You've seen Jonah Hill in movies like Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, and Accepted, and he's a very funny guy. There's a tendency to expect hilarity when he comes onscreen (my favorite unexpectedly funny scene with him is in Rocket Science), but the guy has some dramatic legs that he's only begun to stretch. In Cyrus he does just that. It's not to say the movie isn't funny, because it has plenty of comedic moments, but this is definitely not the Jonah Hill you're used to seeing.
Besides being an actor and a writer, he's a self-proclaimed movie fan, and he spends plenty of time on the web reading sites like Cinematical. He's just as excited for movies as everyone else, and read on through to see what his upcoming recommendations are. He also talks about what life is like for him post-Superbad, what it's like being known as "the funny guy," and everything else he's up to. If you could bottle his enthusiasm for just about any topic, we wouldn't need to invent cold fusion.
Jonah Hill: Cinematical! Love your website, dude. Seriously. I read Cinematical all the time.
Cinematical: Oh, thanks! We love your work.
Hill: I love Playlist, too. That's what's funny. I love them, but they always write shit about me on there.
Why do they keep doing it?
Hill: I don't know. They are a bunch of assholes!
You are about to kick their ass.
Hill: Yeah, I am so excited.
I want to see what they are going to print after you talked about it.
Hill: I don't give a shit. [laughs] But I read your website. You guys f**ked up shit, too.
Not about you!
Hill: Sometimes. The biggest shocker to me, the funniest thing, the only bone I have to pick with any of these websites is because of Moneyball. I was so excited. I worked so hard to get that part in that movie. Bennett Miller, Brad Pitt ... I was so excited. I worked my ass off. There were all these other dudes up for the part. And then, all of a sudden, every website goes, "Well ..." Instead of going, "Wow, Jonah is really good," now everyone is, "Oh, the movie is just going to suck now because Jonah is in it!" [laughs] Now it's going to be like a broad comedy or whatever, you know?
From our readers, that is a sign of a movie that people want to go see, if Jonah Hill is in it.
Hill: [laughs] Well, that's nice.
That's what John C. Reilly does. Like, here is the logline for the movie. "Ah, it kinda sounds boring." "Well, John C. Reilly is in it." "Oh, I'll go see it!" That is what you two guys bring to that.
Hill: Well, I love all the film websites, man. I am a huge film fanatic, obviously.
Is it weird, though, reading about it? Like, especially if it is something you have been in?
Hill: I don't really read reviews, just like the news. And what is funny is I love Cinematical, and Ain't it Cool, and the Playlist, and We Are Movie Geeks. I like all those websites because I like what you guys write about the news, you know. But to me, what is heartbreaking is when I am in a news piece and someone is not excited about it, because, you know, I haven't had a long period of time to make choices. All the time I've had was just being in any movie that anyone would put me in, until Superbad, obviously. And then since then, I had a long period of just minor roles, because I have a fear about taking on a big starring role. This was kind of the first movie where I had a really big part in it since Superbad, and then Get Him to the Greek after that. And then now Moneyball and The Sitter.
So I just took my time and waited for good things. I didn't want to ... it is funny to me that I am someone people wouldn't be excited to be what they were going to choose, because I am a film nerd. I love movies, so I would think that you would be excited that someone like me is in this position, because you would want to see what they would choose. I would be interested if I knew ... when there is a guy who I know loves movies, I am always excited to see what they choose.
Well, are you in that position now where you can sort of be like, "Ah, I will pass on this," or, "This sounds sort of interesting"? Whereas before, starting out you were like, "Oh yeah, I will do your movie" no matter what it was?
Hill: Before Superbad I would do any movie that was presented to me. I had to make a living, and I had to get better at what I was trying to do. And that's the job. And then I had this really lucky break with Superbad, a movie that people responded to and that made me financially viable to the studios, and I passed on everything and I took a writing job. I wrote for Bruno. That was my job after Superbad because I didn't want to have to take a bad movie. And I pass on some really good movies! [laughs]
Have any of those come out now?
Hill: I am not going to share the names of them, but I passed on great movies. I passed on really incredibly successful great movies.
Right. Like Iron Man, right? But they went with Robert Downey instead.
Hill: [laughs] I was definitely up for that, right? Oh, and Twilight. No, I'm just kidding.
You say that now, but someone is going to call and be like, "We have a great part for you in the next Twilight movie."
Hill: [laughs] I'll be all right. To me, like, my year this year is pretty incredible. To get to work with Bennett Miller and David Gordon Green back to back is pretty ... something I thought would never ever get to happen.
You are known for being funny. But then like in Superbad, you have some dramatic moments. And then in Cyrus you have quite a few. And we were talking at Sundance after we saw Cyrus, and we were like, "Wow, it is weird. We have never really seen Jonah Hill be this serious in a film"
Hill: It was more of a serious movie, I would say.
Was that what attracted you to it, or did you know the Duplass Brothers? How did you get involved?
Hill: I'm never attracted to anything by whether it is a drama or a comedy. I think it is so hilarious that people think because of Superbad ... I mean, I am only known for Superbad. That is the only movie anyone on the street would know me from, unless you are a film person who sees every movie or something, because I had smaller parts in these other movies. It is hilarious to me that I am pegged as someone, especially on these message boards and stuff, who is loud and yells a lot, because that was one part! And I played the part exactly how the director wanted me to play the part. And the movie clearly worked because people seemed to really enjoy it.
But in Cyrus, I couldn't be more quiet and reserved in the movie. So give me a chance do some stuff before you peg me as someone who does one thing. I love reading on the message boards. They go, "He just yells and is stupid. He just yells and screams curse words." Go see this movie and tell me if you think that is what I am doing in this movie. But I never choose a movie because it is more dramatic or because it is more funny. I strictly go by the material and the filmmaker. I am a filmmaker fanatic. I have never been star-struck by and actor once in my entire life. But if I saw XX Robert Elswood [sp]...you know, I am like a DP nerd and a writer nerd. Or if I saw Bob Elswood or Robert Towne, or Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson, I would be giddy like a little kid. But if I saw George Clooney or something, I would say "Well, that's interesting, that's cool," but I wouldn't be freaked out by that, or, you know, overly excited by it.
So with the Duplass brothers, I was just a fan of theirs. About seven years ago, I had done my first short film. I was acting in my friend's short film and I went to CineVegas. And their short film Intervention played there. And I was in the audience and just fell in love with what they were doing. It was just clear from that that these guys had a voice that you hadn't seen before. And I stayed fans of theirs throughout. The Puffy Chair came out and I just wanted to work with them. And then finally Superbad came out. Like, they didn't want to work with me because I hadn't done anything really. I was like, "Will you guys work with me?"
Yeah, that is a weird situation.
Hill: Well, it is a weird situation ... it's a crazy situation. A guy they don't know who hasn't done anything is begging to work with them, but why would they want to work with me?
Then you have this movie come out. Then they are like, "Yeah, we want to work with you."
Hill: Well, then they did a profile on me in the New York Times, and they said, "What is a film you love that people might not have seen?" And I said The Puffy Chair. And they said that helped them expose their movie to a lot of people that may not have seen it, sold more DVDs. And I said, "Well now you guys owe me. Let's make a movie together." And they wrote this beautiful script, and they just were wonderful. And I really appreciate the fact that they believed in me to do something different like this. I always knew I wanted to and loved movies of all different genres, and sorts, and tones, and it was really nice that these guys believed that I could pull something like this off.
Was it more challenging because it is so serious at times?
Hill: No. Doing a broad comedy is 1,000 times more challenging, in that they are all challenging because you want them to feel real. All of my goals as an actor are to just make it feel genuine and do what the director asks of me. But in those comedies, like Get Him to the Greek and Superbad, and Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, those films you have to feel really grounded and real and still be funny, and be making jokes, and being funny while still being a believable real character. And interlacing those things is a lot trickier of a dance than just have gumming in a word, having a beautifully written scene, and with two of the greatest actors, in my opinion, John and Marisa, and just being genuine. And it was challenging because acting against those two people was clearly challenging. But to me, the stress of not having to riff jokes and be funny while being genuine and real was a delight. I had a wonderful time doing that.
When we talked to you for Funny People, you had a project that was moving forward. Is that still going?
Hill: The Adventurer's Handbook?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That is exactly it.
Hill: We were going to make the film this year, but then, because of scheduling conflicts, we are going to try to make it next year.
It seems like you're attached to a thousand things, what do you really have going on next?
Hill: I can clear it up pretty simple. I am going to make Moneyball in June with Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller, and then in September I am going to make The Sitter with myself and David Gordon Green. And then in January we are shooting 21 Jump Street.
Johnny Depp said in an interview recently where he wants them to give him a cameo.
Hill: Yeah, I think we are going to do it. Trust me, I would love him to do one. I am a huge fan.
So what about writing? You wanted to be part of a writing team before you started acting, and now you're writing a lot. Do you
Hill: I am a big believer in collaboration. I have written one script by myself, but I didn't enjoy it. I had two writing deals. My first two writing deals I had were solo writing projects, and I learned through those, through Judd. And Judd really was helpful in mentoring me in how to learn how to write. And I learned through that process that I didn't enjoy writing by myself. I believe in collaboration. I think that is the most entertaining and effective way to write for me, personally. Because then I wrote on Bruno, where I was in a room with four or five amazing writers, and it was so much more entertaining and invigorating writing in that room.
So then I wrote The Adventurer's Handbook with two of my friends who are great writers, Max Winkler and Matt Spicer. And then I have a TV show on FOX that I wrote, an animated show, with Jared Paul and Andy Mogul. So I just like finding friends who I enjoy collaborating with. And all the movies you have seen me in thus far are very collaborative films. And I have just learned that is a really fun way. Judd is a writer/director, but he often collaborates with people. And Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg are clearly a very successful combination. You know, we had a project together. I just find collaboration more entertaining and more effective for me, personally, as a writer.
Well going back to Superbad, I mean how different is your life at this point than just before that movie came out? Is it I just completely different?
Hill: In which way, socially...?
Socially. I mean you say you tend to get recognized for Superbad. You know, you walk down the street and people are like, "That's Jonah Hill." Is it just a completely different world for you, or is it pretty much the same except that you're busier.
Hill: I mean that is a very complex question because there are many elements that these things have brought into my life. Socially, my friends are still my best friends. I have been very lucky that all my best friends are from growing up. My girlfriend has ... we dated before Superbad ever came out. We broke up, but then we got back together. But, you know, I have only dated girls that I went to high school or junior high with. And my family is very close and we live in Los Angeles. So my group of people I am around has maintained the same with added friends like Michael Cera, and Seth, and Paul Rudd, people I have met through work, the Duplass brothers, and David Gordon Green, Bennett Miller.
And, you know, you make friends through making films, but really, my core group of best friends are my friends from when I was a kid, and my family, and my girlfriend. So in that element, I have always been a homebody. We hang at home. We play video games and watch movies and talk and have a really nice time. The only thing that is different is when we go places, if we go to dinner, or we go to a movie, sometimes I feel bad because the attention is on me by strangers. And I don't complain ever about it, because I am so lucky to be doing what I am doing, but I feel bad for my girlfriend, or my friends, or my family sometimes because it makes going places slightly more difficult for them.
And if I am trying to have a nice romantic evening with my girlfriend and people are asking to take pictures and stuff, sometimes I feel bad for her. She didn't ask to be in this scenario, and I did ask to be in this scenario. But other than that, I would say things are completely the same socially. Professionally, I feel like I won the lottery and I am the luckiest person in the entire world. I am just trying to make choices ... It is my responsibility to make good choices and to work my ass off, and that is all I care about.
You said you were a big film buff. When you come to something like South by Southwest and you are with a film, do you still get to go to movies?
Hill: It's harder to get the time to see films because of the press days and so forth, but I saw Leaves of Grass last night-Ed Norton and Tim Blake Nelson. Really good film, I thought. Really, really interesting tone and well acted, obviously, and well directed. I loved the tone of it. Did you see it?
Yes, that same night.
Hill: God, I loved how the tone shifted in that movie. But I want to see Kick-Ass. There are a few movies here I really want to check out. As far as movies I've seen recently, though, I want to say two movies I flipped out for. Catfish. I am a documentary buff. That is what I watch mostly.
Everyone loves Catfish.
Hill: Catfish and The Pat Tillman Story. Remarkable. Both of those were fantastic.
What are you looking forward to? You know the big movie summer is right around the corner.
Hill: I see everything. I am such a film buff. I mean, like I said, I read the websites when I don't have to. I love it. I love film. I love rushing to go see a film that you are excited about. What's coming up ... ? I am really excited for The Green Hornet. I was there while they were shooting, and I have seen some of it, and I think people are going to love that film. I really think Seth, and Evan, and Michel Gondry are a fascinating collaboration. But I think they are going to make a really interesting film. What else is there? Your Highness. I've seen ... I can highly recommend Your Highness to people.
It has the Jonah Hill stamp of approval.
Hill: I love Danny and David, obviously. Iron Man I want to see. What else is coming ... ? Dinner for Schmucks. I want to see Dinner for Schmucks. Isn't Alexander Payne making a movie?
The Descendants, I think.
Hill: Yeah. Oh, and Despicable Me.
Well, you mentioned games. I remember in that whole "Don't Vote" campaign, you were talking about playing Halo and everything. Do you game a lot?
Hill: I am not a huge gamer. I think I was more trying to relate to teenagers who maybe weren't going to vote, and found it very important that people vote this election. I think I have a unique grasp on that age group and really want to be as effective as possible. I play ... the new Call of Duty is incredible. My girlfriend's brother turned me onto it and I have been way psyched about that. I play a lot of games on my iPhone. There is a game called Rat on a Scooter that I will promote as much as possible because it has brought me so much joy.
Rat on a Scooter. Wow, okay.
Hill: It is really incredible. And the new Mario for Wii is really good, too.
Well, cool. So Cyrus is coming out when?
Hill: July 9th. We are opening LA and New York and then slowly expand from there.
And then Moneyball?
Hill: We are shooting in June.