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Jonah Hill is reflecting on his personal evolution between his 20s and 30s in Hollywood, sharing that his overnight success led to him “having too much power” and “not enough life skills.”
In a new GQ interview featuring both Hill and writer, producer and director Adam McKay, the frequent collaborators spoke about the actor’s rapid rise to fame and what that period of his life was actually like. “It was very overnight for me. Michael Cera and I talk about it all the time. We just had this really rare experience: One day life was one way, and then one day life was a different way,” Hill said.
The Superbad star and Mid90s director spoke about some of his early work, revealing how it illustrated that sudden surge of opportunity for him when he was young and not quite sure how to handle everything coming his way.
“Right after Superbad, I took a writing job on Brüno [with Sacha Baron Cohen]. I was 23, and they asked me to host SNL for the first time. And I didn’t want to leave the writers room,” Hill said. “I was like, ‘Guys, I don’t know what to do.’ It was my first job working for Sacha. And Sacha was like, ‘Dude, you should go host SNL.’ To me, having a writing job for Sacha Baron Cohen was as rad as hosting SNL. I was a kid. I had probably too much power for a young person, and too much autonomy, and not enough life skills.”
Hill also shared that he had dropped out of college in his early 20s, the result of believing that higher education was a form of “idling” for an ambitious person. But now in his 30s, he’s rethought that decision in light of his own personal aspirations, particularly his interest in directing.
“I dropped out of college, and I used to not get why people would go to college. Because if you’re ambitious, why would you spend four years just idling?” he said. “And then I didn’t realize until I turned 30 that what those four years gave all my friends was this wobbling period of how to be a person. I was really advanced professionally but really behind personally. All my 20s, I wasn’t really looking inward. I was just running toward success. Or trying to find success.”
Adding, “When I was 30, I was like, I’ve always wanted to be a director, but if I don’t get off this train now and write Mid90s, I’m not going to do it. And I hit pause. I took three or four years to reshape things. I was like, I could just do this for 10 more years and I’m not going to evolve as a person.”
Before that, Hill — who writes, produces, directs and acts — said he would be brutal to himself or allow others to treat him brutally whether it be in skateboarding or comedy because he wasn’t sure of his own value, something he says Mid90s explored on and off screen.
“I sucked at skateboarding. But I would throw myself down 10 stairs to make my friends laugh, knowing I couldn’t ever do any trick that would be good,” he explained. “Or in comedy, I would be brutal to myself, or allow brutality to me, because I felt like that was my seat at the table. And what making Mid90s did for me personally was make me understand that I can just be a good person and have value and sit at the table.”
Now Hill says he’s not only experiencing more happiness but has re-evaluated perceptions that to be a good artist, you have to be miserable as a person. That shift was inspired partly by generational changes in “how John Belushi’s death was perceived and how Chris Farley’s death was perceived,” but also going to a therapist, who was recommended to him by Joaquin Phoenix.
“You know what the first thing [his therapist] Phil Stutz said to me was? First thing. He said, ‘You’re not a good artist because you’re fucked up. You’re a good artist in spite of being fucked up,” Hill recalled. “It’s all a dumb mythology that you’re supposed to be miserable to be talented, and it’s so absurdist. It’s genuinely: I got healthier, my art got better and I was happier. Straight up. I haven’t seen misery bring better art out of anybody. I just haven’t.”
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