Does Jonah Hill take himself too seriously? That seems to be the theme of most conversations when you bring up the actor who first made us crack up as sex-crazed clown Seth in Superbad. During James Franco’s record-setting roast on Comedy Central it was the go-to stab. In his interview for Rolling Stone's cover story earlier this year, it seemed to be the prevailing take away for many readers. Perhaps it’s true. Or perhaps there's just that inevitable skepticism that greets comedic actors who attempt to portray a character of any depth. Hill's backed up his transition into serious film roles, though. His portrayal of Peter Brand in Brad Pitt’s Moneyball landed him an Oscar nomination and this week, he returns as Donnie Azoff in The Wolf of Wall Street, another role that has people buzzing. Rolling Stone spoke with Hill about why he needed Best Buy to help him with his Wolf part, fighting on set with Leonardo DiCaprio and what to expect from 22 Jump Street.
You’ve had a pretty diverse couple of years. How are you feeling about the movies that you’re doing right now?
These last few years have been awesome. It’s incredibly surreal. When I heard that this project existed, I heard that I was on a list to play this part with a bunch of actors who I respected and who I had every belief would get the part before me. I love getting to do different kinds of pictures and what Moneyball and an Academy Award nomination did bring me was an opportunity to be in a conversation with these people. To be very frank, an Oscar nomination for the most part made me a person that exists in the world of Martin Scorcese. Which I’m incredibly grateful for.
How well did you know The Wolf of Wall Street material?
I read the book a few times actually. I read the script many times. Then Leo and I spent a lot of time with the real Jordan Belfort. He was unbelievable helpful and he was actually available to us pretty much at all times. We could text him, give him a call or go to dinner with him in the city. He was just a well of information and history on the subject. It’s my favorite way to work and in Moneyball I was working in a similar situation where I got to talk to Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta. It’s really invaluable in these kinds of pictures with real life characters in place.
Your character Donnie Azoff has some ridiculous teeth in this movie. Was it hard to get used to those?
It was written into the script that I had crazy veneers that I wore. When I put them in for the first time I had this serious lisp; it was to the point where it was hard to hear me so I figured I needed to practice. None of my friends would stay on the phone and talk to me, so what I would do is call random Best Buy locations and ask for custumer service and just chat with strangers. People hung up on me pretty quick but it did work after a number of those. I got rid of the lisp.
There are a couple moments that are very physical between you and Leo. Did you worry about injuries?
We have a fight scene where we’re on Quaaludes and it’s really physical. We were all deep in character and tried to make it feel real. I think Leo got so into it he forgot his own strength and essentially I got beat up. For real. So I got hurt, but it looks awesome on screen.
Do you think you'll work with Scorsese again?
Every project I do is about collaboration. No man is an island and nobody builds anything by themselves. When I’m doing a film, I’m looking for people that I connect with and when we’re able to create together I want to keep those people around. It makes things familiar and the best work comes out of it as well.
Do you have any projects lined up next?
I have no idea right now. I will tell you this. I’m not going to do anything that I’m not incredibly passionate about.
Is that something that you decided recently?
It’s a lesson that took me some time to learn. There were movies that I "had to do" that I "couldn’t not do." When you’re a young actor you have this constant fear that there will be no work. I would say yes to anything and everything, whether or not I was passionate about it. Now, for my own benefit, and for the people who want to come see my work, I owe it to them to do roles that I am personally moved by.
You just wrapped 22 Jump Street. How was it getting that crew back together?
It was great. I had just got off of doing two really serious and heavy films in a row, this movie and True Story with James Franco. Getting back on that set with Channing [Tatum] was just cathartic and fun. We let loose and had a blast.
What can we expect from this one?
It’s got the same feel as the last movie. It’s just pure entertainment. We just have a really, really good time. I’m not sure how to explain our friendship. We’re combustible together. Like gasoline and a match.