For a hard-working actor, writer and producer, Jonah Hill sure has a lot of opinions on video games. He can explain why Super Mario Bros‘ Luigi was gay (“Overalls are a pretty strong statement that you like dudes, but when they’re lime green, you’re a totally flaming homosexual.”), why Sega Genesis’ Tommy Lasorda Baseball was racist (“No one had real names—it was just a tall black guy named “Jackson.”) and how his Superbad costar Michael Cera is a PS3 Ridge Racer savant (“He wrecks me every time.”).
In fact, with his encyclopedic gamer knowledge, that slack-faced delivery and an air of effortless hilarity, it’s difficult to tell apart the 23-year-old from the bantering stoner-next-door dudes he’s played on the big screen. The last two years have seen the Los Angeles native co-star in two hugely popular post-adolescent romps (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and a couple underappreciated ones (Grandma’s Boy, Accepted), but Hill’s budding cult stardom hasn’t hindered his slacker lifestyle.
Of course, now that he’s the star of the instant comedy classic Superbad, things may change. Hill’s character Seth is more than just your dialogue-heavy prank machine found in the typical teen sex farce. As a near-nerd status high schooler with a vicious case of senioritis, Seth is an emotional wreck. He’s overtly macho at school, verbally accosting perfect 10s in the hallway and shamelessly spewing expletives at his Home Ec teacher. But by nightfall, the bulletproof chauvinism drops to reveal crippling insecurities, and he unbottles his rage on his friend Evan (Cera) because they’re attending separate, and not equal, universities in the fall.
Hill’s riotous yet nuanced performance—he pulls off a complex character in a madcap, comic-heavy title—is proof enough that he has nowhere to go but up. He’s slated to star in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, written by his friend and Knocked Up co-star Jason Segel, and Judd Apatow’s upcoming faux biopic Walk Hard. Writing has always been Hill’s Hollywood dream, however, and now he’s developing scripts for two big budget films—The Middle Child for Universal and Pure Imagination for Sony, both of which he’ll produce with Apatow. But hopefully, he’ll still be able carve out a little time to beat Mike Cera at his game.
Has the hype for Superbad affected you at all?
It’s strange. All this crazy shit is happening. It’s all been in the works forever, and people have been saying, ‘You’re going to be everywhere, this is going to be crazy.’ But then, literally, in the past few weeks my life has completely changed.
How’d you get your creative start before jumping to the big screen?
When I went to The New School in New York, there was this open mic storytelling thing at Black and White [an East Village bar]. I always found it really funny because everyone was really serious. It was all super hipster Williamsburg stuff like, ‘I was doing heroin on the A train’ and shit like that. So I just started writing fake stories and performing them. Like how my dad had an affair with his Native-American secretary and it split up my family and I’ve held a grudge against Native Americans ever since, how I haven’t been able to accept them as non-homewreckers. It was obviously a blatant joke, but about half the people knew it, the other half didn’t.
You studied creative writing when you were at The New School, right? How long did you know you wanted to work in film and TV?
I’ve always been obsessed with the things I love. When I was younger, my parents explained to me how a TV show worked—that the writers write what the actors say. I would write down all the names of The Simpsons‘ writers and producers and when The Larry Sanders Show came along, I would write down all those names too. From as early as I can remember, I wanted to write what the actors were saying.
Your first onscreen appearance was in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but you received more attention for that titty-sucking scene in Grandma’s Boy last year.
That was my third job, actually. I didn’t really do anything in that movie. I was basically an extra. Nothing against the movie, but I’m embarrassed for having done that act. I’ve done a lot more shit since then and I’m not proud at all of having done that scene. Sucking on a boob seems… anyone doing that could have made it funny. It’s an insult to myself.
Had you been a fan of Judd Apatow before The 40-Year-Old Virgin?
I was obsessed with The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Cable Guy and The Critic, and I put it together that Judd was the one dude that worked on every one of them. So when Freaks and Geeks came out, I became obsessed with that show. When I was old enough to figure out what I wanted to do, I decided that I wanted to do the shit that he was doing. When I met my manager, he asked me what three people I would work with if I had an imaginary dream world where I could do whatever I wanted. I said Wes Anderson, P.T. Anderson and Judd.
What made you gravitate toward his work?
It all comes from a super realistic place. It’s darker than mainstream comedy and yet this shit actually happens to people. This is the stuff you do, the qualities you have that you don’t always want to bring up. And when they come out, it’s always painful and hilarious to watch—when you watch Freaks, it’s painfully funny and painfully real. You’re like, I feel exactly like that sometimes and I never want to admit it. But that’s what’s funny, and Judd makes you able to laugh at those moments.
How did you make it into the Apatow fold?
I met Seth [Rogen] at The Grove [theater] the night before my audition for The 40-Year-Old Virgin. He was sitting in front of me at The Life Aquatic. I just tapped him on the shoulder and started talking to him, and that’s how we met. We became friends. And I guess I must have done something right because Judd kept me around after that movie.
Is that when the Jew Pack started?
We’re going for the Jew Tang Clan. We don’t want some “pack” name. I don’t even identify anyone as being Jewish or non-Jewish. We’re a bunch of people who make movies who happen to be friends. Me and Seth, or me and [Jason] Segel, or me and Mike Cera aren’t going to just do movies together. I’m writing two movies for studios right now: The Middle Child for Universal and the other is for Sony Pictures. The Middle Child is a comedy in the way that Knocked Up is a comedy—it approaches serious stuff but in a creative way.
So you don’t really sit around playing video games all day?
Not all day. We usually hang at Seth’s. He has a fancy house because he’s rich. We’re not as rich as Seth yet. Me and Seth and Evan [Goldberg, Rogen’s long-time writing partner] all live within two blocks of each other. I moved into Seth’s old apartment. We do all the same shit we did before. I’d like to think we’re non-Hollywood types of people. Maybe that’s why we all gravitated toward each other. I feel like we’re the most uninteresting group of recognizable people you’ll ever meet. We don’t go to nightclubs, we don’t do cocaine, we don’t get prostitutes.
You said you’re working on writing a couple films, but do you have any plans to star in more movies soon?
Because this is the first movie I’m the star of, the last thing I want to do is fuck it up. It’d be really easy right now to get to do a lot of shitty movies and get some big paychecks because that’s what I feel like doing. But I gotta be strong. It’s not worth it. Before I decide to do a movie, I look at it from the perspective of, ;Would I go opening day to see this movie if I were 17?’ When the answer is yes, you say yes. I spent three or four months promoting Superbad and I loved it. But imagine having to go through this process for a movie I hated? Talking about it everyday for four months? So, I just want to do stuff that I’m going to be proud of.