WonderCon 2012: 'Looper' Star Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Playing a Young Bruce Willis

The star of the Rian Johnson time-travel drama talked about “intertextualizing” his performance with Willis' work, from his "Moonlighting" days to "Sin City."

Most movies presented at WonderCon have been revealed in some form previously--be it with trailers, stills or even panels at Comic-Con. But the time-travel drama Looper received its true virginal unveiling on Sunday morning.

The movie hails from Rian Johnson, director of such smart indies as Brick. Johnson's latest effort, scheduled to hit theaters in September, appears to be his most accessible movie to date, a time-travel hitman story starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But this being a Johnson movie, it’s not clear cut: the story follows Gordon-Levitt as a killer for the mob whose latest target is his future self, played by Bruce Willis.

Johnson and Gordon-Levitt were on hand for the presentation, perhaps the brainiest of the day. It’s not every day an actor talks about “intertextualizing” his performance with Willis' work, from his Moonlighting days to Sin City, the Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of the Frank Miller comic that Gordon-Levitt said he studied closely. He called the role the most transformative and challenging of the four performances he has coming this year (Including Looper, Gordon-Levitt appears or stars in The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush and Lincoln.)

Gordon-Levitt, who was a successful child actor on NBC's 3rd Rock From the Sun, said he doesn’t need to work for money, so he hopes he can avoid a trap that strikes actors and directors alike.

“I made my money on a sitcom," he said. "I don’t have to take job to support myself. I’m still cashing my 3rd Rock checks."

The actor also had high praise for Johnson, with whom he first worked on Brick, comparing him to Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg.

“When all is said and done, they will talk about him in the same way they do when they talk about Chris and Steven,” Gordon-Levitt said. “All do it for the same reason: 'Cause they f***ing love movies. Most people do it with money as the finish line. It doesn’t lead to the best movies. It rarely does.”

Johnson, meanwhile, revealed the origins of Looper, how he first told Gordon-Levitt about the idea after they worked on Brick, and why it took him years to write it.

One reason? The complex subject.

“It’s a tricky thing, writing time-travel…It’s the Iron Chef ingredient that trips everybody up,” Johnson said.

Email: Borys.Kit@thr.com

Twitter: @Borys_Kit