Jonah Hill ‘Just Wants to Make Cool Stuff’

“Moneyball” marks a transition in the slapstick comedian’s career

Jonah Hill Harvard Crimson Interview
Hojung Lee, Jenna R. Overton, and Andrew J. Petschek

In just over five years, Jonah Hill has gone from being a side-splitting minor character in assorted Judd Apatow movies to an actor widely recognized for his unmistakable talent, even outside of comedy films. The 27-year-old actor is currently starring alongside Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the drama “Moneyball,” marking an important transition in his career. For while Hill has proved a brilliant funnyman, his new role displays a level of performance versatility and personal maturity beyond any of his previous work.

“Moneyball” tells the true story of Billy Beane (Pitt), an ex-baseball player who, while serving as General Manager for the Oakland Athletics in 2002, employed a different system of player selection that privileges new statistical metrics over received baseball wisdom. In his quest to identify undervalued players, Beane hires Peter Brand (Hill), an overweight Yale-educated economist who has extensively studied this particular field of sports-science. Together, the men compile a team that goes on to win a record 20 consecutive games and to craft a system of player evaluation that forever changes the game of baseball.

Though well-rounded, “Moneyball” would certainly be characterized as a drama—a genre relatively foreign to Hill. “There are funny moments in the movie, but they’re different types of comedy than what I’ve ever done,” he says. The actor is usually associated with the Apatow clan, a group of filmmakers responsible for more lowbrow comedies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad”—in which Hill made his debut as a leading actor—and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Hill’s one-liners, both on screen and off, have made him the stuff of fan legend.

But some of Hill’s snarkier comments have recently come back to haunt him. With his participation in “Moneyball,” a fair amount of media attention has been brought to bear on a statement he made about co-star Pitt years ago, to the effect that wildly attractive actors like Pitt don’t need to try as hard to succeed in the world of motion pictures. Asked about these words now, Hill chalks them up to immaturity and inexperience.

“I [emerged] in the public eye at a very young age, so often I see my idiotic words from when I was 21 or 22 years old, and that’s a perfect example,” he says. “At that point in my life, there was no part of me that ever could have imagined co-starring with Brad Pitt. What I thought I knew about the world of filmmaking then turned out to be nothing and it still is, now, just a little sliver more.”

Blunders of youth are not the only thing keeping Hill humble at the moment. “Moneyball” represents a genre of film in which he has minimal experience, and though the actor stepped up to the plate and delivered a performance that film critics have lauded, Hill still finds himself unsettled by the uncertainty that comes with all new endeavors.

“I feel right now the way I felt when ‘Superbad’ was coming out, because I was an underdog. I was on a movie poster and I wasn’t famous; people didn’t know who I was,” he says. “Now it’s not unexpected for me to do a comedy [but] with this film I’m the underdog again because I’m unexpected and unlikely to be chosen to be in this movie with Brad and Philip Seymour Hoffman. So I’m the underdog again, I’m saying ‘Hey I’m Jonah, I hope you accept me.’”

Part of Hill’s amiable charm is his unassuming optimism. He doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen next in his career, or what people are going to think of him in this new dramatic guise, but for the time being there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

“Anything you want someone to see you as is a projection, and it’s false because you’re designing something ... instead of just existing,” he explains. “I just want to make cool stuff. I want to make cool movies, whether a comedy or drama or anything. I just hope to be allowed the opportunity to do what I’m doing now, which is make comedies and dramas, [to] do both and have people not hate them.”

—Staff writer Jenna R. Overton can be reached at jennaoverton@college.harvard.edu.

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