Take Two #55: Inside-Out or Outside-In?

By Kyra-lin Hom

The new movie Looper is awesome! It's a science fiction-action film set 2 and 32 years in the future (got to love time travel) that honestly defies summary. The official logline is, “A killer who works for the mob of the future recognizes one of his targets as his future self,” but that barely scratches the surface. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing the younger counterpart of Bruce Willis's character, is absolutely amazing. He nails Bruce Willis's voice, body language and mannerisms. It's clear to see whose acting chops the director, Rian Johnson, decided to lean on there. Plus, though the film isn't exactly plot hole free, it at least stays consistent with its own rules on time travel – something that is irritatingly rare in film and literature. Anyway, go see it. It's a great time.

Having two actors who look nothing alike play older and younger versions of the same character is definitely unorthodox for a big budget film. Money like that can generally get whoever it wants. Johnson simply wanted those two actors and was obstinately determined to make it work. As I've already stated, Gordon-Levitt did an amazing job imitating the older action star. Yes, he did sit through about four hours of make up each day, but all the make up in the world wouldn't have done a thing if he couldn't perfect the famous Bruce Willis 'what the f*** do you want?' stare. I guess Johnson decided you can't teach an old dog new tricks and left Willis to be himself.

There are countless acting techniques when it comes to slipping on a new character. Some are more... let's say flexible than others. For example, I love watching Johnny Depp perform and, yes, he is one of the sexiest men alive. But watch enough of his movies (or two) and you can readily recognize gestures that are distinctly Depp. That might be why we fawn over him, but lend toward acting range it does not.

There are also countless ways of categorizing all of these techniques. One that I like is breaking these techniques into inside-out and outside-in.

Inside-out implies that the actor begins with the internal. What does this character want, think and feel? What are this character's goals in life? What clique was he or she in in high school? From there, the actor builds outward: how the character stands, whether they wear consignment or designer, which direction they part their hair – all the visual cues of what resides inside.

The outside-in approach is, as you might expect, exactly the opposite. Robert Downey Jr. in particular is a known utilizer of this technique. Actors like him start with the look and work backwards. What kind of person would wear this suit or that dress? What can be implied about someone by their lip color or the shine of their shoes? This works particularly well in higher budget productions with good costumers. They really give the actors something to work with. I bet you that acting like Bruce Willis became easier once Gordon-Levitt started to look like him.

Most, if not all, of us are familiar with this feeling. The mirror is a powerful instrument. Like the expression, 'clothes maketh the man,' we react to what we see of ourselves. The difference is we are neither actors nor characters (in the traditional sense, all of you existentialists). We can only fake so much before what's on the inside calls our bluff. I remember in high school desperately trying to construct an exterior image for myself. I wanted to emulate certain figures or characters and so I made myself in their likeness as much as possible, hoping that looking the part would bring me that much closer to being the part. The result was a very stylish yet confused persona. I was a kaleidoscope of fashion, seeking a perfect whole image that didn't exist.

We all do this at least once in our lives – most of us probably hundreds upon hundreds of times. It's a transitional process. And I don't think there is anything wrong with it as long as we recognize these phases for what they are.

If I could time travel like in the film Looper and meet my younger self, I would tell her that it's okay to not know who you are. I was trying so hard to be myself and fit in to whatever alternative 'box' I had chosen for that month that I didn't have time to even notice my own skin let alone feel comfortable in it. I'm finally realizing now that that phase of image experimentation was vital. I just wish I could have done it with less emotional angst. Oh well, that's being a teenager for you. I'm glad that's over.

Anyway, the point is that finding yourself and being yourself are not mutually exclusive. No matter how much you might want otherwise, you are you. And that's a beautiful thing.

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