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Actor Bruce Willis teamed up with Quiet Place star Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the sci-fi feature Looper. Although an action film, Willis didn’t expect the movie to pack the emotional punch that it did.

How ‘Looper’ caught Bruce Willis by surprise

Bruce Willis sitting down in a suit at the comedy central roast of Bruce Willis.
Bruce Willis | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Willis already knew what he was getting into with Looper. He once confided that Looper was one of a handful of projects he immediately wanted to do after reading the script. The 2012 Rian Johnson picture was about a man who illegally travels back in time and is confronted by his younger self. Willis wasn’t a stranger to time travel , films like Twelve Monkeys also focused on heroes trying to change the past. But speaking with Ain’t It Cool, Willis was excited because Looper was about more than just time travel.

“It’s such a huge leap and yet the story is… I love time travel. It’s really smart and yet it’s not about time travel as much as it is about mistakes you have made and things you don’t want to do and your little childhood self coming near your adult life going ‘No, you’re not going to do that. I’ve got to f***ing kill me.’ It’s great, so yeah I’m really excited about that,” Willis said.

But even after shooting the picture, Willis confided the movie continued to surprise him. He didn’t realize how much Looper would affect him on an emotional level.

”When I was shooting the film I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong as a character. I took it for granted that Joe would hurt people. I didn’t judge him,” he once told Daily Star (via Contact Music). ”But when I saw the film I was emotionally moved by how horribly wrong the things I was doing were. It is an emotional film. I wasn’t expecting that.”

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Gordon-Levitt would end up playing the younger version of Willis in Looper. For the sake of authenticity, a prosthetic was applied to Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him look like closer to his older co-star. The makeup was effective enough to stump even Willis at times.

”I was sitting across from Joseph at a table. I was supposed to act and get my lines right but I just found myself looking at him and thinking how weird it was,” Willis said. ”It’s really a strange thing to see someone who looks like a young version of yourself.”

For Gordon-Levitt, it wasn’t enough to simply look like the Die Hard actor. He did his fair share of research on Willis to be able to mimic his mannerisms and behavior.

“I studied his movies,” Gordon-Levitt said in a 2012 interview with Canton Rep. “I would take the audio from some of them and put them on my iPod so I could listen to them. And Bruce recorded himself doing some of my monologs and sent me the tape so I could listen to that. That really helped, but the most important thing for me was just getting to know him, hanging out, having dinner, talking. That was where I learned what I wanted to do with the character.”

And although Willis found it hard to act alongside Gordon-Levitt at first, he eventually became used to it.

“Dealing with the idea that when I look at Joe, it’s really me, and trying to make that honest and believable,” Willis added. “At first it seemed like an impossible task to try to act with someone that’s supposed to be the younger you. But at some point you’ve just got to let go of it, and believe that you’re in the story and are part of the story. When I saw the film I was so surprised that the magic trick we were trying to do actually works.”