What Serious Filmmakers Can Learn From Jonah Hill

Aspiring creatives in the film industry are often keen to follow in the footsteps of leaders like Scorsese and Coppola (Francis Ford or Sofia, take your pick)—but drop a name like Jonah Hill among self-described “serious” filmmakers, and you’re likely to face some resistance.

Despite dual Academy Awards nominations for his roles in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street (beside “serious actors” Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively), Hill has to some extent remained typecast as sophomoric comic relief. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum but no less negative, others have called him a sellout after transitioning from raunchy comedy to drama.

A look at the roles he’s turned down, however, presents a very different perspective—one that makes great study material for aspiring creators of low comedy and high drama alike.

Choosing Moneyball Over Money


A lot of actors would be haunted with regret for turning down roles in two back-to-back blockbusters, in Hill’s case The Hangover and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009).

Fast-forward a few years, however, and it becomes clear Hill chose wisely. Sure, he might have lost out on some enormous paychecks—but he more importantly avoided pigeonholing himself in the process.

“They were both really big decisions, and ones that most people didn’t understand,” says Hill on turning down the franchises. “I knew I could be a dramatic actor, but I also knew I couldn’t go from Superbad to Schindler’s List.”

Rather, he went from Superbad to Funny People (which brought a lot more range than the title might suggest) and Cyrus (of the same vein) before playing an Ivy-league economics phenom in Moneyball—breaking his funnyman mold with no fewer than nine Best Supporting Actor nominations.

“I’ve never done anything for money,” Hill told David Hochman. “And luckily I was young enough and idealistic enough to not think about being a rich guy. I cared so much about the work I was putting out, and it did eventually pay off. Bennett Miller saw an early cut of Cyrus, which is why he cast me in Moneyball. He talks now about what a huge backlash he got for casting me opposite Brad Pitt, since I had done only comedies before. But to Bennett’s credit, he stuck with what he believed in and was able to see what I was capable of.”

Hill has since revisited his raunchier comedy roots by way of 21 Jump Street (2012) and This is the End (2013), but he no longer has to worry about the genre becoming his only outlet. Instead, in addition to a second Oscar-nominated role in The Wolf of Wall Street, Hill’s time away from blue comedy has also secured him entry into the genre of children’s movies—with voice roles in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise and this year’s The Lego Movie.

“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,” Hill told Rolling Stone in a recent profile. “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.”

Adapting 21 Jump Street (and Video Blocks Footage)

Hill’s selectiveness, meanwhile, further secured him the freedom to not merely reject roles, but improve upon them.

When execs at Sony Pictures first approached him to star in the remake of television’s 21 Jump Street, for example, Hill admits to rolling his eyes and rejecting the premise on multiple occasions.

“[To recycle old ideas] is stupid. It’s lazy,” he told Howard Stern in a 2012 interview.

What finally changed his mind wasn’t added money, but added opportunity via the chance to write and produce the remake to the point wherein it became original again. Rather than recreating the cliché genre action from the original series depicting stylish young police offers deep undercover in high school, Hill instead pitched the idea of parodying the original while also adding a coming-of-age arc.

The result was one of the more successful remakes of the decade with a number-one weekend debut, more than $200 million in worldwide gross, and a sequel set to release next month.

Meanwhile, the film also marks one of the more successful uses of Video Blocks footage . . .

The clip below features not just Hill and costars Channing Tatum and Rob Riggle—but also some HD footage from the Video Blocks library.

Skip to the 2:09 mark, and you’ll spot one of our slow-motion (watermelon) explosion clips shot at 30 frames-per-second and downloadable, royalty-free, in stunning 1080p.

Hill, Tatum, and Riggle have all returned for the sequel, aptly titled 22 Jump Street—but no word yet on whether or not our slow-mo watermelon will reprise its role . . .