King of the Hill

0217coverFrom the curly-haired klutz who played an essential role in Judd Apatow’s comedy revolution, to Academy Award nominations and high praise from the master himself, Martin Scorcese, Jonah Hill’s willingness to take characters to new levels of outlandishness has made him one of Hollywood’s brightest comedic talents, and he’s not stopping there. Jlife Magazine caught up with Mr. Hill to get the low-down on the exciting projects he’s been working on.

When people look back on what acclaimed director Judd Apatow brought to the Hollywood table, the names of Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd will spring immediately to mind, but in truth it’s the early outsider Jonah Hill who has arguably made the greatest impression on critics and fans alike.

Hill, a seven-time Apatow-collaborator, began his journey to the top with a brief cameo in Apatow’s directorial debut “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in 2005 which led, of course, to a starring role in 2007’s “Superbad”—the role which showcased all of the then-23-year-old’s undeniable comic talents.

Just over a decade later, Hill has made the transition from the prince of coming-of-age comedy to bona fide silver screen superstar with envy-inducing ease. Having developed a reputation to take on even the most outlandish characters with aplomb, Hill’s latest project, “War Dogs,” (recently available on DVD and Blue-ray) was no exception. The star played Ephraim Diveroli, one half of a real-life duo of twenty-somethings who ended up accidentally being tasked with overseeing a U.S. arms deal worth $300 million.

Even by Hill’s standards, this story stands out.

“It was just an insane story—I couldn’t believe that it actually happened,” the always-affable Hill laughs. “The character was so extreme. He’s just one of those people you can’t believe exist when you read about them. It’s always a good challenge to play someone that, on paper, you might not even believe was real.”

And with a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor nomination, it seems that Hill’s portrayal of Diveroli perfectly complemented the absurdity of the story—complete with an improvised high-pitched laugh that is sure to lodge in the minds of audiences, and an outrageous amount of spray tan.

“The tan was actually the hardest part,” he confides. “My body literally does not accept spray tan. We had to do it every day after shooting, and I’d go to bed and wake up with my bed sheets looking like a crime scene.”

Comparisons will no doubt be drawn between the eye-poppingly bronzed body that Hill displayed in “War Dogs,” and the blinding pearly whites that he exhibited in his most successful film to date: Martin Scorcese’s deliciously dark comedy, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which saw Hill’s performance as scheming stockbroker Donny Azoff nominated for an Academy Award.

“War Dogs” attracted the gaze of admiring critics, so could it be that Hill’s decision to pursue more established roles has paid off? After all he has virtually ditched the more rotund figure associated with his work as part of Apatow’s acting gang.  To this assumption Jonah admits he “doesn’t get rejected as much anymore.”

Jonah famously lost nearly 40 pounds for his role as a sports analyst in 2011’s “Moneyball” and has seem some ups and downs in that department since. He credited a good nutritionist and his love of sushi as tools that helped him originally shed the weight. However, a love of life and good times with family and friends hits him in the same spots that it hits most of us. As such, we have witnessed him struggle to keep it off over the last five years. Ironically, it has only made him that much more relatable and he continues to enjoy popular support from movie-going audiences.

And, it’s not just on-screen that Hill is gathering momentum as one of his generation’s finest comedy actors—after all, his childhood dream was to become a writer, and he “denied” his acting credibility for “a long time.”

“I thought it was un-cool to be an actor when I was younger,” he explains. “I grew up in Los Angeles, where everybody and their mother wants to be an actor. I always wanted to be a writer, a filmmaker.” (Hill grew up Jewish and was Bar Mitzvah’d)

Again, Hill’s stock behind the camera is rising. He has now not only worked with comedy-heavyweight and Ali-G creator Sacha Baren Cohen, but also co-wrote the story to the 2012 remake of classic cop-caper “21 Jump Street,” in which he also starred. It’s a far cry from the eager and impressionable boychik who “memorised every line in ‘Goodfellas’ and would recite it for parents to their horror.”

Hill is typically self-deprecating about his parents’ reaction to these impromptu one-man mafia-movies— “I think that was a moment for my parents where they thought ‘our son is probably going to end up doing this,” he jokes. It’s clear, however, that he remains indebted to the ever-reliable mishpocha that has surrounded him since birth and helped him develop a resistance to even the staunchest criticism—a worthy quality in the sometimes cut-throat world of cinema.

“Honestly, I think if you have a great family and friends, then you have a support system,” he says. “My self-worth doesn’t come from the opinion of strangers, it comes from the opinion of myself and the people that I love and love me back.”

“Of course, I think about fans or the audience or [getting] good reviews in the film,” he continues. “You want acceptance for your work, but you don’t do it for that reason. I make movies because I couldn’t imagine myself loving anything else enough to do that as an occupation.”

And when one sees a perma-tanned or plastic-toothed Hill lighting up screens with his own idiosyncratic brand of joy, it’s almost impossible to imagine him doing anything else.  

Jake Taylor is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.


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