With two Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations already on his résumé, Jonah Hill successfully showed critics and audiences alike that his range as a performer extends far beyond just stoner movies and buddy comedies. But for his new film “Mid90s,” Jonah is moving from in front of the camera to behind it and making his directorial debut. He sat down with Howard on Tuesday’s Stern Show and told him why he wanted to change things up for this project.
“I like to make things challenging for myself,” Jonah said. “I could have had a very easy career coasting through … just doing the same thing over and over again.”
Instead, he took a risk and wrote the screenplay for what would become his passion project. “Mid90s” tells the story of a teenage boy who escapes from his unstable home life by finding a group of friends at the local skatepark. Growing up, skateboarding and skate culture influenced Jonah, who told Howard he used to shoot amateur video of skaters he knew.
“I really wanted to tell a story that mattered to me,” Jonah said of the film, which took him four years to write, shoot, edit, and now release. “It’s my heart. It’s four years of my life.”
Having worked with so many talented directors already, Jonah reached out to several big names in the industry to learn as much as he could before getting to work on “Mid90s” including a four hour visit with Martin Scorsese at his home. Jonah and Scorsese worked with each other on “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and each of them earned Academy Award nominations from the film. As helpful as his meeting with Marty was, Jonah told Howard what makes Scorsese such a masterful film director isn’t something that can be taught. As Jonah put it, the best directors are those that have “advance problem solving” skills and likened Scorsese’s talent at solving problems to that of a champion chess player.
“Imagine if you can make the most complex chess move with no clock … You have four hours to make your move,” Jonah said. “Now imagine you make an even better chess move than that brilliant chess player but you do it in 30 seconds with the clock going.”
Another Hollywood actor making their directorial debut this year is Bradley Cooper with “A Star Is Born.” Jonah told Howard how he and Bradley talked regularly during the productions of each of their films.
“He and I were going through the same experience at the same time,” Jonah said. “He went a very different route than me — he went himself and Lady Gaga and I went, like, four people who’ve never acted before.”
As unknown and new to acting as most of the “Mid90s” cast is, their performances have already been receiving critical praise. Jonah avoided using familiar faces in order to capture authenticity in the film. But while audiences may not recognize everybody in the cast, they’ve probably heard of the two musicians who scored the film: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails.
Reznor and Ross each won an Oscar for “The Social Network” score, which Jonah had in mind while thinking about the music for his own film. Just as their score for “The Social Network” captured the coldness and lack of connection between its characters, Jonah asked Reznor and Ross to try and create something that signified the warmth of the characters in “Mid90s.”
The score they came up with was done while Nine Inch Nails was out touring. Jonah told Howard how Reznor and Ross were out on the road so much, he never even met with either of them throughout the entire process, instead communicating and collaborating over Skype and text messages until the score was finished.
The music business is something Jonah has family ties to – his father worked as an accountant for Guns N’ Roses in the band’s heyday and his brother Jordan was the longtime manager for Maroon 5. Howard gave Jonah his condolences about the passing of Jordan, who died in 2017. As much as Jonah misses his older brother, he told Howard he still has an older brother in his lifelong friend Adam Levine.
“Adam always was like an older brother to me,” Jonah explained. The two live in different cities now but Jonah still makes a point to visit Adam, his wife Behati Prinsloo, and their children. Jonah even officiated Adam and Behati’s wedding in 2014.
Jonah is also very close with his little sister and Beanie Feldstein, best known for starring alongside Saoirse Ronan in the movie “Lady Bird” and for her turn in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway.
“My sister’s 10 years younger than me. She’s my best friend in the entire world. I wouldn’t have made it through life without her,” Jonah told Howard.
Though many might think Beanie is following in Jonah’s footsteps by becoming an actor, he told Howard the opposite is actually true. “She wanted to be an actor way before I did. She’s been acting since she was like three,” he explained, saying he’d always only wanted to write and direct movies. “I fell into an accidental, very exciting, 15-year acting career.”
With his dream as a movie director now realized, Howard wondered if Jonah will ever act again. His answer: of course, so long as they’re the right roles.
“I want to do things that mean something to me and that make me feel good,” Jonah said.
See Jonah Hill’s film “Mid90s” in theaters nationwide this weekend.