enjoyed THE BROTHERS BLOOM.

LOOPER is his most ambitious film to date, and it can't be denied that Johnson's delivered an exciting, innovative sci-fi film (READ MY REVIEW) that deserves to be a huge success.

Of course, high on my list of TIFF priorities was to arrange an interview with Johnson, and he was very generous with his time. We ended up talking a good half-hour- about the film, his film noir influences, alternate versions, Bruce Willis, and more. .

Rian Johnson

So the reason I really wanted to do this interview is that I saw the movie Tuesday morning. And it’s been sitting on my review since then. But I f*ckin loved it.

You dug it?

Yeah.

Oh, thanks man. Cool. Glad you liked it.

And you know, the thing that I liked the most about it, and I promise I’m not gonna spoil this in our review, is the fact that it’s totally not the movie that I thought it was going to be, going in.

Cool.

The whole second half of the movie has not been revealed by any of the trailers and I wanted to ask you how did you guys manage to keep that secret? To keep the second half from being revealed.

It worked out really well in that it's the least marketable element of the whole movie and so it just really worked out well that trailer-wise what SONY wanted to push - and this made a lot of sense - was the boys, was you know Bruce and Joe, and the guns and the action element of it.

And there is that too.

That’s actually a part of it yeah, it’s not like it’s miss-selling it but that back half of it, like I mean I love the fact that Pierce, who plays Sid, has not been in a single frame of promotional material. He’s gonna be a complete surprise to audiences.

And he’s great.

RJ: I think he’s fantastic. That’s always taking a risk when you do something that goes in a direction that you don’t expect, and that can rub people the right way or the wrong way. At least it’s interesting, I think.

Yeah, the crowd that I saw… I saw it at a press screening too, so it’s not always the best way to gauge a movie where you got like five people in the theatre. I was the guy that was sitting in the back who every once in a while screamed out, “Holy Shit!” you know.

God bless you. I’m excited about seeing it tonight with a real crowd.

Oh, they’ll love it. I think I had the perfect double bill though. I had saw an old noir called “The Scar” with Paul Henreid afterwards.


I don’t think I’ve seen that.

He’s a criminal, there’s this psycho-analyst who’s got a scar on his face, looks just like him. He takes the guy’s identity by putting the scar on his face but it’s on the wrong side of his face and he f*cks it all up.


Wow.

But anyway, it’s a great movie.


I gotta track that down.

Yeah, and I love noir and I could tell that you love noir too, right?


Yeah, absolutely. Well yeah, the first movie I did was essentially like a noir.

“Brick”, right? Yeah, and I really didn’t expect “Looper” to be such a cool, I wanna say it’s noir but at the same time it’s not necessarily just noir, but it’s got the attitude, like the Gat-men.


The city stuff has definitely that baked into it so…

Yeah, the dark city
...

Yeah, exactly yeah.

And the fact that they’re called Gat-men. Right?


Uh-uh.

And there’s a hierarchy, the looper is kind of the chump.


The loopers, the Gat-men. It’s interesting it was, I mean specifically for example, the design of the Gat-men, the decision to put them in those overcoats, and to have them dress like that. It looks like it’s a not-noir, and it definitely ends up reading that way. For me it was more about, I knew that the audience was gonna be absorbing so much information in that first half hour…

Sure.


It was like what can we put these guys in that will, with the least amount of brain power, identify them as gangsters.

Yeah, these are bad guys.


Exactly, and so I thought 30’s gangsters is the most iconic thing. Boom, let’s just do that. And so a lot of the choices are made from you know just narrated –narrative places and you step back and the sum total of them creates this interesting, this world that …
Yeah.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s fun for me too because it’s not like I conceived of the whole world as this thing. You make each decision based on what makes sense and you can step back and look at the mosaic and realize that, oh in its own way it all kind of feels like this.

Did you find when you pitched the movie, I mean the fact that the vision of the future, I want to say, is kind of unconventional I guess because usually you’d see like flying cars and shit, which is bull, probably.


Yeah.

To me this feels more plausible, right? Especially with the way things are going these days, with the economy.


Yeah, yeah.

Was there any resistance there though? To get it so…


Not at all, but I’m really lucky in that I have not only a great producer, Ron Bergman, but we worked with Brothers Bloom and this also with a company called Endgame and the guy who runs Endgame is this guy Jim Stern who we have a great relationship with. So we weren’t going through a traditional development process, it was us and Jim sitting down and talking it through, and then we cast the movie and then me made the movie. So I didn’t have to deal with layers on layers of approvals and note sessions and everything. It was much more direct than that. But at the same time, particularly with this one, I really wanted to be brutal with myself in the writing phase.

Yeah.


I really spent more time than I ever have and put more work into re-writing and making sure I was completely honest with myself in terms of what is the narrative spine of this and what needs to be in the movie. Just because I knew that it was either going to be cut out in the script phase or it would be dealt with in the editing phase. You have to pay on one side or the other.

And post-production too, I think right? I mean it wasn’t rushed. I mean I remember hearing about this a while ago, I guess he honed it, right?


Yeah. We had time. He saw an early test screening. No, we had time definitely to work with him. It’s a real luxury. In the end we kind of had the dream scenario with this, where we got to make the movie we wanted to make.

Sure.


For better or for worse.

Was Levitt always involved? Cause I know you guys have a previous relationship from “Brick” and he was great. And “Brick” was I guess one of the first movies where people kind of took notice of the young guy.


It was in that first phase, with “Mysterious Skin”.

I love “Mysterious Skin”.


Yeah, Joe. I’d actually, when I wrote the initial idea for this thing like ten years ago, I wrote this like a short film that we didn’t end up shooting.

Sure.


I told Joe about it when we were at Sundance with “Brick”.

Sure.


So we’ve been talking about this and we’ve stayed really close friends since then so when I started writing it as feature it was just an automatic thing, I’m writing this for Joe, I’m writing this so we can have something to work on together.

I gotta ask though, how did you go from Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Bruce Willis?


Well, I wrote it for Joe and then when we started casting Bruce Willis’ name came up. I was like “Oh my God, that would be amazing”. Do you think he’d do it? And then, he wanted to do it and then suddenly it was kind of like a morning after type moment, where I’m like “Wait, but they don’t look anything alike.”

Yeah.


And so it was really the sort of thing where Bruce was so right for the part for so many reasons but there was this one big thing which is just that they have no physical resemblance to each other.

But you worked it out, you worked it out.


We worked it out. I hope that it, you know, it’s the sort of thing that I feel really good about where we ended up with it. It’s definitely going out on a limb a bit. Anytime you take your handsome young lead actor and slather a bunch of shit on his face. It’s a risk, but we tried to be really subtle with the prosthetics. It’s entirely prosthetics, there’s no CG, it’s just all actual physical prosthetics. The big thing I think, more so than the make-up, is Joe’s performance though, in terms of what ends up selling it.

Oh yeah, no I mean he’s got some of the mannerisms down but at the same time it doesn’t feel like he’s doing an impersonation.

He’s brave, and he just completely jumps in. And that was my experience with him on this movie. He did not hold back, there was nothing that he was afraid of doing. He saw where the character was coming from and he was all about just playing it truthfully and diving into it. It was pretty amazing.

I want to ask you about the R-rating too, which to me was great because… I mean it wasn’t excessively violent, it felt like it was violent when it needed to be.


But the violence in general with it, it was always conceived of as an R-rated movie. I wanted it to be a violent film because I really did conceive it in my mind to be about violence. About not really the moral issues with, but the practical issues with using violence as a problem solving technique.

One thing I wanted to ask you about, probably my favourite sequence in the movie actually is the montage that shows you the thirty years, right?

Oh, cool. Great.

I read somewhere, and I don’t know if this is true or not, but that there’s another version of “Looper” that’s coming out in China with a longer edition.


It’s an expanded version of it, I’m trying to see if we can…There’s an expanded version that has kind of we can see more of China. Cause originally as first cut that sequence was about twice that length.
I’m trying to get the longer version on the DVD. I’m not sure if we’re going to get it on because it was originally conceived to be scored entirely by this beautiful Chopin piano piece and it’s all about clearing that piece, whether we can get it on the DVD. But anyway, it makes me happy to hear you say that because we did the most work editorially to that section, we did more work there than we did to anything in the rest of the film. It was actually a real problem section until late in the game. And I feel like the expanded China sequence… I feel like it’s cool to see more of China and it’s cool to see more of it. I feel like the shorter American sequence is my preferred version.

But there is another cut?


There is another cut in China.

But how long is it going to be?


It’s not much longer, it’s a couple of minutes longer, I think.

I just wanted to ask you, I know I’m running out of time. The score I really liked. I know it’s the same guy you worked with, Nathan.


Nathan, my cousin.

And he did “Brick” also. I just wanted to ask about the different approach that you guys took to the music.


Well this was entirely different. We, first of all, instead of creating a bunch of themes for all the characters, we only have one theme that’s kind of played with the whole way through. Then Nathan also did this thing where he came out to New Orleans with a field recorder and got a bunch of different real world sounds and then built instruments using those sounds. He would like record a treadmill in the workout room in his hotel and then slow it down 3000 % and find this amazing huge sounding rhythm in it and so he built this menagerie of virtual instruments that sound as big as an orchestra, but that sound slightly off to your ear. And then he went and mixed that with orchestral elements.

It was great.


Really beautiful right? Nathan’s a really talented dude. He gave me the MP3s of the score which is coming out in a few weeks and I’ve just been listening to it, actually.

It seems like it’s a bit of a lost art these days too, like great film scores.


Yeah. But, there’s a lot of great scores out there.

Yeah, there is, there is. But maybe, for this one, for me it kind of jumped out at me.


That makes me happy.

And I just have to ask, Garret Dillahunt.


Oh yeah!

I love his role and it reminded me of like in those 40’s movies when somebody like Ward Bond would show up for one scene...


Totally. I mean Garrett is just one of those guys who’s just extraordinary. Noah Segen who plays Kid Blue actually, like said if you’re casting this role, said you gotta bring in Garret Dillahunt. He’s just like one of the all-time greats who are working right now. He’s so good, if you see him on “Deadwood”, I mean the fact that they brought him back to play an entirely different character, he’s just so f*cking good.

There’s a little more nobility though than the rest of the Gat-men though, with him it seems…


There’s something about… but he plays it on that exact edge where you don’t know whether to trust him, there’s something slightly off about him, but you could read him either way. He hit that perfect balance I think of like menace and whatever.

And Emily Blunt is great too, but one of the things about her role though is, I would find it hard to go into this too much. Cause it’s such a secret. But she’s wonderful though, almost like a Linda Hamilton in “Terminator” type vibe.


She’s got that toughness, she’s got that tough broad Mid-western thing. She drained all the blue blood out of her and showed up on set with like her hair blond and this tan, and it was just like “wow”, who is this girl?

Also to me, Jeff Daniels as a mob boss though, how great was that? It was almost kind of deceptively fatherly, right?


Well, the dynamic that he has with Joe and I remembered in Scott Frank’s movie “The Lookout” they played… and knowing the dynamic that they had in that, that was a big part of the reason I thought he could really be great in that part.

Man, I think you guys are going to have a huge hit. Thanks, I’m really glad it worked out.


I’m glad it did too, thanks for the interview.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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