Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are recounting their meet-cute, but the details are proving…controversial. It was 2007, apparently, right after Hill starred in Superbad and Tatum in Step Up. They were familiar with each other’s work, but had never met until one fateful night at West Hollywood’s Dan Tana’s, where they happened to catch each other’s eye across the restaurant…
“Hold up, hold up,” interrupts Tatum, 34. “It wasn’t after Step Up. It was The Vow or something.” Hill, 30, rolls his eyes. “The Vow was, like, way later,” he says. “That was right before Jump Street came out, dumbbell. You don’t know your own filmography?” Tatum shakes his head, saying, “Are you sure? I don’t think so.” They playfully bicker over the details for two minutes, sounding more like the stars of You’ve Got Mail than this summer’s biggest buddy comedy, 22 Jump Street (rated R, out now), in which they play undercover cops pretending to be college students to track down a drug dealer.
Rapport can’t be faked, and that’s one reason that the stars’ 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street took in more than $200 million worldwide. At the time, the idea of pairing Hill, the schlubby joker, and Tatum, the action hero with a highly marketable torso, was an epic reach across the aisle. But in comedy, as in romance, opposites often attract: Martin and Lewis, Laurel and Hardy, Tom and Jerry. “Jonah and Channing are really different humans, and it’s remarkable that they get along so well,” says director Phil Lord, who along with his own comedic better half, Christopher Miller, directed both Jump Street films. “That’s what’s hilarious about it.”
When we met the two actors on May 16 at L.A.’s Milk Studios, that difference was evident. Hill sat on the edge of the couch, leaning forward as he pattered and joked his way through the interview, while Tatum lay back beside him, tossing in a comment here and there. Hill dressed in a custom tee with “James Franco” in intersecting cruciform letters; Tatum sported a button-down work shirt fit for a former roofer. On the surface, it’s the kind of haphazard matchup you’d expect from a college housing board, but soon it’s clear these two were meant to be together. (Even if Tatum already has a wife, Jenna Dewan, and a 1-year-old daughter, Everly.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You two have great chemistry. The only other pair I can think of with something similar are Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, and they’re dating, so…
JONAH HILL: [Laughs] We actually were on a plane ride from Mexico to New York one time with just the four of us on it.
CHANNING TATUM: It was kinda strange. I was like, are we the cuter couple? If I wasn’t with my wife and Jonah had lady parts, I would probably ask him out.
That’s really sweet.
HILL: If sex doesn’t come into play, I would definitely want Channing as my partner.
TATUM: I like to call it cellmates, when you get along really good with somebody. Like, would we be able to work in an 8-by-5 space for a long time.
HILL: It’d be worse for him than it would be for me, because I complain constantly.
This movie comes pretty quick on the heels of the first one. Do you both avoid sequels?
TATUM: I try not to do them. I did not want to be in the sequel to G.I. Joe.
You die almost immediately in it.
HILL: He’s like, “Just kill me in the first five minutes.”
TATUM: “Go on without me, I’m good.”
But 22 Jump Street makes much of the fact that it’s a sequel.
HILL: The first one worked really well because making a TV show into a movie is such a bad idea and we go after that so openly. So from the second we decided to make a sequel, it was like, “We have to really be hard on ourselves for the fact that we’re making a sequel.”
There are so many jokes about the movie’s sequeldom that you seem to be salting the earth against future installments. Would you guys be on board for another one?
TATUM: I don’t know, man. It felt so natural to do the second one because it felt like “Of course, why not? You have to go to college.” I don’t know where the third one would go. It would have to be like…actually, I physically cannot even dream of something that would make sense.
So…that’s a no.
Hill: [Laughs] I don’t know if that was a clear enough answer. It is kind of ridiculous. What is it going to be, grad school?
How did you first connect about working together on 21 Jump Street?
TATUM: Jonah just called me up. I had never been in a real comedy before, so I was like, “Are you sure?” and he was like, “Yeah, man, I got you.”
HILL: He was like, “I don’t know if I can be funny.” And I said, “Just believe in what you’re saying, no matter how stupid what you’re saying is.”
TATUM: “Oh, it’s that easy? Okay.”
And Channing, did you help Jonah with the action elements?
TATUM: I really just make sure he doesn’t shoot me in the face.
HILL: Hey, I came up Wild West rules with Biggie.
TATUM: Anytime you handed Jonah a loaded gun, I got really f—ing nervous. He loved the idea of making people nervous…
HILL: Making you nervous.
TATUM: Super nervous. Because I was always the one you were pointing it at. At my nuts.
I can see the headline: “Magic Mike’s balls blasted off by Jonah Hill.”
HILL: He already has a kid, so I figured…
TATUM: Jonah doesn’t need any help with action. He can do every single thing; he just finds it way funnier to act like he doesn’t want to do it, or that he can’t do it.
Physical comedy is a lot like doing action. A lot of blocking and economy of movement…
TATUM: Jonah will let you do pretty much anything to him if he thinks it’s funny. He’ll be like, “Oh, man, just do it.” We did five takes of this scene in the first movie of me hitting him with a stuffed giraffe. I was just smashing him with it, and he was black-and-blue all over. I feel the giraffe, and there’s this metal bar right in the middle of it, and I’m like, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
HILL: Because it was funny!
How many of your stunts did you two do?
TATUM: I did every one they allowed me to do. They won’t let me do some. Sometimes I’m like, “Look, I don’t care if you roll any film, I want to do this.”
HILL: He stood on top of a truck going 60 miles per hour. That’s actually him, with a guy who is definitely not me.
TATUM: I would have done Jonah’s part, too, if they’d let me.
You shot the film’s Mexican spring-break scenes in Puerto Rico. What was that like?
HILL: It was great. Reggaeton is playing from every speaker that exists. You walk into any bar, restaurant, elementary school, and it’s like, “Boom-chi-boom-chi-boom-chi-boom-chi-huh!” I loved it, man.
TATUM: Everyone looks like they just stepped out of a CrossFit commercial. They’re all super fit. It looks like they haven’t eaten anything bad in their life.
HILL: I think the national wardrobe is jean shorts.
Both of you have broken out of career boxes: Channing has proved he’s funny, and Jonah’s earned two Oscar nominations. How hard was it to do that?
TATUM: I think people still think of me as the thick-necked action dude, and that is what it is. And they say Jonah’s the funny guy, but it doesn’t matter. Genres didn’t even exist until critics needed a way to describe them.
HILL: It’s all just going to be one giant superhero one day anyway, so who cares? There will be no genres of film anymore. Just Batman meets Spider-Man meets Daredevil and also Queen Alexia.
One theme of the film is that you need “friction to make a fire”—that differences can be productive. How do you two differ?
HILL: We are a quote-unquote odd couple. That dynamic is true of our relationship on screen and off. We come from incredibly different worlds, and it is a yin-and-yang thing. I admire so much the qualities he possesses that I don’t have.
TATUM: Same back at you, buddy. One of the most endearing things about Jonah is that he’s just very much in the moment always. If he’s having a good time, everyone is having a good time. He’s like a kid that way. That’s what I love about him.
HILL: We’re being really nice to each other.
Let’s fix that. Jonah, why don’t you tell Channing something he does that upsets you?
HILL: It hurts me when you act in public like I’m not there. It feels like when we get home, you’re all about me.
TATUM: I am all about you. But when I’m in public, all I feel is that you don’t want me to talk, because I don’t say things that are smart. It’s like you want me to shut up all the time.
HILL: That’s not truuuuue!
Let it out. This is healthy, guys.
HILL: If you could only see inside my head.
TATUM: I see inside your head. I want to see inside your heart.
For more on 22 Jump Street, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.