Above all else, working on The Wolf of Wall Street for star Jonah Hill was a lesson in filmmaking, courtesy of the master movie professor, director Martin Scorsese. “You know I love film more than anything in my life, other than personal relationships. The fact that you can learn from your hero who knows more than anyone in the world pretty much about the history of film and why things are important is just amazing,” Hill told Movie Fanatic recently.
Hill was a little apprehensive at first when reporting for duty for his role as Donnie for Scorsese and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. After all, DiCaprio and Scorsese were working on their fifth movie together. "The first days of rehearsals -- and we rehearsed for a month and a half -- I was terrified,” Hill said.
“The first month was Scorsese, Leo and me in a room. This is crazy. These guys know each other so well. Leo, what’s so great about him, is he understands. Even though he’s made five movies with him, he has the same reverence that we all have for Scorsese. He grew up worshiping Goodfellas and all those movies. He can understand that you could be intimidated and tried to make it more comfortable. He did that.”
There was a moment where he realized he did belong. Well, at least that it would be harder to replace him than keep him!
“I’ll say that after three or four weeks, I thought I’m probably not going to get fired because they’ve shot enough where they wouldn’t want to reshoot that with somebody else,” Hill said and laughed.
We wondered how his expectations of working with a legend compared to the reality of it once the camera started rolling on The Wolf of Wall Street.
“It exceeded my expectations and my expectations could not have been higher,” Hill admitted.
“A part like Donnie doesn’t come along like ever in most people’s careers -- that unhinged and messed up and fractured and out of control. And what Scorsese does better -- and he does a million things better than anyone else -- is he creates an organized chaos. He creates a safe and organized place for people to become completely unhinged. I don’t know how he does that.”
Hill plays Donnie and gives the most extraordinary performance of his career (see more in our The Wolf of Wall Street review). He is not the most likeable guy, heck not many in the movie are for what they do to the average person in terms of fleecing their bank accounts for their own personal wealth. But, actors don’t have to like their characters, sometimes just understanding them is enough. “Donnie is pretty hard to like. I found him entertaining. He’s really more obnoxious than anything else. I had a harder time with that,” Hill said. “Would I actually be friends with these people? No, I wouldn’t. I find them entertaining to watch and I find lots of characters in movies entertaining to watch that I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend my time with.”
The film is based on the book written by the guy DiCaprio plays, Jordan Belford. Hill was astounded by his reaction reading the book, in preparation for the part. And that reaction is the same one people have leaving the theater.
“I couldn’t put the book down and I couldn’t believe that this was how they actually behaved! That to me was why it was an interesting story,” Hill said. “That is what makes the movie a story worth telling because that is what these people did and this is how they got punished for it. That to me is the most interesting part that they get a slap on the wrist. That is what is really shocking to me.”
Scorsese is a dramatic director who encourages his performers to get lost in a scene and explore improvisation. That is something Hill is quite comfortable with from his comedic background. But, he stresses it could not come from more different places.
“When you’re in a broad comedy like 21 Jump Street or Superbad, you have the responsibility to make the audience laugh every minute, or you’ve failed,” Hill said. “With a movie like Cyrus, Moneyball or Wolf of Wall Street, you just have a responsibility to be that character as intricately and authentically as you can. That, as an actor, is way more enjoyable because you’re just getting to be this person.”
But, to make Scorsese laugh had to be an absolute joy, given that there are some hilarious moments, teased through The Wolf of Wall Street trailer!
“What was interesting about him is he laughs when he likes something. He’ll laugh at things he finds funny, but also things he is excited about. Sometimes you’ll be doing a heavy scene and he’ll laugh. He’s just excited,” Hill said. “He has a world famous laugh and it’s the greatest sound in the entire world.”
Although we all know how incredible Hill is with comedy, look for the actor to do more films like The Wolf of Wall Street, given the chance. Up next he has True Story, a heavy drama about a group of kids who get murdered.
“True Story was really dark. So, doing Wolf and True Story were two dark movies in a row,” Hill said. “I find real life fascinating. I think movies should feel as much like documentaries as they can. That is real life. And how people treat each other and why they do the things they do and why they hurt one another is interesting to me. That is something I would love to keep exploring.”
He will still be making comedies, though, thank goodness, if nothing else, to keep his sanity. “I had to do 22 Jump Street just to not be bummed out for a year straight,” he said and laughed.