Inside Jonah Hill's Head
His greatest acting challenges and what he learned from Brad Pitt about performing, producing and life.
For Jonah Hill, playing math genius Peter Brand in Moneyball was not only a career departure from comedy but also an education as an actor. "The most challenging scene I ever shot in my life was when Billy asks me to trade [first baseman Carlos] Pena and basically fire him," says Hill. "It's a 45-second scene, which is not long, but it's rare you get to see a character grow up in 45 seconds."
"My character had all these big ideas," adds Hill, "and he's had this great opportunity and it's all been fun. But then he's forced to come to terms with the fact that his ideas actually affect people, that there is a darker side to responsibility. Yes, your ideas are cool and bold, but now you have to tell that man you have actually affected his life. That's why that scene is powerful to me."
Hill also had to stretch to show his character's relationship to Pitt's Billy Beane. "The second most challenging scene I've ever had as an actor is with Brad," he says. "There's no marriages or girlfriends discussed in the film. The real sexual relationship is between Billy and Peter and how they combine for this amazing run of ideas."
In the scene, Beane tells him he may leave for a job with the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A's owner wants Peter to stay and become general manager. "Isn't that what you wanted?" Billy asks.
"I'm like, 'That's not what I wanted,' " recalls Hill. "I wanted to do this together. I'm devastated that this guy could leave me. I'm not trying to climb the ladder and knock him out. I don't want him to bail on me. I want to complete this together. That to me was very powerful."
Hill made another choice that lingers. Off-camera, the real baseball scouts wanted to be his friends, but he brushed them off. "They were so nice, but I really tried not to get to know them," says Hill. "I wanted to feel as uncomfortable around them as possible. I felt if I got to know them and what sweet guys they were, it would be difficult to act as uncomfortable as I needed to feel on camera.
"I learned a tremendous amount from Brad," says Hill, "not specifically about acting on Moneyball, but by watching him produce and watching his commitment to this movie throughout so many incarnations, and just his advice about making interesting choices as an actor. That's really been the most inspiring thing Brad's done for me, besides allowing me to play this part.
"All the movie lessons I learned are really life lessons that you can put to anything even if they are scary to people ," adds Hill. "Watching Brad produce, I learned, is very comparable to the story in Moneyball. He is thinking differently. This is a movie that shouldn't be made. His producing skills align with the theme of the film."