Jonah Hill on including 'toxic masculinity' in his directorial debut
Director Jonah Hill arrives ahead of the screening of "Mid90s" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, on Sunday, September 9, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Christopher Katsarov)
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 24, 2018 1:29PM EDT
TORONTO -- When Jonah Hill stepped onstage at last month's Toronto International Film Festival, he couldn't fight back the tears.
His directorial debut, the coming-of-age skateboarding comedy-drama "Mid90s" that opens Friday, had just made its world premiere and he was overwhelmed by the rapturous response from the crowd and the chance to finally introduce the relatively unknown cast to the world.
"My dream my whole life is to be a filmmaker, a writer and director," said Hill, a two-time Oscar-nominated actor for "Moneyball" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," in a recent interview.
"Also, the Toronto Film Festival is really meaningful to me because 'Moneyball' premiered there. I had waited to see it until the Toronto film festival and it was this incredibly moving experience -- my family was there, my friends. And it was my first big serious role in a movie.
"I wanted to give the kids the same experience, so I waited to show them the film until Toronto. I was told explicitly not to get teary-eyed and to be professional, but what no one else saw was, we were backstage and the kids had just seen the movie for the first time and they were all hysterical."
The Canadian Press spoke by phone with Hill about the film, which is getting Oscar buzz with its look at adolescence in 1990s Los Angeles through the eyes of teenage skateboarders played by Sunny Suljic, Gio Galicia, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, and Ryder McLaughlin. Lucas Hedges plays the brother of Sunny's character, and Katherine Waterston plays their mother. The score is from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the soundtrack is filled with '90s hip hop.
CP: Talk about the casting of Sunny, who seems cool beyond his years.
Hill: I found him at a skate park and he's amazing. What's so cool about it is I just knew it was him. He had exactly what I was looking for, which is he was really young-looking for his age, he was small but he was 10 feet tall inside. And I knew I was going to cast skateboarders and turn them into actors and not vice versa.
CP: Did your directorial debut go the way you thought it would?
Hill: It was better than anything I ever could have imagined.... I looked at all my heroes, people like Mike Nichols or Barry Levinson, people who started in comedy who had these great filmmaking careers. You only get one chance to make your first movie and I got to make a movie from my heart, and that's what they did. And I decided to just wait until I really was confident enough to have my own voice and be myself as a filmmaker.
CP: You hung out with Martin Scorsese at his place before shooting?
Hill: We have the same manager and I was lucky enough to work with him. He's my hero. We're friendly and I asked if I could go talk to him before I started pre-production. He said I could come over, and we ended up spending four hours talking about the film.
CP: How much of this is drawn from your own experiences growing up in L.A.?
Hill: It's not a biopic, it's not an autobiography, but it is something that means something to me. I did grow up skating in the '90s and this is more just a way to show my voice as a filmmaker. And these are characters I love and don't judge.... I just want to tell complex stories about complex characters and have people take away what they take away.
CP: There's been talk about the language used in the film, particularly slurs against gay men. Do you have any comment on that reaction?
Hill: It was thought through very deliberately and painstakingly. My producer, Scott Rudin, is gay and we had lots of conversations about the language. Ultimately as a filmmaker and an artist, I made a choice to say that changing history is far more offensive than the lesson of showing how ugly it was.... I'm not a moralist, I'm not here to tell you what I think.
I personally think that language and a lot of the toxic masculinity, and how they talk about women and the slurs they call one another, are horrible. But I think that is how young men spoke back then in that culture, and that's important to show as opposed to lie about. I think seeing it is the lesson, and seeing how ugly it is is the lesson.
CP: How do you feel about the comparisons many are making between this film and 'Kids'?
Hill: There's a respectful nod to 'Kids' (in 'Mid90s'). I have Harmony Korine do a cameo in the film, and he was a huge supporter of the film. And it was made with such consideration of 'Kids.' 'Kids' is an incredible movie but I think it's the opposite of 'Kids.' 'Kids' is beautiful and it's nihilism, and this is a story all about connection and hope of connection.