21 Jump Street directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord had a difficult task on their hands -- bringing a beloved 1980s TV series to life on the big screen. “It is tricky, because we grew up watching the show and we have a great nostalgia for it. But, we knew it would have to feel totally different to work in this contemporary day and age,” Miller said in our exclusive interview. We marveled at their Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and were thrilled to get an inside scoop of their successful effort to bring 21 Jump Street into the twenty-first century.
“We tried to balance it by being a new thing and have it feel totally different while at the same time staying true to the show enough that there are a lot of hidden things in there for people who are big fans of the show. It takes place in a universe where the show existed rather than trying to reinvent the show from the beginning. We felt that was the best way to honor it.”
For one, the duo made their film a comedy at its heart. Sure, there’s plenty of action and thrills, but at its core, their film is one funny flick. Much of that has to do with the crazy chemistry between its leads, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. “You can tell sitting at the table read looking at the two of them sitting next to one another, it was just an interesting choice and really helped delve into their onscreen relationship,” Lord said. Once they got the two in front of a camera, it was like fireworks went off.
“We really knew during the first camera test that the two of those guys... that there was something magical about watching them together. In theory it was going to work. Jonah’s hilarious and Channing is super funny and a great actor and has a really warm personality. But, you never know until you see them together. It was really natural. It never required a lot of buttressing. It was always there.”
The relationship onscreen begins with Hill and Tatum as high school polar opposites. Once they enter the police academy, their friendship grows -- much like it did in real life. "We were extra lucky for us in that they became good friends while shooting the movie and their respect, admiration and love for each other was readily apparent on every frame of the movie,” Miller said.
Each actor found something they needed to learn from the other, again, like their characters onscreen. "I think they bring different things to the movie. In a weird way, they were not competitive,” Lord added. “Channing was looking to Jonah to teach him everything he knew about making comedies and Channing is such a creative action star and such a volatile actor that he really brought to the film his warmth and his sweetness.”
Another aspect of the 21 Jump Street movie that is as commanding as Hill and Tatum is that there is someone who steals scenes from them… every time. That individual is Ice Cube. "He was our first choice and only choice,” Lord said. “It was something that Jonah had thought of from the beginning. They thought it would be great to get the guy who made (Expletive) the Police to be the police chief of this group. We worked on the script, we crafted the character as tailor made for him. When we sat down with the casting director, she made a list of who we thought we should get. Our list… was a list of one. She said, ‘What if he says no?’ We said, ‘We’ll have to rewrite the part.’ He’s the only guy who can do that."
Lord and Miller reported that given Hill and Tatum’s innate abilities of improv, not to mention that of co-star Rob Riggle, they were seriously impressed with Ice Cube and his talents of the spontaneous. “He showed up on the set and was ready to have fun. There was a lot of improvising on this movie and he was totally game. He just nailed it,” Miller said. “There’s a scene where he just eats a sandwich and really meanly. That was his idea. He said, 'I want to be chewing on something.' I understand, he was literally chewing the scenery.”
The two directors have quite a working relationship. They reported it is much like Tatum and Hill’s on and off screen. “The movie is about a partnership," Lord said. “That is something we really connected to and wanted it to be the central theme of the movie. We worked really hard to make that story about that and make you really care about that relationship.”