21 Jump Street – Interview with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum

Thanks to Sony Pictures Australia we were invited to interview Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in Sydney ahead of the release of ’21 Jump Street’ on 15 March.

We were joined by other fantastic online film journalists including Richard Gray from The Reel Bits, Matt Pejkovic from Matt’s Movie Reviews Jessica Chandra from Pop Sugar and Jorge Duran from The Spotlight Report – we heartily endorse their sites, please visit them.

We chatted with Hill and Tatum – in police uniform – about everything from the fear of being part of adapting a TV show for the big screen, the dramatic first script they were delivered, Hill’s Oscar nomination and Tatum’s work with Stephen Soderbergh on ‘Magic Mike’ and future projects.

Hit the jump for the full interview.

Head over The Reel Bits for audio of the interview.

RG: Was there a time when you were remaking an 80s TV show when you thought that this was a really bad idea.

TATUM: The whole time.

HILL: Yeah, when they approached me to do it five years ago, I tend to roll my eyes like everybody else would when you hear about a television show being made into a movie and you kind of think this seems like a corporate cash-grab or whatever, just to play on something that was popular a long time ago. We make that joke in the movie three minutes into the film, saying like ‘Hey, we get what you’re thinking’ and we’re going to call it out before you can and show you that its a way better movie than you think you’re about to see. For us, it was just about…if you could go back and relive the most important period of your youth thinking you have all the answers and getting back there…and you think you have it wrong, that’s a cool idea for a film. That’s kind of the reason why I did it.

TATUM: But I wonder if you like changed the title of this movie, would most people even know what it was? [Laugh] This has almost nothing to do…it’s not like we’re playing the same characters in the TV show anyway. It’s a whole re-imagination, because the young kids they don’t know what 21 Jump Street is. [Laughs] They don’t have a clue.

HILL: They have no idea.

TATUM: I’m 31, and I was like “21 Jump Street? What?” This is awesome. Then I was like, wait a minute…

HILL: Yeah, we went to a University [UNSW] last night, and not one person would have known this was a show or anything like that.

MP: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, their previous film was an animated family movie. So what was it about them that you thought would be a good fit for this movie?

TATUM: We figured because this movie was so strongly animated, that we just knew that they were the ones to do it. [Laughs] No. I did not know. I just listened to him.

HILL: We had a bunch of directors come in, and audition basically to get the part, to get the job and they had a really cool take on it. There were a lot of really great people who came close, and they just had a really cool take on the material that we were doing. So…we took a chance on them and they did a great job for their first film for sure.

JC: Jonah, you co-wrote the script, as you were writing it, did you pick Channing in the role or how did you know he was right for the role?

HILL: We pictured it would be me and an action star. That was kind of the idea, we wanted some who was known for action movies who was willing to play with that persona and be in a totally different kind of film, and Channing is the best person working in that field I think, and he was ballsy enough to take a leap of faith and do something different. I love when any actor that has that kind of cojones to jump into something so foreign to them is going to be good, because they’re courageous.

TATUM: Thanks buddy.

HILL: It’s true.

CW: You guys both have an executive producer credit on the film and Jonah has a story credit, and there are always rumours about 80s TV shows getting rebooted into films. What was the project like when you guys came to it, compared to what we see in the film?

HILL: That’s all there was. There was a real serious Miami Vice style version of the script that we just threw out and didn’t use. It was super straight.

CW: Like really over the top?

HILL: No, just super straight, like Miami Vice style..

TATUM: It was a drama. [Laughs]

HILL: Yeah, action-drama. We read it, and it was a good script, but it wasn’t the take we were trying to do.

CW: There wasn’t any room for speedboats in 21 Jump Street?

HILL: Yeah, it wasn’t like ‘Hey, let’s go get a mojito and take a cigarette boat to Cuba. [Everyone laughs]

TATUM: There were scenes in the movie that I read, they only sent me like 50 pages…

HILL: It didn’t print out, it’s not like there wasn’t…

TATUM: It’s all I had.

HILL: He said yes on 50 pages of a script which is quite awesome.

TATUM: I was like, is there more?

HILL: He’s like this is awesome and I was like, thanks, what did you think? And he was like, how does it end?

TATUM: And you were like, you’re going to say yes on 50 pages? I was like, I don’t know. I want to be in the Jonah Hill business. That was it. But there’s still a scene I’m almost regretful is not in the movie where we’re shooting like rocket launchers into like a lake in a dream. It was so weird, but it was the most fun ridiculous script I’d ever read in my life and it turned out to be the most fun and ridiculous movie I’ve ever made.

RG: Channing, you’ve got a bit of a relationship building with Steven Soderberg, how did that relationship come to be after working on Haywire, which we’re waiting to come out here…

TATUM: Oh, it not out here yet?

RG: No. And obviously you’ve got Magic Mike next and another film I believe?

TATUM: Yeah, I ‘m going to do a little two week part on his next thing with Rooney Mara and Jude Law. I’ve found somebody in a way that I can honestly say that I’ve never worked with anyone on a directorial level that is more collaborative than he is. To be someone that has made as many movies, and as many great movies, as he has, he doesn’t have to be. He really doesn’t, but I think that’s one of his biggest strengths is that he empowers you – as an actor, as a set designer, as a grip, as a costume designer – to literally take it and run with it.

The character I play in Haywire is written very straight…very underdeveloped character. I showed up and I had kind of an idea of what I wanted to do with the idea of him and I just threw out an idea, and he’s like ‘Great, let’s see what that looks like’. There was no questions of like ‘Ok, how do you want to do that?’, he was just…go and do it. So we sort of shaped it from there. It’s unbelievable, I don’t know of any other director I’ve worked with that has that much freedom and sort of self assured hand with everything. He’s such a confident director, he knows he’s going to find his way through.

He called me from Haywire, and I was like ‘I don’t even need to read it’. Whatever. Just tell me where to show up and I did. Over a beer after work on Haywire, when I told him I was a stripper for eight months of my life he laughed his ass off and he was like ‘That would make a great movie’. And I was, yeah I want to make a movie one day. He was like ‘You should write it’ and I was ‘Yeah, I’ll get right on it, Steven Soderbergh. Let me start writing. I don’t know how to write.

TATUM: Then cut to like six, seven months later, where me and my business partner Reid Carolin, he wrote it, we financed it, produced it, acted it in. It’s cool. We’re almost done with it now.

MP: Jonah – Oscars next week. Just wanted to know what you you thought about the nomination, and what do you expect from the ceremony?

HILL: I was just thrilled and shocked and humbled to be honoured, and I just expect to enjoy it and bring my mum and hope she has fun. I’m sure that’s the kind of thing that mum’s obviously would have a lot of fun being really proud of their son for doing a good job.

TATUM: I’m really proud of you, I can only imagine how proud she is.

HILL: Thanks, I’m just really excited to get to go.

JC: How much improvisation did you guys do in the film, and are there any examples of scenes that were really different to what they were like in the script?

TATUM: He can’t say that it’s awesome, the writing’s amazing…

HILL: The writing’s perfect.

TATUM: Actually, he can say that. But we would do the scenes and then we would have fun with it after did what was on the page.

HILL: There was like one moment that I think was like a big laugh in the movie that I really like that just came from us on the day messing around, where we’re staking them out. And you like push my head down and say act like you’re blowing me. That whole scene. And I’m like ‘Why me’ and you like ‘Because you’re in a Peter Pan outfit’. That whole thing felt like classic Bad Boys kind of moment and that was just like Channing and I, that just happened. To me, when I watch the movie, I feel like that could have been in Bad Boys…Sometimes moments like that just happen once you’re in the rhythm of making the movie.

TATUM: I don’t have…a background in comedy so I didn’t understand that you can just do like a riff session when you’re standing in front of your picture? What did you say it looked like again?

HILL: Fred Savage.

TATUM: We literally sat there for…a couple of long takes during certain scenes where we were just throwing stuff out and people were throwing out stuff off camera. We were doing like a whole riff about what we looked like…I’ve never done that, in a drama you don’t really do that and you can’t riff on a scene. It’s so cool that you can do that in comedies.

CW: Speaking of photos, the scene you guys were just talking about, are they really photos of you as a kid?

HILL: Yeah, they are. We’re making fun of my mum a lot in this. Yeah, my parents are like the nicest people in the world, but my mum is super out there. She thinks I’m the greatest person, and my siblings, are the greatest people in the entire world and I guess felt so much so that she needed real glamour shots of them as four year olds.

TATUM: She treats them like…they’re Mona Lisa. Just won’t let anybody breathe on them.

HILL: They were all individual. There’s one of me and my brother and me that she got airbrushed and blown up that’s like the size of this wall. She’s a sick person. I said ‘Mum, if you’re going to put me through this, I’m at least going to get to use it for comedy. I had years of my friends making fun of that when they would come over to my house.

TATUM: The only thing that makes it not creepy is how much she loves you.

HILL: She’s truly not weird. She doesn’t mean to be weird.

TATUM: Someone that didn’t love someone that did that would be weird…

HILL: They’re not for anyone else besides her! She’s not like a creep, she just wants to by her beautiful children.

TATUM: She literally has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen.

HILL: She just loves her kids.

JD: Hey guys, last question. You’ve been in various projects, with John C. Reilly in Cyrus and How to Train Your Dragon…

HILL: I trained it.

JD: What is the most rewarding project you’ve worked on lately?

HILL: I’d say this one and Moneyball the past year. These two movies to come out a couple of months apart from one another. [Counts] Wow, six months. That’s crazy, six months apart from each other. These two movies are movies I’m really proud of. I just want to keep making movies anyway. It’s a perfect example of what I want to do in the comedy world, and what I want to do in the drama world. To come out so close together is like a perfect example of what I want out of my career.

TATUM: Magic Mike. It’s something that we totally generated ourselves. I’ll always do movies where you’ll jump into a character somebody else has created and be an actor for hire, but it’s just been so special in a way to start it and build it yourself. Then we did something in a way that’s not taboo, but it’s not done a lot. Soderbergh…and I financed it ourselves. We paid for the movie, we put our own skin in the game. We wanted to make it in a way that nobody else could effect what the outcome of the film was. That doesn’t ever happen. Very rarely can you ever make a movie, and not have it be compromised because of what the studios are telling you to do to make money. It’s been odd and kind of interesting do that and have a bunch of different hats on, but it’s just been my favourite thing in the world because we have so much freedom.

’21 Jump Street’ is released in Australia on 15 March 2012 and 16 March 2012 in the US.