Jonah Hill is up for a supporting actor Oscar for his first dramatic turn in a major studio feature, “Moneyball,” and this whole awards season has been a heady time for the 28-year-old performer. Previously best known for his performances in the pop-culture hits of comedy mogul Judd Apatow (think “Superbad” and “Get Him to the Greek”), Hill first cut his dramatic chops with the Duplass brothers’ independent film, “Cyrus,” before his co-star Catherine Keener introduced him to “Moneyball” director Bennett Miller. The results have made Hill a dramatic actor to watch.
Earlier this year, we ran a cover story on Hill’s journey into dramatic films, an odyssey he said has paralleled his own personal and professional growth. Here’s revisiting our December interview with the actor*, which took place during a break from Hill’s Chanukkah shopping at House Café on Beverly Boulevard.
On how he got the “Moneyball” role: Catherine Keener had made “Capote” with Bennett and she told him, “I’m making “Cyrus” with Jonah; he’s never done anything like this and I think you need to meet him. So it was Catherine, really, who put that in the ether and got me a meeting with Bennett, but then everything was so unsure because it was a very dramatic role, and it was a big movie opposite Brad Pitt. So I kind of did a “Truman Show” on Bennett, meaning I asked the Duplass brothers if I could have a friends and family screening of an unfinished cut of “Cyrus” – and it was all b.s to get Bennett into the theater to see me in the movie. It was all fake, all set up for him, but the next day I was cast in “Moneyball.”
On his character, Peter Brand, a Yale math whiz who becomes Pitt’s baseball statistics nerd: I would say he’s very reserved, but there’s a lot of repressed feelings in there. I think if he had like a thorn in his foot he wouldn’t say anything to anybody. He’s just someone who has an extremely hard time expressing what he’s feeling, and uses statistics in baseball as a way to communicate. The role was extremely challenging because if you ask anyone who knows me I over-communicate probably more than anyone should, to a fault where I can’t hold things in. The character is about a kid becoming a man, which is part of what I was going through at the time.
On his dramatic weight loss since making the film: It started around the time I was making “Moneyball;” when I got this part it felt like a very momentous thing; it was the first adult part I got in a serious movie, and I just had this realization that I should be healthier and become an adult.
On his spiritual life: I go to temple on the High Holy Days and Yom Kippur is obviously the most important holiday to me. It’s something I take seriously and use it as a way to – you know, say “Sorry!” [he looks heavenward].
On his career goals: I’m not saying now that I’ve done this film that people perceive as prestigious I’m leaving comedy; comedy is the reason I can pay for this iced tea right now and it’s the reason I’m able to live in a house. Judd Apatow and comedy are such a part of my DNA that it’s never going to leave me. It’s just that I’m also saying, “Yes, I do drama, too, and I’m going to take that really seriously and you should, too.”
*Some quotes have been edited or condensed.
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