Jonah Hill has succeeded in doing what lies beyond the reach of many actors before him - transforming himself physically, and in the eyes of audiences' perceptions. Previously known as the roly-poly pal in Judd Apataw comedies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Get Me To The Greek), he has dropped the kilos and upped the gravity, and been rewarded with an Oscar nomination for his role in Moneyball, alongside Brad Pitt.
So what brought about the change, and what's it brought him in return?
Q. You've had success in comedies. Was it hard switching to more dramatic roles?
A. I don't know if it came out around the world but I made a film called Cyrus and that was far more of a dramatic performance than I'd ever given before. This is obviously a drama. I'm the second lead in this drama. It's a great feeling. The pedigree of people like Bennett and Brad and Phil Hoffman and Sorkin and Zailian and Scott Rudin. It's an endless list of qualified dramatic producers, writers, director and actors. I'm really happy. This is obviously a dramatic film. I don't try and make a movie to serve a purpose other than, I hope at the end of my life I've made great movies that people enjoyed and that I'm proud of. Whether it's a comedy or drama or whether I'm the lead or the second lead or the twentieth lead, I just want to work with great filmmakers and make great movies. I'm an actor. I want to do dramas as well as comedies. I saw it last night. I've never been so prideful.
Q. How did you get involved in the film?
A. I've never been so proud of something in my life. Even being a part of this movie and the performance and the movie itself, having seen it last night. Comedy is something that's really special to me. I love making people laugh and making funny movies, but I also loves dramas as films. I love doing that. Now that I've done it, I really enjoyed it. There were a handful of actors up for this part. The one's you would think would normally play this part: the highest quality dramatic actors my age. I was somehow in that mix after Cyrus. I showed Bennett Cyrus and then that's how I got the part. He thought I could play the part well.
Q. Was it hard not to slip into comedic subtleties acting in the film?
A. No, not at all. Honestly, when you're doing a comedy, you know the purpose is to tell a story but you really have a goal of making people laugh quite a bit within the film. That wasn't my intention with playing this character. There are funny moments but they're very honest and very, very grounded. But it's a dramatic film.
Q. Was it intimidating acting with Brad Pitt?
A. If I walk onto a comedy set, I don't feel any intimidation or anything. I kind of know my way around at this point. I really am thankful for Cyrus because to just go from doing comedies to doing this would have been a really intimidating thing because of the laundry list of talented people involved with Moneyball. Acting opposite John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei [in Cyrus] and having it be a more serious film for me was definitely great practice to come to do this. It got me ready. I was so intimidated to work with John and Marisa in that setting. Short answer is, yes, I was intimidated. But I knew I had it in me.
Q. Do you find comedy challenging in its own way?
A. Look, you are who's on your team and whom you're playing against. You have to step up to whatever level. If you're playing with the best, like Brad, Bennett and Phil Hoffman, you need to step up. They bring you up to a higher level. Same goes with comedy. If you're acting with Ben Stiller or Adam Sandler or Sacha Baron Cohen or Will Ferrell or one of those guys, they bring you up a level. If I could tell you who my heroes were as actors, it would be like Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman and Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly because they're guys who do comedy and drama so wonderfully. They do both so respectfully and have such skill at both. That's whom I admire, career-wise.
Q. Did you relate to this character in any way?
A. I'm not necessarily someone who would go out and see a film about baseball. It's about someone putting a value on someone after just meeting them. Or judging a book by its cover. I know who you are, this is what you're worth and that's that. I think everyone's felt that way at some point. Like someone's given you a value based on whatever reason. The movie's really about what happens when someone takes a chance on someone the world sees as valueless. That's a story I can relate to. You could have hired actors A, B or C who have been in Oscar movies before. They chose me because they thought I could do it, even if the rest of the world doesn't or whatever. You get to prove people wrong.
Q. Have you ever felt like your character does in the film: undervalued and unappreciated?
A. I think everybody's felt that way at some point. I think everyone's been judged at some point or put into a box or told they're a certain way and that's that. It takes time and interest and energy to get to know who someone is and what they're truly worth as a person.
Q. Have you ever had to fire someone like you do in the movie?
A. Yes I have. It was not a fun experience. I can't imagine a situation where having to let someone go is fun, but in the movie, that's one of my favorite scenes.
Q. Is it true you and Brad played a lot of pranks on set?
A. There was a lot of golf-cart races between Brad and I. We had these little golf carts to get to set and we'd smash them into each other and ride around like maniacs. The practical jokes started with the golf carts and it escalated from there but it was fun. Brad kind of raises the bar for all famous movie stars in terms of being the greatest guy to hang around with and spend time with and act with. He's one of a kind. Great guy. He's so admirable if you look at his filmography, which is something I'm now starting to adapt to my own career. He could have gone and done very obvious choices for him, but he challenges himself and just makes unique films. I beyond respect that and hope to adapt that to my own choices.
Q. Did you improvise on set or was Sorkin's dialogue sacred?
A. I can't really remember how much we improvised. Maybe a little bit. But I think when Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian write the script, it's a little ridiculous to think you can do a better job off the cuff. Those guys are pretty talented.
Q. Bennett said there was some kind of "voodoo" quality to Brad's talent. Did you have that feeling as well?
A. I think there's something very special about him. He's exceptionally talented. The fun part of our jobs is that we sometimes get to meet really interesting, talented people. That's a definite plus to this. I've gotten to work with many talented people. Someone like Brad is no exception. I respected every choice he made. I just saw the film last night. It may be my favourite performance of his. He's so raw in the movie. It's a beautiful performance.
Q. What's up next for you?
A. We just finished 21 Jump Street last week for Sony in New Orleans. It's a fun one.
Moneyball is out now on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Watch the trailer below...
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