Joseph Gordon-Levitt may now be starring in the time travel film “Looper,” but the actor has long made giant leaps look easy.
From “10 Things I Hate About You” to “Mysterious Skin” to “Brick” to “(500) Days of Summer” to “Inception,” Gordon-Levitt never does the same thing twice. In the last year alone, his screen roles have had him battle cancer (“50/50”), support Batman (“The Dark Knight Rises”) and pedal for his life (“Premium Rush”).
In writer-director Rian Johnson’s exceptional “Looper,” opening Friday, Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, who in 2044 works as a looper, an assassin who kills people sent back from 30 years in the future. When he’s assigned (and fails) to kill the future version of himself (Bruce Willis), Joe has a big, mind-bending problem on his hands.
The 31-year-old L.A. native always has been protective of privacy—to the point that he won’t even specify what else he’d like to do on screen. In the dark, wooden bar at the Peninsula Hotel, he talked about a glitch of the brain, kicking your own ass and the difference between meeting Daniel Day-Lewis, his co-star in the upcoming “Lincoln,” and the real President Lincoln.
Your recent comments about our perception of time possibly being an illusion were interesting. What do you think of the concept of déjà vu?
Oh, that’s a good one. Let’s see. What do I make of the concept of déjà vu? I don’t have a solid theory about it, but … our brains I think do construct this picture of the past, present and future because we need it to solve our basic problems like figuring out how to survive—how to get food or whatever. But I don’t think that’s necessarily how the universe works. Like it’s all in one linear, forward-moving time thing; I think that’s something our brain does. It’s a survival mechanism. So déjà vu is probably some glitch in that activity.
And sometimes we don’t know how to get food, as evidenced by “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”
[Laughs.] But they’re trying really hard. I just saw that movie, actually, first time.
What did you think?
I loved it, actually. [Laughs.] It completely surpassed my expectations. I thought it was really good. I can’t wait to see the second one.
When Joe sees that he grows up into Bruce Willis, why doesn’t he know right away that he’ll try to kick his own ass?
[Laughs.] I think he does know that. He knows it very soon. He ends up on the ground, passed out, because he just got his ass kicked.
So there just wasn’t time to react.
Well, yeah. He was probably sort of stunned to see his own self. And older Joe took advantage of that.
How do you feel like the complexity of “Looper” compares to the complexity of “Inception”?
They’re two completely different movies, but they’re both movies that are on the one hand really fun, bangin’ action movies that you can just have an entertaining time at. And on the other hand they give you something to think about, something to talk about. And hopefully it stays with you once you’ve left. It gets at some deeper questions. I love movies like that that can kind of walk that balance.
We haven’t seen much from “Lincoln” yet. How much does the movie cover his vampire hunting days?
But a little bit?
Um, no. Not at all. Sorry.
What’s something you feel like you learned from Daniel, and what’s something you might have taught him?
Well, I wouldn’t presume to say anything to the second part of that question. But I mean, when you’re acting it’s all about commitment. It’s about going for it 100 percent or more. And Daniel does that as much as if not more so than anybody I’ve ever seen. And I think that’s something that applies to more than just acting.
For a long time you’ve talked about wanting to be a chameleon on screen, someone who people may not be sure if it’s you sometimes. Do you see him as someone who represents that?
Yeah, he’s the epitome of that. It’s an honor, and I had absolutely no problem ever just believing that I was speaking to President Lincoln. Luckily I was actually—I was there working on the last day of shooting, so I got to see him shed it. Just a really incredible thing to see.
What was that process like?
I had never met Daniel. I had only ever really interacted with the president. He was a great guy. But [he was] completely different than later that night. He showed up in jeans and T-shirt and I heard his voice for the first time.