Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane receives the lion’s share of the credit for implementing the revolutionary concept of “moneyball” into the major leagues, but as Bennett Miller’s lively baseball drama explains, it was upstart baseball insider Peter Brand who introduced the idea to Beane. Now Jonah Hill hopes Miller’s film -- where he plays Brand opposite Brad Pitt’s Beane -- introduces audience members to an alternate, more serious side of this Superbad star.
Movies.com had a chance to sit down with Hill at the Toronto International Film Festival shortly after Moneyball held its world premiere. Enthusiastic and proud, Hill spoke about the two defining moments of his career, the four people he considers mentors, and why he prefers to feel like an underdog.
Movies.com: Have you ever had a film play the Toronto International Film Festival before?
Jonah Hill: Nope. This is my first time.
Movies.com: What does it mean, then, to have one of your films programmed here?
Hill: I think to have this film here, is a more accurate way to say it when it comes to how I feel. I don’t know. The Superbad premiere and now the Gala premiere of this film here in Toronto are the two defining moments of my career so far.
Movies.com: Really? That’s interesting. Because you think you are now taking a turn in a different direction?
Hill: Yeah. Well, the Superbad premiere just served as this amazing introduction into the entertainment world. It essentially said, “Here I am. I made this movie. I hope to make more movies.” And it was responded to in a very great way. But [the other night] at the Moneyball premiere, it felt like a similar thing. I’m going, “Hey. I was known as this one thing, but I’m also going to try and do this other thing. Here’s this movie. I hope you guys like it.” And it, also, was responded to in a great way. Those were two defining moments for me in my life.
Movies.com: Was there a concern at the Superbad premiere that you needed to live it up now because this might be it?
Hill: Oh yeah, absolutely. We lived every day like there was no tomorrow. [Laughs] At any moment, we felt like we could get kicked out of the party. And that’s how I feel now. If I ever don’t feel that way, I think I’d be upset. That’s why I’m doing more dramas. I find it exciting because on Superbad, when those posters went up, most people were like, “Who are these two guys?” We were the underdogs. And now, because I have been established in comedy, I’m not an underdog when I make a comedy. It’s what’s expected of me. So when I’m the second lead in this big Hollywood movie with Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, I’m the underdog again. People ask, “Why is this guy in this movie?” And there’s where I like to be.
Movies.com: So when it came down to Moneyball, was it the baseball side of the story or the statistical angles that appealed to you?
Hill: Neither. Neither of those sides. They were the two elements that I dreaded the most about Moneyball. First, I had to learn all about the inner working of baseball – how the machine works. And then with statistics, I had to get a statistics tutor and I’m just awful at math. So yeah, neither of those elements [appealed to me], and in truth, neither of those elements are why I love the movie. To me, I connected with a movie about being undervalued. I know what it’s like to have someone shine a light on me for the first time and say, “Be courageous. Here’s your chance to do what you do.” And that’s what Billy does to Peter Brand. That’s what I related to.
Movies.com: Who did that to you?
Hill: I’ve had four moments that have really changed my life. Dustin Hoffman being the first one. He got me my first movie role [in I Heart Huckabees] and saw something in me. Then there was Judd [Apatow], Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg], with Judd shining a light on all of us. Then the Duplass brothers letting me do Cyrus, which at the time was something completely different for me. They were bold in letting me do that. And now Bennett and Brad. Those are four very concrete examples where I’ve had four separate Billy Beanes over the course of my career.
Movies.com: Are you still thinking of directing somewhere down the line?
Hill: Absolutely. I recently directed my first music video. I think that directing is something that I’m very passionate about, but it has to be the perfect thing. I’m just in such a place right now where I’m really loving acting, and I want to try and do different types of movies from here on out.
Bennett Miller’s Moneyball opens in theaters on Friday, Sept. 23.