A few weeks ago, actor Jonah Hill and writer/director Nicholas Stoller turned up in Austin for a special preview screening of Get Him to the Greek, entertaining an enthusiastic audience at an Alamo Drafthouse. The comedy stars Hill as Aaron Green, who works for a record label and somehow ends up with the responsibility of making sure rockstar-in-decline Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) gets to an anniversary concert in LA at, of course, the Greek. Aldous Snow is also a character in the movie Stoller directed before this one, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The above photos are from the Austin event -- many thanks to photographer and film geek Heather Leah Kennedy for granting permission to use them after I found them in her Flickr stream.
The morning after the Alamo screening -- bright and early, let me tell you -- Cinematical interviewed the actor and filmmaker. Stoller showed me how to play MASH -- the paper game that schoolkids play, which I'd played under a different name in grade school -- while Hill drew a doodle of Stoller that I'm sorry I didn't steal and share. We poked fun at the hotel's odd background music, which Stoller described as making him feel like we were in "the waiting room in Purgatory." It was a very lively interview, and I hope I've captured that after the jump.
Cinematical: What made you decide to take a character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and spin off a whole movie?
Nicholas Stoller: At the first Sarah Marshall table read, I thought Jonah and Russell had really good chemistry, and I knew that was a movie, if I get to make another movie after this. Then when we were shooting Sarah Marshall, I pitched them this idea and they both thought it was a really fun idea and different than stuff they'd done before. I originally started writing Aldous as a different rock star for this movie, because the plot required a rock star, and then I realized that would just seem lazy. So we made it a spinoff.
Jonah Hill: A lot of times, I'll just go by the safety of working with a certain director, and Nick is a complete comfy cozy blanket of safety. I never would worry about Nick making an awesome movie. And I trust him wholeheartedly, and was wanting to work with Russell and thinking the two of us would be funny together. So it was an easy decision.
Cinematical: The "African Child" video that opens Get Him to the Greek is right on target, a great spoof. What were the inspirations for that?
NS: Every pretentious song that a rock star sings when they're trying to be charitable. There isn't really a specific song, I just tried to think of the most horrible, borderline racist song -- without meaning to be racist, this pretentious condescending song. Dan Bern and Mike Viola wrote it -- I thought of the title "African Child" and they did a great job with the song.
Cinematical: Who wrote most of the songs in the movie?
NS: It was a combination of us thinking of titles or lyrics, and then we would give them to actual songwriters. Jason Segal wrote two of the songs, Dan Bern and Mike Viola wrote songs for Walk Hard and are singer-songwriters in their own right, Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, Carl Barat from The Libertines, and Inara George from Bird and the Bee wrote some stuff. It's a great lineup, and it was really important to us that you buy the songs as being real rock songs.
Cinematical: So Jason Segal wrote some of the songs, and there's a cameo from Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall -- are there other Forgetting Sarah Marshall-ish things that people should keep an eye out for?
NS: In the opening title sequence, there are Sarah Marshalls in the corner of one of those magazines that flies by.
JH: For fanboys.
NS: Yeah, for fanboys of Sarah Marshall.
Jonah: It's like Super 8.
NS: Yes, our movie's a lot like Super 8. That's our Thor hammer at the end of the movie.
Cinematical: And the movie also has a lot of pop-culture references and cameos.
JH: Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Mick Jagger, The Beatles --
NS: President Obama --
Cinematical: I didn't know who Paul Krugman was, and my husband was laughing his ass off when he saw Krugman, and had to explain it to me later.
JH: That gets such a big dad laugh.
NS: Yeah, that's our dad laugh.
JH: People love it though, when he shows up.
NS: You're either like, that's a weird-looking guy, and you chuckle, or you think it's the funniest thing if you know who he is.
JH: He [Krugman] liked it because he thought it was like Annie Hall.
NS: The philosopher in Annie Hall, I can't recall his name --
Cinematical: Marshall McLuhan.
JH: "You know nothing of my work." Like that. And little did he know, our movie's not as good as Annie Hall.
NS: I knew for that scene, we wanted someone you'd run into on the Today Show, but not from music or movies. And I'm a fan of his writing. He's a great cultural critic. But there's a moment where he's supposed to be enjoying the concert. And I asked him, "Can you tap your foot, you're watching the TV, just tap your foot." He said, "I wouldn't do that." And I wasn't asking him to do anything crazy, but I asked him, "Oh, okay, what would you do?" And he said, "I would do this --" and he moved his hand, like, imperceptibly to the music, and gave the weirdest smile. But I was very excited to meet him.
Cinematical: My husband didn't know who Tom Felton was, so I got to explain that one to him.
NS: Yeah, we're hitting both ends. If you don't know who Tom Felton is, you probably know who Paul Krugman is.
Cinematical: Do you think the movie will hold up in the long run, with so many pop culture references?
NS: Yes. Look at that Marshall McLuhan reference, it still works. And for a movie that takes place in the world of celebrities and celebrity culture, to ignore pop culture, I think would be irresponsible.
Cinematical: Jonah, is there any improv that you came up with in Get Him to the Greek that you're particularly pleased with that's in the film?
JH: Oh, yeah. There's certain ones I love. Like the sneezing with the drugs in my ass, that's something we just thought of while we were sitting there. But -- improv is one thing, but we're all writers, Russell and myself and Nick and Rodney Rothman [producer], and Nick is so incredibly cool and open about being collaborative, and I respect that so much. We can just sit, and you might think of a joke, and talk about it. You might think of 10 jokes and try them out.
NS: And before this point, we've really worked on the script. I mean, if we just shot the script, the movie wouldn't be as good, but it would work. I think there's a misperception that we just hang out --
JH: No, Nick wrote a great script.
NS: So we all work and rewrite the script. And that's true of Sarah Marshall. That's true of all of these movies -- so when the day comes, we're not just depending on improv. Improv works the best when you have a solid foundation.
Cinematical: Do you think you'll want to do some directing, and do you think you'd direct in a similar style?
JH: My goal in life is to be a director; that's my number-one ambition, is to direct movies. I'd definitely be collaborative, and I'd be open to improvisation because that's always what I enjoy the most in my experiences thus far. So, yeah, depending on the kind of movie and what your restrictions are, shooting-wise. But I definitely would hire people that I trust to be collaborative with. Working with Nick or Judd [Apatow] or the Duplass brothers, they're all similar in that they're collaborative and they're open to good ideas, no matter who has them, and that's something I've been lucky to be around. Some directors don't want to get anyone's ideas.
NS: I've worked on those movies, you know, when you don't improv or you don't get extra jokes, you just shoot the script. And you're making this kind of comedy, then when you're cutting the movie, you only have one joke to choose from, and what if it doesn't work? You need options. Oftentimes, the funniest thing on set just doesn't work. And vice versa -- a really small moment that you didn't notice when it happened can destroy.
JH: That's why, when I say I really trust Nick, that's when it comes into play. You know he's shot enough stuff, and he's willing to listen to the audience and figure it out. He listens to the audience and he listens to people's ideas and gets it to a place where it's the best it can be. And that's all you could ask for in a director, in my opinion, is that trust.
Cinematical: Okay, let's ask the predictable last question -- what you're working on now. I tried to look it up and Jonah, it looks like you're working on maybe 20 things.
JH: Yeah. I'm splitting myself into eight different people. I'm starting Moneyball soon, which stars Brad Pitt and myself, and we just found out Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright joined the cast today, which is awesome. And then I'm going to make this movie called The Sitter with David Gordon Green, I'm excited about that too.
JK: And Cyrus coming out at the end of June.
JH: This is the most insane year of my career, in that I never thought I'd be so lucky to have a movie like Greek and a movie like Cyrus come out in the same year. It's a dream situation: a big awesome comedy that I love, and then this smaller, really special, artsier film. I never thought I'd be lucky enough to get to express both sides of my taste like that.
Cinematical: I keep hearing about the new Muppet movie [The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever, which Stoller has co-written], is that happening?
NS: Oh yeah, it's happening, it's exciting. James Bobin from Flight of the Conchords is directing. He was our top choice, and he's a Muppet fanatic. I have a movie called Gulliver's Travels coming out at Christmas that I wrote, and Rob Letterman is directing. It's awesome, I saw an early cut, it's great.
If this isn't enough interview for you, check out Hill and Stoller discussing male nudity in films.