Q&A: 'Moneyball' star Jonah Hill

TelevisionEntertainmentMoviesBrad PittDrama (genre)James Franco

First, allow me to list what “Moneyball” star Jonah Hill wouldn’t talk about during our interview.

He wouldn’t say how he retaliated when co-star Brad Pitt pulled pranks on him. (He’s saving that for Letterman, he says.) He wouldn’t mention the foods he missed during the diet-and-exercise regimen that helped him slim down so drastically. (“Once I made that decision, the decision had been made.”) He wouldn’t name one baseball movie he didn’t like, where he went in Chicago last night (he can’t remember) or one memorable/funny thing that happened when answering the cell phone number that’s been made public for people to call about his upcoming film, “The Sitter.”

Sadly the 27-year-old L.A. resident (“Superbad,” “Get Him to the Greek”) spun even unrelated questions into answers already given in other interviews about how the movie, opening Friday, is about underdogs and people who are undervalued and blah blah blah.

If you’re still curious, here’s more of what he did say at the Four Seasons Hotel after throwing out the first pitch for the White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field.
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In “Moneyball” your character Peter Brand, the Oakland A’s assistant general manager, has to tell a player he’s been traded. What would go through your head if you actually had to give a player bad news? Do you think you could do it?
Well, that’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie, when I have to tell a player he’s been traded. I’d be really nervous to do something like that. It seems awful. It was really interesting; it’s a crazy scene in the movie because you can really see this guy kind of becoming a man a little bit. He has to do something that no one would ever want to do and is becoming an adult. He’s 24 years old and he’s assistant GM of the Oakland A’s. He’s got a lot on his plate.

Do you think in reality those conversations go as well as they do in the movie?
It felt pretty real. I don’t know; I’ve never told a baseball player he’d been traded.

The movie really emphasizes the acquisition of people like Scott Hatteberg and David Justice without recognizing important players like Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito. Was the “Moneyball” strategy instrumental in the achievements of the team, or did it merely work to find the last couple puzzle pieces?
I think the system worked in that circumstance. Look, honestly I’m an actor. [Laughs.] You have to ask someone more educated with baseball. I only lived it for a few months.

What advice did your co-star Brad Pitt give you, if any, about this movie or your transition to dramatic roles?
He had a lot of good advice. He was really good at sharing his stories, his experiences, but he definitely wanted me to do more dramas and push myself. If you look at his resume, it’s so eclectic and he just makes unexpected choices and I think that’s what I’ve learned the most from him is to just be bold and try to make some unexpected choices.

What’s a challenge about this role that surprised you?
I just think how reserved my character is. I’ve never played someone so reserved. I’m not an extremely reserved person. It was really challenging but interesting.

Is it hard to tone yourself down? Why is that a challenge?
Just because the character reacts differently than I would react to things.

You’ve said that there was pressure in taking this role, but you instead just focused on delivering the best you could. Was there ever a moment or a scene in which that philosophy cracked or you doubted yourself?
No, I think like I said the nerve things go away when it’s time to do the work. ‘Cause I’m not going to let my nerves ruin this opportunity and let down the people that took a chance on me.

What did you do to celebrate when you found out you got the role?
I was by myself in my house and just jumped around screaming. It was crazy.

You didn’t go out or have a celebration?
I just called all my friends and my family.

How would you compare your comedic and dramatic chops?
I think they’re equal. I just consider myself an actor, so when I’m doing a funny movie I’m trying my best at that and when I’m doing a drama I’m trying my best at that.

People are talking a lot about the health changes you made and slimming down. What do you think about now when you see yourself and the way you look in “Moneyball”?
It’s just what I looked like then, and this is what I look like now. It’s kinda cool. It helps me watch the movie more, I really feel like that’s not me that I’m watching. I really love that character and I’m proud of how different that is from who I am as a person.

Why do people make statements that act as if being big makes a person funnier?
All I can say is I know a lot of big people who aren’t very funny. I know a lot of skinny people who are hysterical.

Did you see that for the new season of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” Rob McElhenny gained 50 pounds?
I heard that, I heard that. I saw him, he told me about it. I haven’t seen it yet. It sounds really funny.

It does fall into the conversation about people thinking being big equals funny.
He was funny before he was big, don’t you think?

You recently directed a music video for Sara Bareilles. How much more of that do you have in you?
I hope a lot. I’m excited for people to see my first video and hopefully I get to do more.

Will that lead to being a feature film director?
I think at some point. It’s all practice, the main goal being to be a feature film director. But to take two years out to make a movie it really has to be something really special.

Now that you’re writing screenplays (“21 Jump Street”), would you want it to be something you had written too?
I don’t know. It depends on what it is.

You have a lot going on between “Moneyball,” your new TV show “Allen Gregory” and upcoming movies like “21 Jump Street,” “The Sitter,” “Neighborhood Watch.” Who is a busier guy: You or James Franco?
James Franco? Why Franco?

He’s become the epitome of someone who’s really busy.
Oh, I didn’t understand the connection. James is in school, right? Isn’t he still in school?

Yeah, he’s getting one degree after another.
And he has all this art. I don’t know, man. I have no idea. He’s a great guy though, I know that. I’m sure he’s busier than I am.

You’ve said “The Sitter” invokes “Adventures in Babysitting.” Why have we seen the ‘80s cropping up so much on screen these days?
I think every generation makes movies in the vein of the ones that they grew up with. So now the people making movies are people that grew up in the ‘80s. People who made movies in the ‘70s were really influenced by movies in the ‘50s. Or the ‘60s. So I think the generation you grew up in influences a person. So the movies you make will be influenced by that time.

What’s something else from the ‘80s that deserves a reboot?
“21 Jump Street.”

Anything else? And something you hope no one touches?
I don’t know. I hope no one remakes “Goonies.” It’s one of my favorite movies and I don’t wish to see it remade.

Plus:
Favorite baseball movies: “The Natural,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Major League”
On iPod: Fleet Foxes, Beirut, Foster the People, Rick Ross

Click here for a more entertaining interview with Hill, when he came to Chicago with "Superbad" co-stars Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

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