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An Interview with Jonah Hill

By Jake Mulligan
On September 23, 2011


If you didn't see Jay and Mark Duplass' wonderfully unsettling comedy "Cyrus" last year, odds are you haven't thought about Jonah Hill as a serious dramatic actor. After all, this is the guy who played very similar roles in "Superbad", "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", "Funny People", "Get Him to the Greek"…. How much range could he have? Turns out it's a lot.

In "Moneyball", Hill plays Peter Brand, a fictional character placed into the very real world of the Oakland A's. He depicts the man who introduces them to sabremetrics (the techniques that led to their ‘smallball' style and shockingly low payroll), and his reserved performance is a true revelation. Hill plays the character with unrelenting self-consciousness, always repeating himself, sometimes even aiming to blend in with walls. On the eve of the films open, Jonah was kind enough to sit down with the Voice to talk about the next stage of his career, the challenges of playing a fake character in a true story, and the perils of a prank war with Brad Pitt.

[As we started recording, we were speaking about the mix of comedy and drama in the film, which definitely tilts more towards the dramatic side]

Jonah: There are funny moments in the movie like that, but their different types of comedy that I've ever done. Where it comes from just such a small character moment that can be so explosive for some reason.

Question: I heard there was a pretty intense prank war between you and Brad.

Jonah: Ya, but it was very one-sided. He's like the Bobby Fischer of pranks. He's a chess master. I consider myself a funny guy, but I'm not that great with pranks… they take a lot of time and effort! Especially at his level of skill. He decided I was obsessed with the band ‘Wham!', he decided for me. So it started with I would go out to my characters office…. And there'd be a huge framed Wham! poster on my desk. Then we'd have these golf carts, which we'd race and cause trouble. I loved it, my own golf cart, it was awesome, no one was allowed to use it except for me. I was very prideful, and he's had a few in his day, but to me this was a huge sign of respect. He knew I loved it, so he started messing with it. I'd walk outside and there'd be no wheels, it'd be on cinderblocks. Then another time I came outside and it's upside down. And also he's in there with me shooting the scene! Which means he has secret prank elves who do this while we're working. Eventually he engineered something where every time I turned on my golf cart, it automatically blasted ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go'. It was like a Wham! ice cream truck.

Question: Do you think A-Listers in Hollywood get more roles because they're better looking? Certainly your character in the film is fighting a similar stereotype in baseball.

Jonah: At the end of the day, it is all based on ticket sales. The studios make their decisions based on who can get people to come…. And that's it. Amy Pascal, who runs Sony, and the people at Sony, there very special and they care about their movies. They make movies like "The Social Network", "Moneyball", "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", real adult tentpole dramas, movies like this are not being made other places. It's really fucking unique. Everyone there is killing it. They really do make decisions based on making great movies. They make their movies like "Spider-Man" which they know will make tons of money for them, so they have that luxury I guess, but they care. And I think, at the end of the day, any studio head you talk to will say ‘We look at your receipt and that's how much money your worth.' So of course I see a big comparison between ‘Moneyball' and Hollywood.

Question: Your starting out as a dramatic actor now. What directors would you love to work with?

Jonah: Paul Thomas Anderson. Spike Jonze. Wes Anderson. Martin Scorsese. Robert Zemeckis. Steven Spielberg.

Question: Would you prefer the studio game, or are you interested in independent films?

Jonah: Oh, and JJ Abrams. But, I don't know. It depends on the movie. ‘Is this a studio movie' is not even something I ask, its something told to me in passing. I don't care if its made for $2 or $200 million dollars, if that makes sense.

Question: As an actor, what do you think is undervalued about you? That's certainly a theme of this film.

Jonah: Strong question. The movie is about underdogs. I feel right now the way I felt when ‘Superbad' was coming out. Very similar. With that I was an underdog, I was on the poster and you didn't know who I was, I was saying ‘hey, I'm Jonah, I'm in this movie and I'd like to make more of these movies and I hope you accept me.' Now I'm no longer an underdog in the comedy world, not to say I'm good at it, but I've made a few of them. Now, with "Moneyball", I'm the underdog again. I'm unexpected and unliukely to be chosen to be in a movie with Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. So now again I'm saying ‘Hey, I'm Jonah, I'm in a totally different movie than your use to seeing me in, I hope you accept me again.'

Question: What do you want people to see as in the future? 

Jonah: Anything you want someone to see you as is a projection, it's false. Your designing something for yourself instead of just existing. I can find the negative in any sentence anyone says about me, and that may be an unfortunate quality, but I think most actors or directors can. I just want to make cool stuff, cool movies. Whether it's comedy or dramas or anything, I just want the opportunity to do what I'm doing now, which is make both and have people not hate them.

"Moneyball" opens today in theaters everywhere.

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