Jonah Hill on 'Get Him to the Greek', '21 Jumpstreet', and his directorial debut
HollywoodNews.com: Looking back at the last few years, Jonah Hill has been busy: he’s played 12 different characters in just the three years since he starred in Superbad, written for an episode of Saturday Night Live (in which he appeared), and executive produced Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno. But on the eve of his second starring role in Get Him to the Greek – as well as his third, in the acclaimed independent dramedy Cyrus – Hill wants audiences to view him based on these performances rather than the ones which initially earned him the stardom he now enjoys. “
I think [people should] judge me on this year and judge me on next year,” Hill said during a roundtable interview Sunday in Hollywood, Calif. “Because between Cyrus and this movie, I think both characters are completely unrecognizable from my characters in Superbad and Knocked Up.” Hollywood News joined a sizable but thankfully intimate group of reporters to talk to Hill about his turn in the new film Get Him to the Greek. In addition to talking about squaring off against his former Forgetting Sarah Marshall co-star, Russell Brand, Hill offered some updates about his other future projects, and reflected on where he’s at in his career and where he wants it to go.
Hollywood News: How did you wrap your head around this character?
Jonah Hill: I don’t know. I watched My Favorite Year a lot and I watched Midnight Run a lot, and Almost Famous. Those were kind of the three movies that I would watch a lot to prepare. But a big correlation to me was I thought about what if I was 18 and with one of my heroes, so I would often replace Aldous Snow in my head with Bill Murray or Martin Scorsese and just imagine what it would be like to be a young guy and getting to ask them any question that you wanted. [I thought of] Neil Young, and I just kind of thought about my heroes and what it would be like to be around them and get to spend time with them. The movie’s kind of the ultimate fantasy in that way – like who hasn’t fantasized about going on the road for 72 hours with your favorite rock star at some point in your life? That’s every kid’s dream.
Hollywood News: What rock star would it be for you?
Hill: Probably Neil Young. Maybe Jay-Z. I like Jay-Z a lot. I have very eclectic musical tastes. Mozart (laughs).
Hollywood News: Philip Glass.
Hill: Yeah, I love Philip Glass. There’s a great documentary about Philip Glass I just watched – it was fantastic.
Hollywood News: What has the last week been like for you – this nonstop promotional blitz?
Hill: Honestly, it’s been great. I was saying [in another interview] my year this year with Cyrus and Get Him to the Greek, between those two films I literally could not be more proud of them, so it is such a delight and blessing when a movie turns out good. I’m sure I’ll be sitting in front of you one day with a sh*tty movie one day, and I’m going to have to smile through a bunch of lies. But the fact that Cyrus and Get Him to the Greek are awesome, good movies, it’s a joy to go out and talk to people about them because you’re saying, “hey, I worked hard on this and it actually turned out good.” I’m super lucky to have this job; I tell you guys every time that I’m super-appreciative about that. It’s fun and it’s a good group of people and it’s been tiring but it’s been super enjoyable.
Hollywood News: This movie and Cyrus and coming out a couple of weeks apart, and neither of these characters are what you might assume are a typical “Jonah Hill character.” Is that important to you to have these films where you play something that isn’t the sort of foul-mouthed wacky slacker kid you’ve played in the past?
Hill: That’s a really good question because I think, you know, I’ve only starred in one other movie, which is Superbad, where I’m a foul-mouthed, loudmouthed, obnoxious, horny teenager in that movie, which is completely appropriate for that movie. I think the misconception is that because that’s the only movie I’ve starred in, that’s what I’m like as a human being, and fortunately or unfortunately, probably fortunately, that’s not the case. Since then I’ve done a lot of cameos and side characters and stuff, and have definitely been written off as one type of thing. I understand that completely and it totally makes sense and I’d probably do the same thing, but the truth is I think [people should] judge me on this year and judge me on next year, because between Cyrus and this movie, I think both characters are completely unrecognizable from my characters in Superbad and Knocked Up.
Hollywood News: Oh, absolutely.
Hill: I really appreciate that compliment, and even between these two movies, they just don’t seem like the same character at all – they’re unrecognizable from each other, and I’m really prideful about that. I work really hard and I could have sold out a thousand times between now and Get Him to the Greek and Cyrus, and chose not to out of respect and appreciation for my career, which I value. And next year it’s the same thing – Moneyball, which is a straight-up drama with Brad Pitt and myself and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and then The Sitter with David Gordon Green, which is like an R-rated, f*cked-up Adventures in Babysitting-type of movie. Those two years to me are like all four characters will be unrecognizable from one another, and I’m really prideful about that. I hope that didn’t sound dickish (laughs). But I am super excited to take people’s expectations and change them.
Hollywood News: What kind of pressure professionally is there on you to take a role that’s just for money – an easy comedy?
Hill: Boner Party 6 is what I call it (laughs). Titty School, Titty School 5. My agents are cool and the studios, they offer you stuff, [but] look – this position could be over tomorrow that I am currently lucky enough to be in, and I recognize that. so I looked at the careers of all of the people that I loved and respected and I said, they didn’t do a good movie and then immediately do a sh*tty movie, and I don’t need to be super rich or super famous. That’s not why I did this. I probably would have gone into finance or something like that out of college if that’s what I wanted to do. I really care about this stuff, I care about movies, and you just have to be strong and don’t be stupid; freedom of choice is a big responsibility, and I’m lucky enough not to have to just take any movie to pay the rent, so there’s no need to be greedy. So just do something that’s going to be good, and I really put a lot of meticulous thought into these decisions.
Hollywood News: You also have the advantage of being a writer yourself, right?
Hill: Yeah, and that’s been a great [thing]. I think a lot of actors, sometimes what happens I think is that actors finish a movie and they go, oh my god, I’m never going to work again, even big huge actors, and so they’ll take something thinking that something else will never come along. But for me, I freak out – because I’m a bit of a workaholic – the second I finish a movie going oh my god, what am I going to do, but I can start writing the next day so it doesn’t force me to make a bad choice acting-wise. So if I have to take a year off and write, I’ll do that.
Hollywood News: Are you working on different stuff besides The Adventurer’s Handbook?
Hill: Yeah, we’re getting 21 Jumpstreet into shape and we’re going to start that early next year. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who directed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, are directing that, and they just had an amazing take on the movie.
Hollywood News: He was Tweeting from a prom, wasn’t he?
Hill: Yeah, they did. Mike Bacall and Phil Lord and Chris Miller went to like two different proms and talked to all of these kids in high school, and they’re just amazing. The best thing that movie has going for it is that people’s expectations for it are so low that our movie is already so much better than what sh*t-talkers on the internet think it is. So we’re just high-fiving because that’s like the best thing you can have – people think your movie sucks and then it turns out being pretty awesome. Like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, I would have written it off before seeing it, and I was like, this movie is great! So I think Phil and Chris just had a great take on the movie.
Hollywood News: What is your character going to be like?
Hill: Well that one is, uh – he’s, well, I don’t want to get too much into detail, because I don’t want to give you the grand, total 45-minute pitch of the movie, but basically we want to make a really funny, grounded high school movie with action set pieces in it. To me, that’s really cool. When they asked me to remake it, I initially went, “pfft, f*ck that – I’m not doing that. It’s stupid.” Then I thought about it and I watched the show again and revisited it, and the thing I responded to was the concept, because to me there’s a real Back to the Future element in that you get to go back and relive a very important time period in your life, and that’s what I found fascinating. And then, the big idea I had which Mike Bacall and I cracked was that these guys are cops in their mid-20s, and they’ve gained all of this confidence since high school, and then they go back to high school and they immediately revert back to insecure high school students again. That to me was sort of the big idea that we cracked that I really fell in love with about the movie.
Hollywood News: They also take it very seriously in the show, which is why it’s funny now.
Hill: Yeah, but it’s not a spoof of the show. It’s honestly not. It’s not a spoof of the ‘80s, but to me it’s great. If I didn’t know about it I would talk sh*t about it like people on the internet do, but in my opinion, that’s the best thing we have going for us.
Hollywood News: I understand the guys turned in a script last week or are going to this week, maybe?
Hill: Yeah – we turned in a draft like to ourselves, basically. Mike finished a great draft. No, yeah, we’ve been working, and Mike Bacall is the man – he’s a good writer.
Hollywood News: In Get Him to the Greek, Russell is the guy who gets to go big, while by comparison you’re the straight guy.
Hill: Normal guy and crazy guy.
Hollywood News: Yeah, so how is that for you to sort of do the straight-guy thing, but make sure you’re getting fun stuff to do?
Hill: Well, you know, I think in a way Bill Murray was a lot of times the straight guy and he’s the funniest guy ever. Or another example is Gene Wilder; he was often a straight guy but to me made me laugh harder than anybody. And [Ben] Stiller, think about Stiller in Flirting With Disaster or Something About Mary – there are a lot of his movies where he [is the straight guy]. Meet the Parents. I think those are great classic comedy performances where things are happening crazy around him and it’s his reactions that are garnering laughs, but he’s the emotional anchor of the movie. So I think being uncomfortable and sort of being out of your element, being a fish out of water garners a lot of laughs but also I really enjoyed that challenge of having to be the person keeping the story moving as well as having to be funny as well. I really enjoyed it, and I was actually really pleased with that element of the movie where I do get laughs and am technically the straight man. Russell gets to do this grandiose performance which is really great and it was an interesting challenge for me. Michael Sera is a great straight man, you know what I mean? He’s another great straight man, and [Paul] Rudd, Rudd’s often a great straight man. So I think there’s tons of examples of comedic people I respect who often do that.
Hollywood News: But is it tough when Russell gets to go so big and you’re like, man – he’s having a lot of fun!
Hill: No, I mean, look – I shove a balloon of heroin up my ass (laughs). I get a dildo shoved in my mouth. I had my fair share of – I had a threesome! I have my fair share of comedic fodder in this film.
Hollywood News: Nicholas said they tried to work in the anal-cam for the balloon sequence.
Hill: That was my idea; I take full credit for that. because Nick had the brilliant idea for the tongue-cam that he invented, and then Bob Yeoman, who shot the movie and shoots all of Wes Anderson’s films and is a brilliant guy, was trying to figure out how to do the tongue cam, and I was just thinking one day when we were doing the scene when he grabs it out. I was like, what if there’s a POV from my asshole shot where you see the balloon inside and you see a hand reach up and pull it out. I guess that never came to fruition, but that was something that was oft-discussed.
Hollywood News: What was the hardest part to shoot?
Hill: I think the threesome was probably the hardest – or the Vegas suite was pretty difficult to shoot, I would say. We shot for a long time; that sequence took a very long time to shoot, there’s so many characters, there’s a fight to be choreographed, and they built that suite on a stage and it was really surprisingly hot and small for how it looks on film.
Hollywood News: And the furry wall.
Hill: The furry wall, yeah. I have a piece of the furry wall in my house.
Hollywood News: What was tougher to choreograph, the fight scene or the sex scene?
Hill: The sex scene, definitely. Because when you’re in that situation, and not to give a boring answer, but Russell and I could handle it, obviously, but you really want to be respectful to the actress in the scene to make sure she feels safe and comfortable or not disrespected or uncomfortable in any way. So we did a lot of blocking to make sure Elizabeth [Moss] felt cool with everything.
Hollywood News: What happened to Adventurer’s Handbook?
Hill: Basically, we got greenlit and then we had scheduling conflicts because of Jason Segel and Jason Schwartzman’s television shows. We basically had to fit it into this window and their shows went over [schedule] or whatever and we just couldn’t do it, and then luckily I got offered Moneyball shortly after that.
Hollywood News: What do you think will happen with it now?
Hill: Well, I think we got so lucky in that everyone we wrote it for said yes, which very rarely happens. And especially Schwartzman’s role is so, I just can’t imagine anyone else playing Schwartzman’s role. It’s just built for him, you know what I mean? So I’m going to make Moneyball and The Sitter with David Gordon Green and then Jumpstreet and then after that, I want to find the first movie to direct. That’s my goal, so Adventurer’s is something that we still love and we aren’t disregarding doing it, but we have got to see how it comes back together.
Hollywood News: You’ve been talking about wanting to direct for a while. Is there a certain genre that you think will sort of be your first choice?
Hill: I don’t want to discuss it in that way because it could end up being something totally different. I have to find something that – being a recognizable actor, I understand that when I do direct a movie, people such as yourselves are going to judge the sh*t out of me, so whether I like it or not, it’s going to be an extra-harsh judgmental endeavor. So for me, I want to make sure it’s done correctly; I’m not going to just throw together some sh*tty mlovie. This is where I want my career to end up, so for me, I think a lot of ways I think about it is I just go quality over genre; I just want it to be good.
Hollywood News: You should just go right into hardcore science fiction.
Hill: Right, exactly. But the point is, and I was thinking a lot about it, the way that movies are heading, the studios are going to make these big, huge movies no matter what, and I was reading on this website the other day that people were saying, oh, why is David Fincher maybe directing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? And I was like, that’s f*cking great that David Fincher is going to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Because they’re going to make that movie no matter what, so if I’m going to see it I’d rather have David Fincher directing it than some guy who sucks! To me, that’s the way things are going, so to me it might be interesting to direct a bigger movie. I don’t know, but I really don’t want to commit to anything, but I’m happy when good directors sign on to big crazy Hollywood movies because that’s all they’re making because that’s all they’re seeing profits on. And comedies, hopefully.
Hollywood News: Are you planning to star in that film or would you stay behind the camera?
Hill: I don’t know. It’s going to be circumstantial.
Hollywood News: Can you compare and contrast your approaches to Cyrus and Get Him to the Greek, which are dramatically different characters?
Hill: Cyrus was such a clearly-defined character in the script, and then Mark and Jay [Duplass] and I talked about it so much for so long that I just knew who the guy was and he was so specific. Every joke in that movie, anything that gets a laugh in that movie, comes from character. It’s just a character movie. So all of my effort in that movie went into remaining true to that character that we had talked about; I would never riff a joke or do something that would be out of character. And the same with Greek, but in Greek, these are big R-rated comedies and with a big press junket and all of that, you have a responsibility [because] the fans of this movie are the reason I get to do any of this, and I am completely appreciative and respectful of that. So as well as Greek being grounded in reality and create a really interesting character, you also have a responsibility to make the audience laugh every few seconds, so there’s a lot more riffing comedically in a movie like this than in Cyrus. Because Cyrus, it’s okay if the scene plays long and you get to stay in weird moments and explore things like that; that’s the nature of that kind of movie. In this movie, we have a responsibility to our fans who go see this stuff and we’re going to make you laugh your ass off every few seconds.
Hollywood News: What’s the next awful thing that Carla Gallo’s going to do to you in a film?
Hill: I don’t know (laughs). Carla, we took a respected actress from like Mad Men and Carnivale and had her have her period on my leg and shove a dildo into my mouth. Carla is amazing; I don’t know if you watched Carnivale, but she was amazing in it, and the same thing with Mad Men and Undeclared. She’s a really talented actress, and we’re really grateful that she comes in to do these cameos for us because she’s so incredibly talented.
Hollywood News: They seem reserved for her.
Hill: We always audition people other than her because we assume she will be busy since she’s a really good actress, and then it’s just we have to beg her because no one’s as funny as she is.
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