That said, during the past hour, Franco has spent almost too much of his time engaged in an internal dialogue. It could be that the only way he knows how to avoid saying certain things, like whether he has a girlfriend or not, is to say nothing at all. But we are concerned – and then greatly relieved when we ask him whether he's an excessive farter, and he reacts much like a bird to a rain puddle. He brightens up immediately and begins splashing his wings. "A farter? Yeah! How did you know? I don't do it in public, but when I'm at home in bed, I'll fart! And on a plane, I'll let it go!" And then he utters a verity that can't help but solidify his right to be called a work of art of ultimate significance. "On a plane," he says, "nobody can hear you fart."
Nonetheless, we're undecided about Franco's value in a critical situation, mainly because while he's here in the flesh, he often hardly seems here at all, so what good could he really be in any kind of nasty mano-a-mano situation? He's a good guy, no doubt about it, but he's also a very abstracted guy. In other words, as Whitman once wrote, Franco is probably saying of us right now, "We were together – all else has long been forgotten by me," and we feel we deserve better.
While waiting for Hill to arrive at a cramped Manhattan seafood joint called Ed's Lobster Bar, we start thinking about Rogen. Thinking about him makes us laugh, just how he looks, that humorous, thin-lipped, frog-faced grin, that round head, that adenoidal phlegmy voice that surely comes from some deep inner frog, all of it made of a piece by the mushing-together melding powers of his cherished weed. We start chuckling, and we're still chuckling when Hill shows up.
"Seth!" we say, coming out of our reverie.
"No, I'm Jonah," Hill says, blankly. "That's a great way to start."
We blanch, sputter, cough and try to explain ourselves, but Hill is apparently in no mood to cut anyone any slack, which may just be how he is. "He is serious, he is, which I'm not, and neither are Franco or Danny," Rogen had told us. We asked Rogen if he had any tips on a suitable approach. "I don't know," he said. "It's a good question." And so here we are, with Hill already knitting his brows together, which is unfortunate, since it's not that great a look. Also, we've been fans of his ever since Superbad and his Oscar-nominated performance in Moneyball and are looking forward to him in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Just to break the ice, we ask about his day, what he did this morning, what a typical Jonah Hill morning would be. He says one thing he does is ride the elliptical. We wonder how long he rides it for. He says he doesn't know, maybe about 30 minutes. We ask if he does pushups and stuff like that or what?
He stiffens and says, "My workout routine is of little relevance."
Blithely, we continue. Does he have any survival skills that he'd bring to a crisis?
"I care a lot about people, especially the people I value in my life, so I'd be thoughtful and not just look out for myself."
This is nice, but it isn't exactly the kind of answer we're looking for. Has he ever done anything that might be called heroic?
"I've definitely tried to make people's lives better when they're going through really hard times, and I think that's the most accessible form of heroic behavior."
This is not going to be easy. But, OK. Has he ever been in a fistfight?
"I fought a lot when I was younger. Some were good, some were bad. I don't fight anymore, though. I'm an adult man," he says, kind of laughing and sneering at the same time. "I use my words."
We press on. Rogen had told us about a line Hill didn't want to say during the filming of This Is the End: "What we were saying to him was, 'Tell God you'll suck his dick if he kicks Jay out of the house.' And I think he said it once, like, 'God, I will suck your dick if you kill Jay.' And we were like, 'Say it again!' And he was like, 'I don't want to do it again.'" We bring this up.
Hill looks off and very slowly says, "Seth and Evan are the most talented comedy writers at work today, and I have ultimate faith in them. But I'm a religious guy, I do believe in God and I'm Jewish, and I just couldn't imagine being happy with that later in life. I just didn't want to say it."
The waiter comes back, asks if we want a menu. Hill shakes his head. He evidently has no plans to eat here or even drink more than a glass of water. He's slouching in his chair, stretching out his already stretched-out shirt. We can see the way this is heading and remind him that this is for our magazine's weed issue and so – Well, he cuts us off right there. "I don't even smoke weed," he says, in such a pre-emptive, aggressive way that we figure he has heard about our little e-joint, so we decide to keep it hidden. We explain our mission to him, how we're looking to find out who might be the best This Is the End guy to hang out with in a calamity and that it's not exactly a serious undertaking, all we're attempting to do is briefly assay the personality in front of us. He smiles, and for a while, at least, he's game. "When I first hung out with Seth," he says, "I did smoke weed, but it just makes me think too much. I can't enjoy myself when I'm on it." After that, he tells us about the time he got a second-degree sunburn all over his back but was too embarrassed to ask friends to rub lotion on it, so he went to CVS, bought a Swiffer, gobbed aloe vera on the Swiffer, and Swiffer'ed his back himself. "It was the most sad, dark, physically and emotionally painful thing I've ever had to do." We comment on his ingeniousness. "I got it done," he says, "and that's all that matters." Has he ever acted in a spineless way? "When I was 22, I wanted to break up with this girl, but I was too cowardly to do it, so I told her I was going on a trip around the world to find myself, and I actually did it, when I didn't want to go on the trip at all. I hate being by myself. I hate it. But I was 22. I'm 29 now. I'd never do that now. I'd be direct."
OK, we get it. He's an adult. He'd use his words. So, anyway, what kind of a farter is he?
His eyes nearly jump out of their sockets. "I'm not answering that dumb question! I'm not that kind of person! Being in a funny movie doesn't make me have to answer dumb questions. It has nothing to do with who I am."
We sigh. We're at a loss. He grew up in L.A., his parents had money, he moved to New York to attend college, he somehow befriended Dustin Hoffman, who helped him get a small part in I Heart Huckabees, then he met Rogen, who helped him get cast in Superbad. Everything has gone swimmingly, he's a talented guy, and now he's acting in all kinds of movies, not just funny ones. "I've done one of the biggest challenges you can do in Hollywood, which is transition from being a comedic actor to being a serious actor, and I'm really prideful of that," he says. "I could have made a billion dollars doing every big comedy of the last 10 years and didn't, in order to form a whole other life for myself. Now I have fulfillment doing both." That being the case, though, you'd think he'd be able to relax a little, open up, take it easy (and perhaps find a replacement word for "prideful"). But he can't, and so, today at least, he continues on his mulish path.
Has he ever talked about jerking off, the way Seth is known to?
"No! We're completely different people. You know that, right? It seems to be a big part of Seth's life. I imagine maybe it's because he's married."
We decide not to parse the subtext here. Instead, we ask if he's got a girlfriend.
For how long has he been single?
"Don't worry about it."
Frankly, we have no idea what to make of Hill. He'll open up about his twice-a-day showering habits and say, "I'm not OCD about it. I just like feeling fresh and smelling good." But ask him what kind of cologne he's wearing, and he'll button his lips, maintaining that he has no clue. Later, he'll say, "In This Is the End, I'm overly nice in a really false way and really deep down have a lot of jealousy and nastiness and am really into my fame and success. In real life, I'm the polar opposite." And then, if you remind him that Apatow once called him "angry, nerdy," he'll again make with the better-left-unexamined subtext and say, "Yeah, there was probably an angry time for me. But I couldn't be a less angry person. Judd maybe thinks of himself that way. But I haven't worked for him in five years. I adore him. But I'm fucking 29 years old and not some angry kid."
It's becoming increasingly clear that there's nothing left to learn about Hill under present circumstances. We decide to give him the benefit of the doubt, however. There's much more to him than what he's shown. In fact, one day he could possibly end up being the one we'd most like to go into the apocalypse with, should certain other pleasing qualities besides twice-daily showers present themselves. But for now, it's time to get the hell out of here.
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