Jonah Hill is in transition.
Old Jonah can’t be encapsulated in movie quotes. His most famous are just too explicit for publication. But he has become synonymous with Superbad, the disgracefully delicious celebration of teenage wasteland that made him famous.
Old Jonah proved that awkward, appalling and average were hilarious. Old Jonah gave us confirmation – we, the awkward and appalling and average high schoolers of 2007, were hilarious.
Yet just last week, over four years since Superbad’s triumphant release, Hill admitted to me that he often “eats [his] idiotic words from when [he] was 21 or 22 years old.” He called youth “dangerous.” He exalted the “experience and life lessons” that come with age.
Is this the end of our pubescent protector Jonah Hill? What about us? The end of taboo busting Apatow films in which we could hide our inhibitions? The end of his marked oversized t-shirts in which we could hide our extra circumference?
Yes and no. Jonah Hill is in transition. And while Hill’s recent weight loss is his most visible and publicized transformation, it’s a symptom, rather than the center, of his metamorphosis.
In a starched shirt and virile skinny jeans, his hair perfectly combed at Boston’s Four Seasons Hotel, new Jonah appears the antithesis to the round faced, afroed misfit he once was; he even looks handsome. He grins as his eyes insatiably soak in our conference room. He’s electrified.
Tomorrow, Hill’s latest film Moneyball releases, a dramatic recount of general manager Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) attempt to draft a World Series Oakland A’s team on a shoestring budget. Hill plays Peter Brand, a college graduate with an economic formula to dissolve the complexities of baseball into one single number of athletic worth, an equation that makes him indispensable to Beane – and to baseball.
The film is decidedly mature for Hill, but he never seems out of place in straight dialogue scenes or tenuous dugout drama. In fact, his comedic history provides a softer counterpart to Pitt’s asperity and actually endears the audience to cheer for Beane.
“This movie just feels like some surreal dream. I never imagined being able to do dramas,” Hill announces before the interview even begins. He just needed to get it out there. He’s excited.
“What I thought I knew about the world of filmmaking [at the time of Superbad] turned out to be nothing…at that point in my life, there was no part of me that could have ever imagined costarring with Brad Pitt. I was naïve.”
Hill isn’t so naïve now. I ask about the actual “moneyball” formula and whether it could be useful in the movie industry to combat the popularity contest Hollywood presents to underrated actors.
“There’s a massive comparison between Moneyball and Hollywood. Unfortunately, it is all based on ticket sales so the studios make their decisions based on who can get people to come – and that’s it. It’s really just a number. Any studio head you talk to will say, “we look at a receipt and we see how much money you’re worth.”’
A markedly dark, but sophisticated, take on the industry he loves. Hill abhors the application of “moneyball” in Hollywood. It can be a bestial business.
However, he takes a moment to highlight the “f—— unique dramas” like Social Network and Moneyball and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that Sony makes regardless of monetary concerns. Despite his obvious ties to the production company, the passion with which he champions movies that “should be made” foreshadows where he could go in the business.
Before I can explore his cinema philosophies further, Hill interjects:
“Can I just say how much fun this interview is?”
Ahh, now there’s our old Jonah, reveling in the fun of just another interview. Even with his praise of adult wisdom, he can’t stay too serious for too long. It would be a desertion of his past.
He’s getting giddy again. He bounces in his chair, but becomes glossy-eyed in the “surreal dream” of Moneyball once more:
“I feel right now the way I felt when Superbad was coming out because I was an underdog. I was on the movie poster and I wasn’t famous and…I was saying, “Hey, I’m Jonah, I’m in this movie and I would like to make more of these movies and I hope you accept me.’ I’m the underdog again now and I feel similarly,” he admits a bit tentatively.
He calls the interview the “highlight of his day” – and despite his celebrity, it might actually be. His matured look and plotlines are evidence of his in-progress metamorphosis, but the cherubim curve of his cheeks remains. He’s filled with youthful optimism and his enthusiasm for the future is contagious.
Jonah Hill is in transition, but he’s still us. And that’s why it will be thrilling to follow Jonah as he boldly marches further into the belly of the beast.