Jonah Hill keeps it real in ‘War Dogs’
Jonah Hill is right at home playing movie versions of real people. In fact, he’s been Oscar-nominated twice for it, as Peter Brand (kind of based on Paul DePodesta) in “Moneyball,” and as Donnie Azoff (kind of based on Danny Porush) in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He’s at it again in “War Dogs,” in which he plays fast-talking schemer, businessman, and international arms dealer Efraim Diveroli, who is more than just “kind of” based on the real Diveroli. Hill gets to go bigger-than-life with this character, whose plans include making as much money as he can, even though his methods teeter on the edge of legal and illegal, and bringing a former best friend (played by Miles Teller) along for the ride. Hill also gets to balance a role with equal parts drama and comedy. He spoke about the film last week in New York.
Q: Was there anything different for you about playing a real person this time?
A: “Moneyball” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” and this movie all feature people looking for an angle into something new. That’s the ember of each one of those stories — finding a new way into something. In “Moneyball” it’s a positive thing, and in “Wolf of Wall Street” it’s a negative thing. But in this movie it’s a very ambiguous thing. They’re not breaking the law until they do (break the law). The question is, if the government says it’s legal, is it OK to do it?
Q: It’s pretty clear that Efraim has some flaws. Were there any challenges in getting into the head of the character?
A: Fortunately I’ve played a good amount of characters now with some pretty deep flaws (laughs). But it wasn’t much fun a lot of the time to play this character, even though it would seem it was. I remember we were in Romania and I was just bummed out. I told (director) Todd (Phillips) that I was sad playing this guy right now. Todd was saying, “But he’s such a great character!” And I was thinking, like, it’s hard when you’re playing someone who’s hurting a lot of people or deceiving people who trust you. It’s hard not to bring some of that home with you or get him inside of you. He’s a lot of fun on the outside, but he’s covering up these things that he’s doing. I definitely felt that while I was doing it, but he was a great character, and a great challenge.
Q: Efraim has a really weird laugh in the film. Where did that come from?
A: I worked together with Todd and with the costume designer in building this character, from the hair and the tan and being bigger, to all of the gold jewelry. But there was one thing missing. I was thinking of people that you only met once or twice, but remembered for the rest of your life. I thought why, and I realized it might be because of a distinctive laugh, so I wanted to create one. I ran it by Todd and we went for it.
Q: You and Miles have a lot of scenes together, and there’s an interesting dynamic to your relationship. Did you have the luxury of been able to work that out before shooting started?
A: No. Miles was coming straight from another film. But these are two people who were really close but hadn’t seen each other for a long period of time, so when they meet in the movie they’re reacquainting themselves with each other. But Miles came over to my house and we hung out a little. Then we started the movie in Romania, which isn’t an English-speaking country, so you kind of get close and get to know each other really quickly.
Q: The movie is all about running a business. Did you ever have anything like a start-up business, maybe a lemonade stand, when you were a kid?
A: No, but I’m prepping my first movie to direct, and that kind of feels like you’re building a temporary business. You hire all these heads of departments, and I feel like I’m the CEO of a temporary business for the first time. I’ll be directing, but not acting in it.
Q: What’s the film about?
A: It’s sort of a coming of age drama. It takes place in the skateboarding scene in the ’90s in L.A. Skateboarding has always been put on the screen as a joke or an ’80s- cowabunga-like trope. But this one is more in the tone of “Kids” or “This is England.” Those are the kind of movies that I’ve been influenced by.
“War Dogs” opens on August 19.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.