My initial reaction to an early shot in the Looper trailer—the time-traveling protagonist in a sleek red convertible—was to ask, That’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt? The adorably hapless romantic from 500 Days of Summer who crooned with Zooey Deschanel? Further examination of the trailer revealed that Gordon-Levitt’s new neo-noir face is, in fact, decidedly awkward—a hardened and planar visage nearly devoid of expression apart from a few new wrinkles around the eyebrows and mouth that suggest many hours of brooding.
As it turns out, Gordon-Levitt spent three hours in the makeup chair for prosthetic work each day during filming to make him look like his character’s future self, played by Bruce Willis. In Gordon-Levitt’s first big-time action role—he also played an unwilling hero in Premium Rush and a supporting player in The Dark Knight Rises—he is quite literally physically transformed into a younger Bruce Willis. In her review for Slate, Dana Stevens says that Gordon-Levitt and Willis, “make a strange sense as each others’ time-traveling avatars,” but also notes that while the “nose works,” the “eyebrows are pushing it.”
We hope that Gordon-Levitt does indeed pull off this odd transformation in Looper, because the past is littered with awkward transformations of talented actors into wannabe action stars. And when we combed through recent cinematic history to figure out what went wrong in such cases, we came away with one solid conclusion: First impressions matter. Nearly everyone featured in the slide show looked ridiculous to viewers at first glance—and those judgments rarely changed much upon a full viewing. If Gordon-Levitt really has the goods to become an action star, maybe next time we’ll get to see his real face.