Jonah Hill on 'Moneyball' and being an underdog: 'I was at the bottom of a list of other actors you'd expect to see in this part.'
For anyone who might not be a giant baseball fan or who (like me!) is scared off by anything to do with math or statistics, you should know that Moneyball is a movie for everyone. The movie premiered last night at the Toronto Film Festival and is based on the 2003 Michael Lewis book chronicling the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his attempt to change baseball’s methodology when it comes to picking its players. “It’s not a movie about baseball, it’s a movie about value and being undervalued and underdogs and life,” says Jonah Hill, who plays Beane’s assistant GM Peter Brand. “It’s set against this beautiful cinematic backdrop of baseball, and baseball is a metaphor for whatever business or situation you may be in.”
Hill, 27, previously has been known for his work in comedies such as Knocked Up, Superbad and Funny People, and says he understands that getting this role was a casting choice people might not immediately understand. “I recognize I’m not the first choice for a second lead in a big Hollywood drama,” he laughs. “I was at the bottom of a list of other actors you’d expect to see in this part. A few of them are probably here in Toronto and will win Oscars this year.” But, Hill says, director Bennet Miller (Capote) saw something in him. “He knew I wanted to do some dramatic work. I had made this movie called Cyrus and showed it to him and told him, ‘I think it can give you a little peak of what I’m capable of dramatically,’ and he cast me off of that. It was a really big triumph for me.”
Of course, shooting with the cast and crew like Moneyball‘s was understandably daunting. “The intimidation factor was high,” he admits. “Because of Bennett and [screenwriters] Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, and Brad and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Once I got the part and started rehearsing it was like, okay, I’m here. I can either be really intimidated and freaked out the whole time or, think, I’ve taken this job, they’ve all trusted me with this huge part in this movie, I’m not going to let them down. It’s time to get over that and focus on being good and doing good work for them.”
And he can certainly understand what it means to be an underdog. “I like having the underdog complex,” he says. “In comedy right now I’m not the underdog anymore. That means it’s time to be the underdog in something else. When you’re not the underdog then you’re not fighting for anything anymore. So, for me, it was great to fight for this part. And now it’s great to fight for people accepting me doing a dramatic movie.”
But fans of his comedic work, take heart! Hill’s next project will have him teaming up with Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn in Neighborhood Watch. “If [Moneyball] wasn’t already a childhood dream, [Neighborhood Watch] is a pretty incredible childhood dream as well,” laughs Hill. “If 16-year-old Jonah knew about Moneyball, he’d have already lost his mind. But if he knew about Neighborhood Watch…if he wasn’t already screaming from the rooftops, I think he’d be doing that now.”