AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Fresh from his surprise Oscar nomination for a dramatic role in “Moneyball,” Jonah Hill is looking at a career change that many have tried before in Hollywood but few have succeeded at. He is moving from funnyman to serious actor.
Even as his new “21 Jump Street,” based on a 1980s TV drama but turned into a comedy for the movies, hits theaters on Friday, Hill said he has grown bored with always being the sidekick in funny films like “Superbad” that made him a star.
At age 28, a slimmed-down Hill said his role as a numbers-crunching Yale grad in baseball drama “Moneyball” has blown “the door wide open” for new opportunities and better roles. In fact, he’s already hard at work on one new drama.
“The past 10 years, I’ve made a lot of comedy films,” he told Reuters at the South by Southwest film festival where “21 Jump Street” premiered last week ahead of its U.S. debut.
“It’s just not as inspiring to me anymore as an artist. I love doing it, but it really is exciting after ‘Moneyball’ to have that taste for something different ... doing the same thing over and over again is as boring to do as it’s boring to watch.”
Others, of course, have tried before. Funnyman Jim Carrey had his box office bombs with Andy Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon” and thriller “The Number 23,” and Adam Sandler flopped with drama/comedy hybrids “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Spanglish.” Steve Martin and Robin Williams have fared much better.
Hill will soon add his name to the list of comedy-to-drama crossovers, but until then comes “21 Jump Street,” a new take on the TV show from 25 years ago that starred Johnny Depp. Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay, portrays one of two bumbling young police officers - the other is played by Channing Tatum - who are sent undercover to a high school to investigate a drug ring.
Hill’s character, Schmidt, was a high school nerd (Tatum’s was a jock), and his return to drama class and dances is Schmidt’s chance at redemption. Parties, romance, car chases, boyish humor and a chaotic prom night are all part of the plot.
The actor said he was first approached about a remake of “21 Jump Street,” coincidentally, at South by Southwest (SXSW) five years ago, but turned it down.
“I thought it was lame,” he said.
But Hill changed his mind after considering that both Schmidt and Tatum’s character, named Jenko, could return to high school, re-examine their own lives and come to a new understanding of who they are as grown men.
“High school was all about defining yourself and figuring out who you are, and I realized that doesn’t go away in your 20s,” Hill said.
Hill said he wanted to create a new story and new characters with a few homages to the original. There’s one joke early in the movie that refers to the laziness of the remake concept.
“We wanted to call ourselves out on it before anyone else did, because the movie doesn’t take itself super seriously,” Hill said. “It’s supposed to be an hour and a half of fun.”
But that is changing. In 2010, Hill had a supporting role in the drama/comedy hybrid “Cyrus” and after that came “Moneyball,” both of which, Hill said, had inspired him as an actor.
In the works is crime thriller “True Story” with James Franco in which Hill plays a New York Times journalist who is trying to figure out if Franco’s character killed his family.
That film is a drama -- it may go without saying -- and a payoff of Hill’s long transition from “Superbad” to “Moneyball.”
“It’s really hard for people to see you differently than what you came out of the box in,” Hill said. “I first became known to people as a funny kid in a high school movie, and I’ve worked hard to break away from that. I‘m not just that one character. And ‘Moneyball’ really, really helped me show people I‘m not just one thing that they thought I was.”
Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte