The first time I noticed Jonah Hill was his role as the foul-mouthed friend in Superbad even though he'd had roles in such films as Evan Almighty, Click and I Heart Huckabees before that, and, of course, his small roles in Judd Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. However, Superbad was three years ago and now Hill's built a solid resume of comedic roles and this summer even moves into more dramatic territory with Fox Searchlight's Cyrus and will follow that up with the straightforward drama Moneyball in 2011 for Capote director Bennett Miller and opposite Brad Pitt. This is all on top of a script he's co-writing for an adaptation of "21 Jump Street", which he will also star in. To say this 26-year-old has come a long way would be an understatement.
So, when Hill came to Seattle along with Russell Brand in promotion of their upcoming film Get Him to the Greek I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to sit down with him. Along with Laremy Legel, RopeofSilicon's Box-Office Oracle writing for Film.com, we sat down with Hill at Seattle's Hotel 1000 for a brief chat.
In Get Him to the Greek Russell Brand reprises the role of Aldous Snow, the UK rocker dating Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and while the character's the same we aren't talking about a sequel as much as a parallel world running alongside Sarah Marshall.
Hill's character from that film, Matthew the Waiter, is no more and he is now playing Aaron Green, a peon at a major record label assigned with the task of getting Aldous, a drug addict and burnt out rock star, from the United Kingdom to Los Angeles, for a reunion show with his band, Infant Sorrow, a band we tell Hill we would be a fan of with or without the movie. "Me too!" Hill agreed. "They're just trying to be a straightforward rock and roll band, which I think is pretty cool. Although I loved Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I feel like in Get Him to the Greek we genuinely plucked a rock star out. It feels like a real band, and that makes the movie work."
In fact, Aldous represents a dying breed of rock star, or as Hill says, "We don't have any more rock stars." When asked if any current rockers come to mind he says, "When someone asked me this the other day I said Jack White as sort of the closest thing we have to a rock and roll superhero right now. But still, I don't know Mr. White, but I would imagine he doesn't live like Aldous lives or we would have heard about it already. There are a lot of great new bands that I love, so I'm not saying music sucks, because it doesn't, far from it. But as far as rock icons, Jack White is the closest thing, but there isn't that 'live hard, rock hard' guy like Aldous. We were definitely trying to capture an old school throwback insane person."
As for what Hill is interested in, his eyes light up at the prospect of talking music as he quickly begins rattling off names, "I love talking about bands that aren't as popular. Vampire Weekend, love them. I like Drake as far as popular music goes. I like Dr. Dog. Beirut. Arcade Fire. Ratatat. Dr. Dog is on this label called Park the Van, which is this Philly label and they have this guy Seth Kauffman who is really good."
Hill grew up in a music business family where his father was a tour accountant, which he used to help him as well as director Nicholas Stoller with Get Him to the Greek, "When [Nicholas Stoller] first pitched me this idea I told him a lot of stories, talked to my dad a lot, because my dad is a really sweet guy, not a party animal, a family man, who was tour accountant for Guns N' Roses and people like Aldous," Hill said. "He really lived this life as an honest straightforward sweetheart in this wild world. He was on tour when we were young, so I just grew up in it. My brother ended up becoming a music manager, so I thought I could bring an authenticity to this character. And then once we got Sean Combs to play Sergio he really went through the script with us and authenticated all things music business. We wanted it to feel like we were making an authentic movie about the music business as well as a hardcore comedy and a character based film."
I can't verify the authenticity of the music side of things, but I can tell you they made an excellent comedy that will surely have audiences laughing. It seems to have come across almost effortlessly as they spend just as much time on the characters as they do delivering the punchlines. When asked how easy it was to create characters that felt so natural Hill got a bit defensive and seemed to want to make sure we knew it wasn't all horseplay.
"I would definitely not say it was easy. Because I think making these movies is difficult, even though they're fun and funny," he said. "People often think we just hang around and see what happens but it's a tremendous amount of hard work. We're not just dicking around. I think the comedy comes from these characters, and that's my personal style of comedy. It has to come from character, and emotion, and what the character is going through. It all starts with the character and everything should come from that."
A lot of it comes from the characters, but with Get Him to the Greek some of it also comes from the songs, and infact an entire CD has been released (buy it here) featuring 15 songs from Infant Sorrow, one of which is titled "Bangers, Beans and Mash" written by Jason Segel who wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall and introduced the world to Aldous Snow. Segel wasn't on set, but his presence is certainly felt. "I believe he came to some table reads," Hill says. "He probably read the script, he probably gave his input on the script. Jason created the character of Aldous Snow, and he wrote like five of the songs. Talented guy."
Actually, the total number of songs Segel wrote/co-wrote for the film was four. Along with "Bangers, Beans and Mash" you will also hear such suggestive songs as "Supertight" sung by Rose Byrne as "Jackie Q", "Going Up" and one that was first heard in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the instant classic, "Inside of You" which is featured just to the right.
But while Brand was working with Jason Segel's already established character of Aldous Snow, Hill had to leave Matthew the Waiter behind and find a voice for Aaron Green. With Get Him to the Greek, Hill's character is the human aspect of the story just trying to make sense and get through the chaotic world that surrounds Aldous, and Hill has the chops to pull it off as well as keep up with the fantastic comedic talent of Russell Brand.
Hill's managed his career intelligently and made sure to stay clear of films that would be detrimental to that career, "I think you reach for the stars. I'm a very motivated guy. At the same time I feel super lucky and appreciative. I don't think Fuck you guys, I deserve to be here! I think This is awesome and I'm going to work as hard as I can until they tell me not to work anymore. It's about hard work and doing the movies you love," Hill said.
"I was in Superbad and then I waited a long time to star in another movie because I wanted it to be good. People think, 'Oh, he's not getting jobs anymore,' or whatever, they perceive all these different things, but I'd rather not do a movie, or do one scene in a movie I think will be great, than star in shitty movie. Taking your time and being thoughtful pays off. So this year, I couldn't picture a better year. These two animated movies, How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, myself and Brad Pitt. Get Him to the Greek which is a big fun summer comedy and then Cyrus is a more dramatic and funny leading role, where I play Cyrus with John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei. And then Moneyball is just this incredible big drama. It's a big dramatic movie. People think I'm a comedian, but I'm not. I'm not a stand-up. I love Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese as much as I love Harold Ramis and John Landis. I just love movies. I'm super lucky to be doing this stuff."
Lucky indeed, and while I am sure many of us could poke holes in his film selection and his idea of what is, or isn't, a shitty movie (The Invention of Lying anyone?) he's certainly managed to choose more good films than bad ones and Get Him to the Greek is one many people are going to enjoy as it makes its way into theaters, this Friday, June 1.
For more information on the film including the RopeofSilicon gallery of pictures and trailers click here and stay tuned for my interview with Russell Brand, which will be online tomorrow.