No, that's when we first met. I met Rian very much the old-fashioned way. It was one of my first auditions for a movie, and, unlike a lot of young filmmakers and young actors who don't have a ton of experience, Rian actually took meetings and sat down to have a proverbial cup of coffee with me. We immediately realized that we liked each other, and then I auditioned for him. I think I was the first guy cast in Brick, actually, about nine months before he made the movie.
That created a very solid foundation for a friendship. By the time we started making the movie and there were all these other great people, whether it was Joe or the rest of the cast, there was already a sense of, OK, this is how it's got to be—we've got to be friends, we've got to be tight and on the same page.
Subsequently, Joe, Rian, and I are all neighbors. We live in the same neighborhood; Rian and I share a great passion for photography, so we built a dark-room together that we find a lot of time to spend in. We just all remained tight since Brick.
So you must have seen the evolution of Looper from back when it just a burgeoning idea, no?
Before we shot Brick, about eight years ago, I read a two-page short story called "Looper"; it was written as a short story, it wasn't written as a screenplay. He says that he wrote a short film, too, but I've never read that, though I think Joe has. It was definitely something that was kicking around, and this two-page short story is somewhere in his personal archives now. It was this first-person account of what it's like for a guy to chase his older self. It was very concise, and I remember reading it and thinking, Man, this is a really cool idea. And then just leaving it at that.
Then, he makes Brick and he makes The Brothers Bloom, and years pass. We wouldn't talk about it. A few years ago, he revisited it and started talking about it again. You never know with Rian; his process is very cerebral. He does most of the work in his head, and by the time he gets to the actual screenwriting process it's very quick. When he says, "I'm sitting down and writing a script," you'll see a script in, like, six weeks. You'll see a draft. Once Looper came out of his head and notebooks and doodles, he sent it to me, I read it, and, there it was, on page 12: "Kid Blue." I called him up and said, "What's the deal with that?" And he said, "That's you, man."
Are there elements of you in the character of Kid Blue?
He knows that I have this great affinity for westerns and cowboys, and obviously that's a big part of the role: This guy fancies himself as a cowboy in the future, with his gun-spinning skills, fake accent, and all that. I think that that was inspired by what he knew about me and what I liked. It's interesting, first impressions are very important. We try not to put a lot of importance on first impressions, but in reality they make a big impact, consciously and subconsciously.
There are a lot of parallels between the role I played in Brick and the role I play in Looper, in that both roles, Dode and Kid Blue, are foils for the main character. They're these sort of mutant versions of the main characters. Dode loves Emily, and he loves Emily arguably more than Brendan [Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character] loves Emily, but he's completely incapable of handling himself; he doesn't have the cool, calm, collected demeanor or the brains that Brendan does, so he fails, even though there's a certain diligence. And that diligence carries over to Kid Blue, where you have this sympathy for this guy, hopefully, even though he's not doing the nicest things in the world. He really believes in what he's doing.
So, I think, in somewhere deep, Rian sees me in that way, I guess, or at least sees I have the ability to bring that certain pathos and vulnerability out of a character. Of course, nobody walks around thinking that they're a pathetic, vulnerable guy. [Laughs.] I don't think I'm that way; I handle my shit. I've got my shit together, but there's something about that. It's funny, we've talked about that connection between Dode and Kid Blue, and I've come to the conclusion that Kid Blue is Dode's grandson. [Laughs.]
And what did Rian say about that?
He laughed. [Laughs.] Knowing Rian, he's so cool, man; he's such a cool, understated guy that there may even be some truth to that, but he'd never own up to it. He'd just let it be and let me run wild with my conclusions and guesses. It's helpful for me. It's very nice to be able to look at a guy who's powerful and dangerous and find ways to also make him seem vulnerable. That's what actors like; actors like to have these conflicted characters—that's how you get drama.