Jonah Hill in Funny People
Jonah Hill’s meteoric rise to stardom has been nothing short of astounding. After making his debut just five years ago in I Heart Huckabees, he tracked down Judd Apatow and managed to land a smaller part in The 40 Year-Old Virgin as the kid who doesn’t understand the concept of Ebay stores. He followed with roles in Knocked Up and Evan Almighty before the Apatow-produced Superbad broke out Jonah Hill as a comedy superstar (and veritable master of lewd sexual innuendo) in late 2007. He’s been working almost non-stop ever since.
Funny People re-teams Jonah Hill with the Apatow gang in the role of Leo, a stand-up and roommate of fellow comedian Ira Wright, played by Seth Rogen. The two comics happen to be performing one night when superstar George Simmons (Adam Sandler) steps back onstage to try out some new, darker material after learning he might be dying. The two young comedians impress the star and he asks them to help him write some new material. True to the ever-evolving Apatow formula, Funny People is a poignant mix of comedy and drama with exceptional performances from the entire cast.
During an exclusive interview with Jonah Hill, Fandango spoke to the actor about re-teaming with the Apatow family, trying out stand-up for the very first time and his endless slate of upcoming projects, including the Forgetting Sarah Marshall spin-off, Get Him to the Greek.
Fandango: Apatow told us you all had to do some lengthy stand-up sets in front of live audiences at the start of filming, but unlike Apatow, Rogen and Sandler, you don’t have a stand-up background. What was it like to be thrust on stage with a mic for the first time?
Jonah Hill: It was pretty frightening. Seth and Adam had years of stand-up experience. Honestly, the first show went remarkably well. We have it on film. From there on, it went kind of downhill…It’s almost like, when someone plays poker for the first time, they might be a professional poker player out of ignorance, just accidentally winning. That was how it felt in my first stand-up appearance.
Fandango: Did Seth, Judd or Adam offer any words of advice?
Hill: The main advice that Seth and Judd would give me was to act like you’re having the best time in the world and that you’re the most confident person in the world even though you’re not. That definitely helped. I’m familiar enough with stand-up comedy to know what I like. I knew my act was going to be very personal and draw things from my life.
Fandango: And you and Seth got to write a lot of the stand-up material together.
Hill: Yeah, I think both of us tried to write good material. It was about just getting comfortable doing that over and over again. Some shows went better than others. I think Seth had a harder time being bad at stand-up because he’s so remarkably good at it.
Fandango: The Apatow productions seem like such a family affair and everyone looks like they’re having such a blast together on set. Now that you’re stepping out of that world a bit, is it hard to lose that support group?
Hill: It’s different. You get homesick, I guess. You’re not surrounded by 50 of your friends. Even with Get Him to the Greek, which Judd is producing and Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is directing, it’s not the same because usually I have like ten friends to hang out with. I’m the lead with Russell Brand and - as great of a guy as he is - he’s not one of my friends for like ten years, so it’s just a different vibe. This guy’s a megastar in his own right. Funny People was so enjoyable because it was like coming home again.
Fandango: You and Brand are hysterical together in Sarah Marshall. How challenging has it been to expand that relationship into a full movie?
Hill: I didn’t want to make a spinoff movie because I really like the thought of trying to be completely original with every movie you make. Nick obviously saw something funny in the dynamic between myself and Russell and said, “Why don’t we make Russell a rock star and you a music executive and you’re both different people?” But then it felt weird for Russell to play a different rock star, so we kept him as [Aldous Snow]. I play a different character. What I liked about him was that he became the most normal and together guy I’ve ever played in a movie. It’s been an incredible experience. I think the movie could possibly be one of the funniest I’ve ever done.
Fandango: What are you shooting after Greek?
Hill: I’m going to make a movie called The Adventurer’s Handbook for Universal with Jason Schwartzman and Jason Segel that Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) is directing. It’s basically if these normal guys were in an R-Rated adventure movie. For some reason, people accept the fact in movies like Indiana Jones that everyone is used to those insane things happening, whereas we clearly do not know how to handle it. We’re just thrust into it.
Fandango: A lot of people were surprised to hear that you are also working opposite Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly in the Duplass Brother’s (Baghead) next movie.
Hill: I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s definitely the most dramatic movie I’ve ever been a part of. It’s far and away the most diverse role I’ve ever played. I mean, some of it is funny. I’m definitely a really emotionally problematic human being in the movie.
Fandango: Is it more draining as an actor to dig into those emotional moments in comparison to the more lighthearted material you’ve done?
Hill: No, I loved it. Like anything I try and do, you just try and be as realistic as you possibly can. Funny People is my favorite performance of myself to date. Even though it’s a comedy and there are serious moments, I really felt like Leo felt like a real person. It didn’t feel like I was playing myself. Whether it’s a comedy or drama, I just try to make it as realistic as possible.
Fandango: You mentioned on Letterman last week that a Twitter imposter was attacking Jon Favreau. Did you ever catch the culprit?
Hill: No, I never did. I emailed Jon Favreau. This guy was talking trash to Favreau and he was upset and trashed him back. The confusion’s been settled.
Fandango: So you’re clear for Iron Man 3.
Hill: (Laughs) Yeah, if I’m lucky.
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