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Five years ago, I was writing about film in Boston when I had the opportunity to meet for lunch with a few young actors who were in town to promote a little comedy that they had just made and hoped that people would check out. Those young actors were Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a complete unknown making his big screen debut), Michael Cera (best known at the time for his work on TV’s Arrested Development), and Jonah Hill (who was also starring that summer in the hit comedy Knocked Up). Their film, of course, was Superbad, which became a massive hit and turned the three of them into movie stars — at least for a while.
Cera went on to star in Juno (2007) and a few other quirky indies; Mintz-Plasse played a lovable nerd again in Role Models (2008) and Kick-Ass (2010); and Hill, the most naturally funny of the lot, appeared in several other hit comedies including Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), and Get Him to the Greek (2010).
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Now, as we come up on 2012, Cera and Mintz-Plasse are beginning to fade from memory a bit, but Hill, who will turn 28 later this month, is doing something that no one — least of all him — could have imagined back on that day in Boston: reinventing himself as a serious dramatic actor. And if his performances in last year’s Cyrus (as the son of a single mother who doesn’t want to share her attention) and this year’s Moneyball (as a baseball savant based on former Oakland A’s asisstant general manager Paul DePodesta) are any indication, he may only now be finding his true calling.
Hill and I met again in New York a few weeks ago to discuss his long and strange evolution from making prank phone calls with Dustin Hoffman‘s kids, to auditioning for and getting his first film work in David O. Russell‘s I Heart Huckabees (2004), to scoring a spot in Judd Apatow‘s comedic stock company, to sharing scenes with Oscar nominee Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman in Moneyball, the big screen adaptation of a best-selling Michael Lewis book that was adapted for the screen by Oscar winners Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and directed by Oscar nominee Bennett Miller.
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The scale of Hill’s journey — which has truly occurred against all odds — only sunk in for him as he and his colleagues received a standing ovation following the world premiere of Moneyball at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, and it drove him to tears. And what has happened in the time since then — with the movie becoming a critical and commercial hit, and top media outlets like The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times including him on short-lists of possible Oscar contenders — has only further blown his mind.
But however much Jonah Hill has changed over the five years since we first met — in addition to changing gears professionally, he has also personally matured and slimmed down tremendously — at least one thing about him remains the same. As you can hear in the video at the top of the post (you may have listen extra closely, since he’d lost his voice earlier in the day and struggled to speak for much of it), he still likes to laugh.
What else can one do when one’s grandmother reads the aforementioned Los Angeles Times article, misunderstands it to mean that he had already been nominated for an Oscar but neglected to mention it to her, and calls him up to congratulate him?
She may yet have a reason to make that call again.
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