Street sat down with Jonah Hill and chatted about his upcoming film Moneyball, co–starring Brad Pitt. He talked about breaking into the dramatic film genre and why he’s more than just a “curly–haired cursing kid.” [Note: We’re inclined to believe him since at time of interview, his hair was totally slicked back and not at all curly. New look, new man?]
Street: This drama is very different than the Apatow-style comedies you’re known and loved for. Why the change?
Jonah Hill: When I came into the public eye, I was a young guy. When you’re young, you’re trying to figure out what you want to do. I love comedy; I love making comedies, but it took me a while to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. For me, it’s really about making comedies and making dramas and taking them both as seriously as the other one. This is kind of the first introduction to people like, “Hey, I want to make dramatic films also.” So it’s very exciting and very nerve–wracking at the same time.
Street: Are you making a conscious effort to do more dramas?
JH: I am making a conscious effort to do more dramas, if the movies are good. I don’t care if it’s a drama or a comedy or a period piece — it wouldn’t matter to me as long as I felt like it could be a great movie. You should never make decisions based on “I don’t want to be perceived this way.” You gotta just say, “I’m gonna dedicate time to this.” I’m in the fortunate position where they’re letting me make movies. I’m gonna try to make the best ones I can make, whether it’s the funniest movie ever or the saddest movie ever or the most moving movie ever. You just gotta try and make stuff that’s great.
Street: I thought you brought some laughs to the movie. Was it a funny script or are you just a funny guy?
JH: I mean, there are laughs in the movie, but I definitely wouldn’t say my character is comic relief. I think Brad’s character really has a lot of funny moments. There are funny moments, but they’re not jokes — not like making some comical observation or something — it just comes from the wildness of the situation. [Aaron] Sorkin and his team are great writers and carry a lot of natural humor in their writing. In a comedy, we have to really be conscious of how often we are making people laugh. But this, there’s never a rule.
Street: Do you think your fan base will follow you to this film or will Moneyball attract a different audience?
JH: I don’t really think about what I bring fan–base–wise to a movie. I think about what I can bring creatively to a movie. I’m asking my fans to accept me in dramas as well as comedies and I’m asking people, not fans of mine, who are fans of Brad and Phil [Hoffman], who just saw me as some curly–haired cursing kid, to see me as a guy who’s maturing and growing up in front of them and is capable of more than what they thought. I think I relate to my character a lot in this movie because Brad and [director] Bennett [Miller] really shined a light on me and said, “We’re going to give you this opportunity to show what you’re capable of in another form.” And I really appreciate that.
Street: Do you get intimidated delivering to Brad Pitt or does it boost your performance having an actor of his caliber across from you?
JH: I’m used to doing comedies, and this is a drama and it’s intimidating to have such a big opportunity to do something so different. Obviously working with Phil Hoffman and Brad Pitt, two of the best dramatic actors, and [Bennett] Miller, one of the best dramatic filmmakers, and Sorkin and [Steven] Zaillian, two of the best writers, the intimidation thing is crazy. Then after the first few rehearsals you’re like, “I just gotta do a good job; people trusted me to be in their movie.” You just gotta go for it, man.
Street: Do you find that being a writer and comedian yourself gives you better insight as an actor?
JH: You get rhythmically what’s happening. I think writing, directing, producing, acting — they all inform the other one. I couldn’t imagine not doing one of the other ones because I think they all make me better as an actor. Being an actor while I’m writing, I know what it’s like to actually be the person who’s going to have to go say those words, so I can have a little bit of insight on that. As an actor, I can see what the writer’s doing in certain cases and see what they’re going for. All that matters about a scene is the intention of it, not the words themselves or anything; it’s just what the scene’s about and staying true to that.
Street: What was the biggest message from the movie that you would want to get across?
JH: If you like sports and baseball, you’ll like the movie a lot, obviously. But if you could care less about sports or baseball, the filmmakers just use baseball as a beautiful backdrop to tell a really moving story about being undervalued and being an underdog.
Street: Your character, Peter Brand, is relatable and inspirational to college kids. In this film are you trying to communicate with that audience?
JH: Yeah, I’m lucky to be younger and have a younger audience because you guys are the people that really support me and allow me to continue to make movies. I do think Peter, being that young and the assistant GM of a pro baseball team and changing baseball, is really inspirational. A lot of the movie is about thinking differently and changing the way the old guard does things. Just ‘cause it’s been done for 150 years doesn’t mean that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Street: If you were to compare Peter to any of your comedic characters, which do you think is the most similar?
JH: I don’t think I could — not that it’s a bad question, I just don’t think I could pick anyone with his maturity. I realized I’ve never played anyone who’s really great at something. It’s interesting to play someone with a really discernible skill.
Street: You went to college but dropped out. Do you have any regrets about your decision?
JH: Honestly, I can’t say I have any regrets. Obviously, my life turned out so interesting and cool, and I’m so lucky. But I only had a year–and–a–half of college, and I kind of wish I had had two–and–half more carefree years. College is pretty awesome. No regrets, obviously, but it would’ve been pretty cool to have another two–and–a–half years of fun and less responsibility. I would just say don’t rush into becoming an adult. Being an adult will be there for you forever.
Street: What advice can you give to college kids interested in getting into the entertainment industry?
JH: I would say write everyday. Young filmmakers, I would say the most important thing you could do is write and learn how to be a writer, because everything starts with a great script. Every director is looking for a great script, every actor is looking for a great script. The only person that can write a great script is a writer. And the only way to get better as a writer is to write everyday. That’s what I learned from Judd and people that mentored me.
Check out Street‘s review of Moneyball here.