New look, new career for “Superbad” star

By Drew Hunt

After starring in a string of hit comedies, actor Jonas Hill is starting to branch out and take on roles that are something of a departure for the 27-year-old actor. He’s starting with “Moneyball” the new film from “Capote” director Bennett Miller. As the math whiz Peter Brand, Hill effectively sheds his brash persona in favor of a far more quiet and dramatic role. The Chronicle spoke  with Hill about undertaking the role, where he sees his career going and what it was like palling around with Brad Pitt on the set.

The Chronicle: It took a little while for “Moneyball” to sort of get off the ground. When did you enter the project and what drew you to it?

Jonah Hill: I got a phone call that Miller wanted to meet with me, and we were friends beforehand, so I was like, “Of course.” So [he and Pitt] gave me the book and I read it. I think the underdog element [drew me to the project]. I’m getting to play a character in this film who has never had a light shined on him. He’s never been empowered in any way. He’s a young guy, and when I was a young guy, I had a light shined on me by a few different people and was empowered. So I related to it. It’s like a baby learning to use its legs. That resonated with me.

The Chronicle: This role is something of a departure for you. Was this an intentional move on your behalf?

JH: My first introduction to the world was “Superbad,” so people think of me and they think of a loud-mouthed teenager talking about sex. And the truth is, that’s not what I’m about. That was a role I got, and it changed my life in a really positive way and I’m proud of the movie, but I feeling very similar when I’m promoting this movie than when I was promoting “Superbad.” It was me saying, “Hey, I’m Jonah, I’d like to make to make other comedy films. I hope you accept me” [laugh]s. And now it’s years later, I’m more mature and I want to do different things, so now I’m coming back do everyone and going “Hey, I’m Jonah, I’m in this totally different kind of movie than you’ve ever seen me in. It’s a drama and I want to make some more of these and I hope you accept me.”

The Chronicle: Would you consider this some sort of reintroduction then?

JH: It’s a re-introduction of sorts. I also look different [laughs]. So it’s a reintroduction in that way. It’s sort of to say, “I’m not what you thought I was.” Not that [my past] was negative. I love doing comedies [and] I’ll continue doing comedies as long as they’ll let me.

The Chronicle: So how would you like to see your career unfold from here?

JH: My heroes are Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman because they seamlessly can do comedy and drama. And that’s my goal for myself. That’s who I look up to. Not that I would ever be as cool as them or talented as them [laughs]. But that’s who I worship. Those are the people I really think did what I want to do.

The Chronicle: You collaborated with a lot of really interesting people on this film. Can you talk about some of them?

JH: [Miller’s] an incredibly nuanced, detailed and elegant filmmaker. And he was a friend of mine preexisting to our working relationship. I just love him. When I watch this movie, it’s so him. It’s so his film. Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian wrote a great script. Honestly, the script is everything. You start with the script, you know? That’s what you go off of. They wrote the hell out of this movie.

The Chronicle: What about Pitt? Did you take anything away from working with him?

JH: I’ve learned so much from him, how to act differently and how to make choices. And as a person, how to be a gentleman. He’s just a classy guy. He was really open with his experiences and his advice, but not in a patronizing way. He also likes to play pranks. I was the only one who got it on this movie, so he was loving it. He plays prank chess, he’s like the Bobby Fishers of pranks. He has your queen before you even start the game. He’s three moves ahead all the time. They annoy you because you know you’re not going to get him back as cleverly as he got you.