Trading Up: Jonah Hill Goes from Superbad to Pitching Moneyball for the Rangers

Jonah Hill holds all calls for Moneyball.
Jonah Hill holds all calls for Moneyball.

For his latest role in Moneyball -- from director Bennett Miller (Capote), written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List), and based on author Michael Lewis' 2003 non-fiction book by the same name -- Jonah Hill is switch hitting the comedy for the drama.

Hill first showed us his dramatic acting chops in last year's Sundance hit Cyrus, which he co-starred with John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei. But that was an indie dramedy; he's moved up to the big leagues with Moneyball, acting right alongside the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and his new bro, Brad Pitt.

Let's just say he's not pointing to the fences just yet though, as the 28-year-old actor shows not a sliver of arrogance in his new-found niche. In fact, quite the opposite. The whole experience seems to have humbled him a great deal, like a kid from the farm team suddenly finding himself in the majors, on the field with the big hitters.

And still maintaining his manners to boot. Hill began our recent interview with a cordial "Thanks for coming," and a sincere "How is everybody today?" (it was a roundtable...well the table was square but they call it a ... never mind, you get the picture) When we asked him how he was doing, he replied with a bright and smiling "Great! Thanks. Happy to be here!" Happy to be here ... on a press tour ... for a film ... that stars the the biggest movie star in the world and is already getting some Oscar buzz. I should say so.

But, for Jonah Hill, right now just being where he is and being happy seems to suffice...

During a recent interview with Hill (which follows after the jump), we discussed his dramatic turn, developing that bromance with Brad, preparing for the math-heavy role of his character Peter Brand, his rekindled love for the great American pastime, and his favorite sports movie of all time.

You seem like you've kind of intentionally steered your ship into more dramatic waters, with films like Moneyball and Cyrus. Jonah Hill: Yeah, I'd be so full of it if I didn't admit it wasn't intentional. I'm intentionally doing movies that are diversifying who I am, you know? And I think it's really easy to put someone in a box and label someone something.

My first big intro into the world was Superbad and it really made a big splash when it came out so, since from then on, I've been regarded as that character from that movie and that's who I am. And that's not who I am! It wasn't even who I was when I made that movie. It was more riffing on people I knew when I was like 16-17-years-old. But I've grown up in front of everybody and I'm just hoping people are gonna allow me -- I have matured and I want to make dramas and comedies. I really love Cyrus and Moneyball as much as I love Superbad and Get Him to the Greek and things like that. So, yeah I am making an intentional effort to do both.

I felt that when I got involved with Judd [Apatow] and all those guys that I was really young and I was really lucky. I felt like what we did with those movies was really different. Comedies weren't like the ones we were making. They were more emotional and more grounded in humanity and I felt at that time what we were doing was really different and interesting. But now, we've made a lot of them and everyone's copied it so much that it's no longer different. It's now become the norm. So for me it's like "All right. Done that. Cool." I'll always love comedy and want to make comedies as long as I'm just trying to do something different. And whether it's drama or comedy, I just want to look at what's the next thing. And Moneyball to me and Cyrus to me felt like different kind of next things.

I saw some interviews from Toronto [where Moneyball recently premiered] with you and Brad Pitt and you told stories about pulling pranks on each other during filming. It seems like you two developed quite the camaraderie, both on-screen and on-set. What was the experience like developing that friendship? It was amazing.

Look, you get a part like this it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to star alongside Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a movie written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian and directed by Bennett [Miller] -- the whole thing is and did feel like a dream.

And then on top of that, it's like you have to be big brother/little brother-type relationship with Brad Pitt! It's intimidating because I don't know him! I only know him as one of the most iconic stars in the world and I'd met him before and he was really great but we weren't like close-close.

We didn't really know each other and we had to get to know each other for the film and we just ended up really liking each other. I really admire him. I really think there isn't an ounce of pretense or anything other than genuine intelligence and -- he's just a true gentlemen. And he's funny -- he's fun to be around and I tend to be an easy-going guy to be around and I like to have fun -- so we just ended up really getting to know each other. And he really did give me a lot of advice on things that have been really helpful.

You seem really humbled by the whole experience, which is saying a lot for an actor your age and just an actor in Hollywood in general. Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. I am incredibly humbled by this whole experience! [laughs]

Talk a little about "The Trading" scene. That scene is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. That's the trade deadline -- that's this thing [mimics his character's closed-fist-arm-pump], right?

Yeah, that scene is the best for me. One of them at least, because you honestly see [my character] decide to really actively go for this thing that is really bold and unconventional and scary to do. Before, we've talked about it and he hired me and made all these decisions but now he's really trading people away, that are really conventionally valuable to our team, for people that aren't. So for me and my character, this thing and the trade stuff, it's not about baseball or the trade or the players themselves; it's him showing this overwhelming joy that his ideas are being put into practice.

So for me, that was so fun! It felt like the first time I was on a movie set and someone said "What are you're ideas? What do you think? Lets shoot those. Lets shoot one of your ideas." And it was like "What?! We're gonna shoot something that came from my brain?! That is incredible!" So, that's how I related to it and it's such a fun scene to watch. The whole movie shouldn't be entertaining and it is! You know what I mean? A scene about GMs trading baseball players should not be an exciting scene but it's so exciting!

Some sports writers and film critics alike initially thought an adaptation of Michael Lewis' book was a bad idea. Sabermetrics*, numbers, boring things to a lot of people translated into something anyone could watch and be entertained by. Why do you think that this story does in fact translate so well to the screen? Aaron Sorkin -- I'm paraphrasing here -- but when he talks about the movie he says that The Social Network on paper sounds like a very boring movie about a guy inventing a website. That does not sound like a very exciting movie. And then you watch it, and it's remarkable. It's intense and exciting and funny and dark all at the same time. And Moneyball is a movie that, on paper, is about baseball statistics. Which, unless you're a sports writer maybe, or you're someone really deeply involved in the sports world, that sounds like a very boring film. And the truth is it's not!

It's moving and it's intense and it's funny and it's sad and it's honest. Because I think what the filmmakers did is they used baseball as a really beautiful aesthetic backdrop to tell a really moving story about underdogs and value and specifically being undervalued.

As well as the underdog/undervalued thing, there's a real punk rock attitude about two guys saying the world is round when everyone else is saying the world is flat. To me, that's a really brave thing for anybody to ever attempt to do. And I've been saying that Brad is the bazooka and my character is the ammunition and together we burst through a wall that was built 150 years ago and that's going to bum a lot of people out. And to me that's a real punk rock, exciting, motivating story to be a part of.

How familiar were you with sabermetrics and how much did you have to research and immerse yourself in it in preparing for the role? I knew nothing about it before reading the book and then I got a statistics tutor who probably had the toughest job on Moneyball because I can barely count to 10. That was something I took really seriously because Bennett insisted that I be able to improvise the statistics of the time so I would spend a lot of time learning my lines and a lot of time learning actual stats from 2001, which is pretty much useless information [laughs] except for this movie because it wasn't even like current stats or anything. And then obviously [I] really delved deep into baseball at that time and who was playing and what that culture was like.

Were you a big baseball fan before you got the role or has making this film given you a greater appreciation for the game? I think I re-fell in love with the game through getting this part and preparing and making the movie. When I was a kid I loved little league and collecting baseball cards and going to games with my dad and my friends. But in truth I became more of a basketball fan as I grew up -- by the way, you're team did really wonderful this year. [Laughs.] Congratulations, you guys did great. [Hill is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan.]

But you know, I really re-fell in love with it making the movie. When you're shooting in Oakland Coliseum you feel like a little kid. It makes you feel like you did when you played little league and you're on the mound or you're on the base and you're like "Oh my God, this is my childhood!" I think it's why people have such a fond love of baseball because it's nostalgic from when you were young. It's nostalgic from when you were carefree and hanging out with your friends and just having a good time and I think that feeling definitely rushed back to me. And when I watch the movie, every time it rushes back to me. You know, how could you not be romantic about baseball? That's what Brad says and I think it's true.

What are some of your favorite sports movies? Rudy is my favorite sports movie. I think it's just so moving and -- even when the score comes on I'm like a little kid -- I just tear up.

[When we did the interview, Hill was set to throw out the first pitch at the Rangers game (September 15th, 2011).] Do you feel any pressure? Have you been practicing your pitch? Are you ready to do this? Luckily, I have a fully licensed canon attached to my arm so -- I'm more just worried about the catcher's hand than anything. [Laughs] I've thrown out the pitch at the White Sox game and I've done it at Fenway and -- listen, honestly, this guy hand -- he's gonna have to wear two gloves.

<a href=";src=SLPl:embed::uuids" target="_new" title="Jonah on the hill">Video: Jonah on the hill</a>

*Sabermetrics, as defined by Wikipedia, is "the analysis of baseball through objective, empirical evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity rather than industry activity such as attendance." Sabermetric principles, along with the Oakland A's and their manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt in Moneyball), are the subject of author Michael Lewis' 2003 eponymous book, which was the basis for the film.

James Wallace is the Jedi Master of
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