Jonah Hill’s gone from Apatow-regular to Awards-contender in the space of a matter of just a couple of years. Alicia Malone speaks to the “Superbad” and “21 Jump Street” star about his showy sidekick role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
You’re an Oscar nominee, starred in some really successful comedies, and worked with Tarantino and Scorsese… is anything left on your bucket list?
(Laughs) This was it for me! Martin Scorsese is my favorite artist, filmmaker of all time, so this was actually my dream in life. I’m just so proud that I got to work with these insanely talented people. I’m so lucky.
So you’ve been a huge Scorsese fan for a long time?
Oh yeah, he’s my favorite director of all time! ‘Goodfellas’ is my favorite movie of all time. He’s my favorite.
What would you say he brings to this project that is unique to him?
He’s made movies where the characters are not good people, not doing good things to one another, not treating each other well, are doing despicable things; and yet he still makes them so entertaining to watch.
Donnie is so over-the-top, but at the same time he’s not unrealistic. Was it hard to find the balance with him?
Yeah, but you know, these people were actually doing these things. If these things didn’t really happen it would have been too cartoony to put in a film, but they happened. So you have to treat it really honestly, even though you’re playing someone really messed up and bizarre.
Do you have to like him as well?
I did not like Donnie at all, I just didn’t. And that was the most challenging part of doing this. Every character I’ve played before, they had lots of flaws, but they had a good heart. Donnie doesn’t have a good heart; he’s not a good person. He’s a bad guy, a bad human being. And so I would go home and feel guilty about what I had done that day!
Were there moments when you were shooting this film where you thought, ‘if this wasn’t directed by Martin Scorsese, I would probably question what kind of movie we were making…’
(laughs) I would do anything for Martin Scorsese. Simple as that. Yeah, I did stuff that I don’t think any other director could get me to do, or very few.
Leonardo is so great at playing these unhinged or unlikeable characters who you still kind of like, how do you describe his intensity when you’re in a scene with him?
Leo is so wildly gifted, he’s so talented as an actor and as a producer. When you’re playing with someone that much better than you, you have to elevate to try and be even close to what they’re doing, which is impossible, but you have to step up when you’re with someone that that’s good.
And Margot Robbie is great also, did she surprise you?
She’s fantastic and she actually told me that Australians have some muscle under their tongue or something that makes you talk a certain way, so it’s hard for Australians to do the American accent because you have to relearn how to use that muscle. I wasn’t surprised that she was so good, I wasn’t familiar with her work prior to this movie, but she blew me away she’s so talented.
What is it like when Martin is directing? Do you shoot a lot? Do you improvise?
We improvised quite a bit, which I loved. Marty is very focused, it was challenging. All you want to do is make him happy. I got comfortable, but there were some days when he would be giving me direction, and I’d be like, ‘That is my hero!’ I would step out of it and look at the conversation I was having and be like, ‘What is going on, how did I get here?’
Did you learn anything about greed and what it does to people while shooting this film?
Yes. And excess. That was the biggest thing I took away was, how things that are enticing, to be excessive with those things, is always going to end badly. I don’t think this will ever go away, it was the same in Roman times as it now. There’s just a part of people that want everything, that want to be the best and the most wealthy, and have the most stuff. That’s a small part of most people, there’s some part in everyone… but all of Donnie is that. And that’s what makes him dangerous and scary to me.
And Donnie has a great set of teeth… how were they to wear?
He’s got huge teeth! I actually had to learn how to re-talk, because I’m doing an accent in the film and a different voice, and I had to learn how to re-speak because I had a horrible lisp when I put the teeth in. So I would have to talk on the phone for three hours in character because no one would talk to me in my life, with good reason, which would have the patience for that… so I would call different appliance stores and different shops and just talk to people about their products as Donnie. So some people are going to watch this movie and say ‘I talked to that guy for three hours on the phone!’ (laughs)
The screenwriter Terrence Winter says ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ as being a ‘tsunami of crazy’. How would you describe what audiences will see on screen?
I would just say audiences are going to see one of the craziest experiences, this one of the craziest rides you’ll ever go on.