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Rian Johnson talks “Looper”, Bruce Willis’ voiceover, and “Breaking Bad”

Rian-Johnson

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Rian Johnson may have been a critical darling with the release of his previous films, “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”, but with the Oscar buzz surrounding his “Looper” screenplay and the critical success of the film, the young director is about to become one of Hollywood’s hottest commodities. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, “Looper” is a poignant and heartfelt story wrapped up in a time-travel, science-fiction universe. It’s also one of the very best films of 2012.

Hot on the heels of the “Looper” Blu-ray and DVD release, Johnson sat down with IFC.com recently to chat about his most personal film, working with Bruce Willis, and the possibility of a return to “Breaking Bad”.

IFC: You’ve had critical success before with your first two films (“Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”), but nothing on level of recognition and attention that “Looper” has received. Did you ever expect that type of reaction to the film? Did it feel any different making this one?

RIAN JOHNSON: That’s a good question. No, essentially you never expect anything. By the end of the process, you are just hoping that you’re not run out of town shamed on a rail, I guess. You go from these high hopes when you’re writing to just a desperate want of not making a complete fool of yourself by the end of it. So, no, there’s definitely never the expectation of “wow, this one is really going to get them.” You’re just always hoping that it works. In terms of it feeling different, it did, but I think maybe that’s the case with every new thing that you do. Hopefully with each thing that you do you’re learning something, you’re growing, and you’re pushing yourself a little harder in some way or another. So I think you’d be in real trouble if each new thing that you create didn’t feel like “Oh, wow. I feel like I’m doing something a little different this time.”

IFC: Of all your films so far, “Looper” feels the most personal. Is that the case? Does this one feel more personal to you than the others?

JOHNSON: I appreciate that. I think that’s a good sign. Again, yes, but with a qualified answer because it feels the most personal to me because it’s the most immediate to what’s on my mind right now and to my experience of what I’m going through. It’s the last thing I wrote. When I wrote “The Brothers Bloom,” that was where I was at that point, and the same thing for “Brick.” It’s really gratifying for me, though, to hear you say that because I think “Looper” has the veneer of an action movie, and of a time-travel movie, and there are a lot of things which one could very easily see and assume that it isn’t a very personal film. And, for me, it very definitely is so it makes me feel very good to hear that it struck you that way.

IFC: You’re talked previously about this “loop” of violence that manifests violence and how “Looper” was your way of addressing those issues. Other writers and directors might have just made a straight drama about this, but you chose to wrap it in this time-travel, sci-fi picture. Is that your way of dealing with heavy topics like that – to make it something interesting and accessible in other ways as well?

JOHNSON: Yeah, it is for me. You never want to make a “message movie,” but you always want to be talking about something that you care about, and talking about something that hopefully people can dig into and really relate to and that really matters. The thing about the movies that I grew up watching – the ones that really stick with me through my life – are movies that work on two different levels at the same time. They hit me on the gut level that a good genre picture can hit you on, but then have a lingering something that you keep chewing on after the credits roll. To me, that’s an incredibly powerful thing. I know, just in relation to sci-fi, that it’s something that sci-fi is specifically good at. Think about Ray Bradbury’s stories or Philip K. Dick. They’re writers that use these outlandish sci-fi concepts not to talk about, but to dramatize stuff that’s very vital and very human. To me, there’s nothing more powerful than that.

IFC: After all the “beef” you’ve had with Jason Reitman, how did it feel to read his essay in Entertainment Weekly?

JOHNSON: [Laughs] I guess I should make it completely clear that there was never any real beef with Jason. [Laughs] It’s funny that, because of that silly thing that I wrote, it’s led to my meeting Jason a couple of times and he’s really a great guy. That thing that he wrote just kind of blew my mind. I told Jason, and this is really true, that all this awards stuff is easy to get caught up in all the drama, but what it really just boils down to is your peers saying “good job” and appreciating your work, which just feels really good. In that way, reading the thing that Jason wrote felt like winning an Oscar to me. That was a really special thing.

IFC: Did you have any idea he was going to do that?

JOHNSON: No, no. He just emailed me out of the blue and said, “Hey, I’m doing this.” [Laughs] I was like, “Holy shit.” [Laughs]

IFC: Bruce Willis has said that “Looper” is probably his favorite film that he’s been in. We’ve all heard the “horror” stories from people like Kevin Smith about how hard Willis is to work with. How was it, for you, working with him? Were you nervous about that before you started filming?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, Bruce was definitely the biggest “movie star” that I’ve ever worked with. He’s so iconic. And, so, you’re always nervous when you’re showing up to work with one of your heroes, but he was a dream. He showed up ready to work. He was completely dedicated to the project. Besides just giving what I think is a tremendous performance, he also was so ready to dive into the darker elements of the script. He had no reservations at all and no ego. He had no interest in protecting any sort of movie star persona on the screen. He was just really down with digging into what this character needed to be. I had a fantastic time working with him. It was kind of like what your fantasy about working with Bruce Willis would be like. He was super cool.

IFC: Tell me how you approached him with this script. You basically have this film that says “We’re going to use makeup to turn Joseph into a younger version of you and he’s going to do this awesome impression of you as a younger guy.” That’s got to be a nerve-wracking conversation.

JOHNSON: It’s funny now that you say that. I’m thinking of our first meeting and we talked about the story and that was our first big connection point, but I don’t think we talked about that element of it. It was more about how we were going to approach the storytelling elements of it. In some way, it was probably a little bit of a surprise for Bruce when he showed up. He did hang out with Joe a few times though and let Joe watch him talk. He actually recorded all of Joe’s voiceover lines and sent the recordings to Joe so he could study how he said them.

IFC: That’s amazing.

JOHNSON: Yeah, it was really cool of him. And so, Joe has a recording somewhere on an iPod of Bruce saying those opening voiceover lines.

IFC: Could you imagine if he gave that to you to put online as an alternate audio track?

JOHNSON: That would be pretty incredible.

IFC: You’ve talked about your connection with Joseph plenty of times so I want to ask about Pierce. He’s amazing. Where did you find this kid and how quickly did you know he was just right for this part?

JOHNSON: We found him in Atlanta and the instant I saw the first words out of his mouth, on the first video audition that he did, I kind of leaned forward and said, “Oh.” Then when I met him and saw him work, and saw him do what he does, I was like, “Oh my God. We got really, really lucky here.” He’s an actor. If there’s something that feels different or amazing about his performance, I would attribute it to the fact that he’s not just saying the words in a practiced way. He’s not reciting them in a way that his mom has told him to recite them. He understands what the words mean and he’s saying them to the person who’s sitting across the table from him. He’s acting. As much as Emily and Joe and Bruce or anybody is acting, Pierce is just a great actor and he was five years old when we shot the movie. That combination is not something you see very often. We got really lucky.

People like to think that you have to trick kids into giving a performance, but there are kids out there that can act as well (and sometimes better) than adults. I feel like I’ve been lucky to work with some really good kid actors.

IFC: “Looper” has this kind of lo-tech, hi-tech approach to the future element, which I really love. It reminds me of films like “Brazil” and “Dark City” in a way. Did you watch any films, or show any films to your crew, before shooting as inspiration or reference for your film?

JOHNSON: No, not really. Just because I was very conscious of wanting the world to feel organic and not wanting it to feel like a pastiche of other sci-fi movies, we kind of took a different approach. And I love those films that you mentioned so much that I knew there was a danger in that even if we didn’t explicitly reference them. I wanted all the design decisions to be coming from what makes sense for the story and what makes sense for the script and the world. I wanted to intentionally avert our eyes from all the movies that we love, knowing that they would seep in there anyway. I think if you watch the movie, you can see echoes of “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men”, but I didn’t want to explicitly look to them. I didn’t want to overdue that element.

IFC: Is there any chance we’ll get to see you direct one of the final “Breaking Bad” episodes during the show’s upcoming, final run?

JOHNSON: [Laughs] Oh… [Laughs] Eh, I, um… I don’t know, man. We’ll see. [Laughs]

IFC: [Laughs] I’ll take that as a good sign that we may see you back! [Laughs] Other than that, do you have anything else coming up that fans can look forward to?

JOHNSON: No, I’m writing my next script right now. I’m writing another original and I’m a slow writer so I apologize that it’s taken a while, but that’s what I’m doing right now. Digging into the next one and hopefully I’ll get it done sooner rather than later and we’ll be off to the races.

Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.