SAN FRANCISCO — Actor-writer Jonah Hill is a double-threat talent with a decidedly unthreatening presence.
Hill, 27, reached prominence as a stubbled, curly-haired and foul-mouthed part of the Judd Apatow gang in “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.” He exuded a bit of wildness off screen as well, a smart, outspoken young man in thick black glasses and hiply disheveled clothing.
Today’s Hill is refined. He has dropped a lot of weight since he shot “Moneyball,” which opens today. He cut off the curls.
But it’s not just that. His clothes are neat, his face clean-shaven, and his demeanor poised as he sips tea in a San Francisco hotel room.
“Those early Judd movies were (like) my college experience,” said Hill, who studied filmmaking at the New School before switching to on-the-job training. “So I was a wild frat guy who was making movies. And now, years later, I have matured. … I introduced myself to the world when I was really young and thought I knew a lot about it, when I knew nothing about it.”
The weight loss “was about me being healthier,” Hill said. The curls were tough to control, though he might grow them back someday.
The charismatic Hill always seemed like he was going places. They’re just classier places now.
Instead of improvising the grossest line possible, for an Apatow film, he is delivering lines written by Academy Award winners and “Moneyball” co-writers Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian and playing second lead to Brad Pitt.
Hill plays assistant general manager to Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, played by Pitt in the movie based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 book about the 2002 A’s team.
Of Pitt, with whom he shares most scenes, Hill said, “He’s insanely talented and giving of his experiences.”
Working with Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) was a big a deal to Hill, a budding screenwriter.
“Actors wait their whole lives to work with writers like that,” he said.
Partly at the behest of Apatow, who encouraged his stable of young actors to create their own material, Hill has written up a storm recently.
He co-wrote “21 Jump Street,” opening next spring. A revamp of the Johnny Depp TV series, “Jump Street” stars Hill and Channing Tatum as young cops who go undercover in high school.
Hill co-created the Fox animated series “Allen Gregory,” debuting in October. Hill voices the lead character, an effete 7-year-old appalled by having to attend a regular school.
Hill has wanted to be inside an animated series since he was Allen’s age and enthralled by “The Simpsons.”
“My parents asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I said, ‘Live in Springfield!’” said Hill, a Los Angeles native. “They said, ‘That’s not possible. It’s a show and there is an actor who does Homer’s voice. and there are people who draw Homer and write what Homer says.’ I said, ‘I want to do that. I want to write what Homer says.’”
“Allen Gregory” will air just after “The Simpsons,” at 8:30 ET on Sunday nights.
Fox seemed the right network to showcase an animated character Hill calls “the most pretentious kid on the planet — a little Truman Capote.”
(Hill’s “Moneyball” co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman, coincidentally, won an Oscar playing Capote in a film directed by “Moneyball” director Bennett Miller.)
Degrees of Hollywood separation are few for Hill, who has appeared in at least a few films per year since stealing a scene as the eBay kid in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
He has honed his screen persona along the way, moving from randy high schooler in “Superbad” to the record-label up-and-comer chaperoning — and falling prey to the debauchery of — rock star Russell Brand in “Get Him to the Greek” to brainy but still-green baseball executive Peter Brand in “Moneyball.”
A Yale economics graduate, Peter Brand is a proponent of building a baseball team based more on statistical analysis than scouting.
The character is “a composite” based partly on real-life baseball executives who worked with stats-centric “sabermetrics,” Hill said. The actor met with a few of these executives, including Paul DePodesta, a Harvard grad, former A’s assistant GM and a key part of Lewis’ book.
DePodesta, now a Mets executive, told the Wall Street Journal that he did not want to be named in the film because “like any movie, to make it interesting, there has to be some conflict there. In some respects, a lot of the conflict is going to revolve around my character, and that was never really the case in reality.”
DePodesta said he liked Hill as an actor, though.
Hill liked not having to play a real guy.
“I didn’t have a real responsibility to anybody or their families,” he said. “These (other actors) are playing guys who are still living, most of whom are still working in baseball.”
“Moneyball” features a megawatt leading man and several Oscar winners in its creative ranks. Yet it’s not too removed from his earlier film work, Hill said.
“I always gravitate toward things that are a little more punk rock,” Hill said. “That’s what Judd does … at the time, all of us — the collective he had around him — felt what we were doing was different from what was going on in comedy.”
“Moneyball,” Hill said, “is an inspirational movie and an underdog story, but it’s also pretty punk rock in nature. It’s two guys who said the world is round when everyone said it’s flat.”
Punk rock, with smoothed edges. Kind of like Hill.
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