In some ways, Looper, the new science fiction brain-scrambler starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger version of co-star Bruce Willis, is a lot like The Avengers, albeit with significantly less superheroes. The Avengers works so well because writer-director Joss Whedon focused as much on the characters' relationships and inner workings as he did the high-flying CGI action and expensive money-shots. It's no surprise, considering that Whedon's background consists of character-driven TV shows, where massive budgets aren't a factor.

Looper, meanwhile, comes from writer-director Rian Johnson, who first grabbed the industry's attention with 2006's indie noir exercise Brick, a $40,000 mood piece driven by dialogue and acting. So when it came to tackle such lofty tasks as executing time travel and a creative futuristic world for Looper, Johnson stuck to what he knows best: stories centered on intimate human interactions. As a result, Looper is the most emotionally resonant sci-fi film in years.

Keeping his indie frame of mind intact, Johnson off-set bigger names like Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels with Brick co-star, and longtime friend, Noah Segan when casting the Looper role of "Kid Blue." Written specifically for Segan, Kid Blue is a lackey for Abe (Daniels), his ruthless employer. Kid Blue's mission: hunt down and kill Gordon-Levitt's character, Joe, once Joe fails to kill his older self (Willis) after 55-year-old Joe is sent back through time to get offed.

Got all of that? Trust, Looper spells its rules out clearly, but, again, it's not about the scientific ins and outs. And the emphasis on multifaceted people struggling to find themselves in a heightened world cuts right to the core of Kid Blue; younger and smaller than his thuggish peers, he's a go-getter who dreams of being the heroic cowboy but can't help disappointing Abe.

Playing the character with acute vulnerability, Segan more than holds his own alongside the likes of Gordon-Levitt and Daniels, capitalizing on the chops he's already displayed in memorable lo-fi horror flicks like Deadgirl (2008) and Undocumented (2010). Complex recently caught up with the ascendant actor to discuss his bond with Johnson, Looper's substance-over-style approach, and why making movies is the ultimate form of time travel.

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Since its opening night premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Looper has been receiving an overwhelming amount of acclaim and positive reviews. How has the response been on your end?
Well, more than people liking the movie, I like it. [Laughs.] The people who made the movie like it, so once it's done there's not much you can do other than hope everyone else likes it.

But what's been blowing my mind has been how deeply people are reading into the movie's world, and the concept, and the philosophy. When people start coloring in the spaces, and filling in things about the world that the movie only hints at, you start thinking, Man, these people are really making it their own. They're owning this thing, they're getting into Looper the way we used to get into the movie we grew up loving, like The Terminator or the bigger franchise movies like Star Wars and Star Trek.

Looper is such an intimate story at its heart, even though there are these really big ideas and visuals happening around that story. That's something that people can immediately connect to and get excited about on a more personal level.
Yeah, and that's a credit to Rian being a filmmaker who's most interested in characters, relationships, and the very specific intentions that his characters have. Everything is very personal, and his characters are very personal. Even somebody like me, who's a part of the supporting cast; we all have personal motives, as opposed to something that's just there to further along the good guy or the bad guy.

There's a great benefit to Rian coming from this indie world that I also come from, and Joe also comes from, whether it's Brick, or in Joe's case a lot of great indie movies, or in my case a lot of genre movies and left-of-center stuff. With Looper, we were like kids in a candy shop. [Laughs.]

We'd never been in this kind of environment, except for Joe, who had come off a couple big movies, but for the most part we had never been in an environment where we'd have an opportunity to have hover-bikes, build crazy big guns, and get beat up by Bruce Willis. We're used to making these movies where it's in the words, it's in the attitude, it's in the performance. Movies where we didn't have the candy, but, here, we had the candy, so here we go! We got some candy and we put it to good use.

Being that Rian comes from the indie world and Looper is a huge project with big ideas in need of big finances, were there any difficulties in getting the film off the ground, at least that you could see as his close friend?
The thing is, everybody wanted to work, and wants to work, with Rian, and for good reason. He's the best filmmaker I know personally; he's a brilliant guy, and he writes brilliant scripts. His scripts are directly reflective of the sort of person he is, this very detail-oriented, conscientious, and thoughtful person. So you meet the guy, you know he wrote the script, and, no matter who you are, if you're some bum like me or you're Bruce Willis, you want to work with him. You see that. That's what a good artist wants.

 
You say 'time travel' and it's done. Looper is about investigating these relationships, as opposed to the science of time travel. ... We didn't treat it like a physics experiment.
 

Frankly, I think they didn't have a ton of trouble attracting people like Bruce and Emily [Blunt]. The script is phenomenal, and once you meet Rian and not only is he as smart as his script but he's also the warmest, most generous, funniest guy in the world. So he has that going for him.

In my case, Rian had written the role of Kid Blue for me, and even named it after me; my nickname is Kid Blue. He had put together this movie, and Joe is, obviously, very successful and well-known nowadays. We still have friendships coming back from Brick, but he's a big movie star now, and then you have people like Bruce, Emily, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, and Piper Perabo, who are these really well-known people. And, of course, there were a lot of really well-known people interested in the role of Kid Blue; Rian wrote an amazing role. But he, Joe, and Ram [Bergman, one of the producers] went to bat for me. We worked real hard to prove that I could handle being in a big movie with these big movie stars.

In what ways did you have to prove that to everyone?
Because we're so close, I think Rian was very careful in protecting me from the reality of it, which is, you can't blame the people who are putting up the bread—they want to put butts in seats. The other people who wanted to play Kid Blue were great actors, and because they're interested in working with Rian there's no reason not to hire them, obviously. Rian did a very good job of insulating me away from a lot of those conversations. He was just a great diplomat in explaining that he thought I was the right guy for the gig.

We did a lot of rehearsals, but the rehearsals weren't these big screen tests or anything like that. It was more about being able to go back to the financial partners and saying, "Look, this kid's got something, and we believe in him." Then having Joe say that and Ram say that. They sort of rallied behind me.

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