Getting Into Acting – Jonah Hill
Born and raised in Los Angeles in 1983, from a young age Jonah Hill knew that his passion lay with filmmaking. He and his two siblings were surrounded by creative influences; his mother was a costume designer, and his father was an accountant for Guns N’ Roses. Doubtless this inspired all three children to pursue various avenues in the arts. Hill’s younger sister Beanie Feldstein is an established actor in films including the Oscar nominated ‘Ladybird’, whereas his older brother Jordan Feldstein managed the band Maroon 5 before his death in 2017. Hill himself has cited ‘The Simpsons’ as one of his major inspirations, as it was through watching the show that he realised writing and voiceover work could be an actual job. It was also during an episode that he first heard the name Martin Scorsese. From his introduction to the show at the age of 8 until 16, he wrote his own episodes for the series practicing his burgeoning writing talents.
Although Jonah Hill is now a well-known multi-disciplinary artist and works as an actor, director, producer and voiceover artist, his initial designs were to direct his own films. However, Hill lacked the confidence of how to instruct actors so decided to take acting classes in the Meisner Technique to improve his directional communication. It was here that Hill’s career took an unexpected turn. Whilst at school he befriended Dustin Hoffman’s son Jake who in turn introduced him to his famous father. This led to Jonah Hill’s first role in Hoffman’s film ‘I Heart Huckabees’ (2004). Following a smattering of small comedic roles, in 2007 Hill was cast in his first Judd Apatow directed comedy ‘Knocked Up’, which marked the first of many collaborations between the pair and Seth Rogen. That same year Jonah Hill starred in Apatow’s coming-of-age comedy ‘Superbad’ which has been described as his breakout role and sky-rocketed Hill to fame. ‘Superbad’ is often mentioned as one of the films that made everyone’s careers who were involved with it; it also served as the breakout roles for Michael Cera and Emma Stone.
Following the success of ‘Superbad’, Hill starred in a slew of comedies including ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ (2008), ‘Funny People’ (2009), and ‘Get Him to the Greek’ (2010). Although best known for his comedy, Hill was ‘already committed to giving his characters moments of unusual depth. Even when he is in the joke, he’s planted in the reality of the scene.’ (The Guardian). Hill, however, wanted to go after more challenging game as he grew frustrated with his typecasting as the funnyman. 2010 was a pivotal year for Hill. He ventured into the world of voiceover with the ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ franchise, and turned down a lucrative role in ‘The Hangover’ comedy franchise in favour of indie film ‘Cyrus’ as a departure from his comedy roots. ‘All actors are typecast, but I tried to change whatever pigeonhole I was in because I didn’t want to get stuck there.’ (The Guardian).
It was this choice that led to his casting alongside Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2011’s ‘Moneyball’. Hill’s role as baseball statistician Peter Brand netted him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Relying on his Meisner training and finding what was authentically him in the character, Hill says ‘It wasn’t the baseball or the numbers I connected to. It was the obsessiveness. Bennett (Miller) said that the way we talk about actors and roles and movies with each other is the way my character should be able to talk to Brad’s about baseball. It’s what we do all the time about movies-we analytically s**t-talk everybody’s strengths and weaknesses! Everybody I know does that. So that was my in.’ (IMDb).
After first hearing his name during a Simpson’s episode, Jonah Hill was cast in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013) two years later which garnered him his second academy award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also took a huge pay cut for the role (from millions to $60 000) of which he said ‘it’s not about the money for me. None of this shit is about money. I would sell my house and give him all my money to work for (director Martin Scorsese) … I would have done anything in the world. I would do it again in a second.’ (IMDb).
Fast forward to now and Jonah Hill is a well-established comedic and dramatic actor, continuing to take on roles from both categories such as the juggernaut comedy ‘21 Jump Street’ (2012) and mini-series ‘Maniac’ (2018). He strives to follow Meisner techniques and play the truth of his roles as the truth of himself, ‘nothing is black and white. As an actor, some moments I’m joking around and really silly; some moments I’m serious. If I deny that, then I’ll go crazy, because then I’m just playing a character.’ (The Guardian). In 2021 he starred in Netflix’s ensemble satire-comedy ‘Don’t Look Up’ alongside Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Lawrence which marks his appearance in four Oscar nominated films for Best Picture: ‘Moneyball’, ‘Django Unchained’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, and ‘Don’t Look Up’.
Hill is at another turning point in his distinguished career. He has now been able to return to his passion for filmmaking which began with ‘The Simpsons’ as the 8-year-old in his bedroom; writing and directing and producing, disciplines that merged for his feature film ‘Mid90s’ (2018). Upcoming projects both in-front and behind of the camera include mini-series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’, and feature films ‘You People’ and ‘Ride Around Shining’. Jonah Hill has come a long way since walking into his first Meisner class to gain confidence directing and serves as an inspiration for filmmakers and actors alike. When guest-speaking at NYFA he had this advice to give, “If this isn’t the only thing you want to do in life, then leave the room and don’t do it. But if this is the only thing you want to do in life and can’t imagine doing anything else, then don’t worry about how much time it’s taking. It will happen in whatever incarnation it’s supposed to happen. But you have to just ‘make stuff’ constantly and don’t worry about ‘making it.’” (NYFA)
Billy Milionis is one of the few Australians to have ever studied under the legendary master teacher, the late Sanford Meisner. Billy has also studied story structure and scene analysis techniques with John Truby and later at UCLA. He has also spent several years doing improvisation in Hollywood with the L.A. Connection. In addition, he trained in the technique of Stella Adler, Practical Aesthetics and Lee Strasberg’s method.