Of all the actors in the running for the Academy Awards this year, the one who is most gobsmacked to find himself in the thick of consideration has got to be Moneyball star Jonah Hill. As the taciturn numbers cruncher who convinces Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) to adopt a radical new system of recruiting low-valued players, Hill gives a subtle, muted performance that fans of his voluble and vulgar characters in Superbad, Knocked Up, and The Sitter wouldn’t recognize. (Fans of his nuanced performance in the indie film Cyrus, however, may not be so shocked.) The role has won him the best reviews of his career, nominations for the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, and according to Hill, the surreal experience of having people tell him he’s in the awards season horse race, even months before Moneyball had hit theaters.
“All I know is that since July, people have been saying to me, ‘Awards, XYZ’ in interviews,” says Hill, sitting in a nondescript office on the Sony Pictures lot, while a screening of Moneyball plays for awards-season voters nearby. (The film comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today.) “You’re talking to a person who doesn’t expect any sort of recognition for anything that I do. To me, [doing Moneyball] is about making more dramatic movies. The awards element of it is completely secondary. I’m in shock that I was nominated for any award. I had no expectations. But when you do an interview and someone goes, ‘Do you expect to be nominated for an award?’ that’s when you start thinking about it. I mean, in your head, you don’t think you’re going to get nominated for a journalism award when you write this piece, right? When I act in a movie, I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m going to get nominated for an award.’ I mean, it’s so meaningful to my parents. They’re really excited, I’m really excited. I’m in shock. I think I’m still shell-shocked.”
So apparently, he’s a little in shock. But he still happily spoke with EW about his favorite scene in Moneyball — and his entire career — how Catherine Keener was instrumental in helping him land the role, and the fabulous factoid about the climactic baseball game in the film.
On his favorite scene: “My favorite scene I’ve ever shot in a movie is in this movie, and it’s where my character has to fire this [player] and tell him he’s been traded. For my character, the whole thing that [director] Bennett [Miller] and I created was a story from my character’s point of view about a guy who blends into the wall. All of a sudden you shine a light on this guy. What’s that story like? From that point on, all of his ideas get utilized. The most powerful person possible will utilize your ideas, and it’s all going great and amazing, and then all of a sudden this big trade happens, and it’s all because of you. Now it’s like, go tell the guy that your ideas have negatively affected his life. That’s responsibility.
“It’s a scene that lasts for 30 or 35 seconds where I have to tell a guy that’s he’s been traded, but it’s really a scene about a kid growing up into a man, and learning about the negative sides of responsibility. That’s what Bennett and I talked about for months, and it’s a 30 or 35 second scene. When I watch the movie, I watch that scene and I go, ‘Jesus Christ, that’s a powerful scene. And I’m in it. I get to be in a powerful scene in a movie.’ I didn’t know I’d be in a powerful scene in a movie, ever.”
On Catherine Keener, who starred in Bennett Miller’s debut feature Capote, and in Cyrus and The 40 Year-Old Virgin with Hill: “She’s the best. She’s just the greatest person. Brad and Bennett and myself all orbit around the sun that is Catherine Keener. Because when the director fell out of this film [ed note: Steven Soderbergh dropped out of directing the film due to budget and script issues], she recommended Bennett to Brad. Then when they needed to cast the second lead, she recommended me to Bennett and Brad. So she’s the sort of sun that we all orbit around.”
On the climactic baseball game in Moneyball, in which the A’s break the American League record for most consecutive wins in a row: “This was the coolest thing ever that Bennett did. We shot in Oakland, at A’s stadium, and most of the people in the stands were at that actual game. When I’m in the stands, the people I was sitting next to were at the actual game. I mean, how rare in a reenactment do you get that kind of authenticity, and that kind of passion from the extras in the scene? They were so moved that they were going to relive this experience in their history. It was really rare and cool. I mean, I’ve never been a part of a real story, but I imagine those stories don’t [always] get that kind of authenticity. I was sitting in the stands saying, ‘What was it like at this game?’ And they were going, ‘Oh my God, this is what happened. This is what actually went down.'”