He claims working on The Wolf of Wall Street was the greatest experience of his life, and his performance shows it. Jonah Hill is pretty incredible in Martin Scorsese’s latest — a sort of Goodfellas companion film that tracks the real-life rise and fall of Wall Street schemer Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusty right-hand men, one of whom is played terrifically by Hill.
It is, hands down, Hill’s greatest performance to date — one that mixes the actor’s expert comedic chops with a darker, sadder undertone providing a sobering look at the crimes these men committed and the consequences they brought to their lives and the lives of those they supposedly loved.
We spoke to Hill about recreating on-set orgies, participating in drug-fueled fistfights and playing a character he didn’t like, all while working for a man he considers to be his filmmaking idol, Martin Scorsese.
Movies.com: In a movie filled with so many wild and crazy moments, was there a particular moment on set that stood out to you as being one of the more memorable of your career?
Jonah Hill: Oh, the Quaalude fight sequence was exhausting and at the same time it felt very special and insane. It took us about five days to shoot that scene.
Movies.com: You watch a scene like the one where you’re all on the airplane, drinking, doing drugs and having sex with hookers, and it’s hard to imagine what it was like actually filming that. Is it a lot more boring than it looks?
Hill: I wouldn’t say boring, I’d say gross. With that many naked people confined in a really small place, it is not the most hygienic or sexual experience [Laughs]. When you work for Martin Scorsese, though, everyone is playing at the top of their game and everyone is very respectful about how much work has to get done, and everyone is respectful toward him and getting the work done.
Movies.com: After spending all this time with these characters, do you like these guys? Do you respect them?
Hill: Well this is the first character I played that I couldn’t find anything I liked about him. I’ve played flawed characters before, but at the end of the day I thought they had a good heart and I don’t think [my character] Donnie had a good heart.
Movies.com: Your character sees Leo’s car and pay stub and quits his job immediately. That’s a pretty crazy decision for a guy to make on the spot.
Hill: The biggest thing about Donnie is that he has no impulse control. He’s like an animal – if he sees something he wants at that moment, he goes for it without any fear of hurting anyone or any fear of repercussions.
Movies.com: Have you ever put all your cards on another person like that? Would you?
Hill: That’s an interesting question. I think anytime you do a film as an actor for a director, you have to put all your faith in their hands.
Movies.com: Your character’s clothing choices were fantastic. They were like their own character — so fantastic and so reminiscent of the early ’90s.
Hill: Well Sandy Powell, who was the costume designer, is the most brilliant costume designer I’ve ever worked with. She’s a genius. I had never collaborated that much with a costume designer on building a character like that. She’s just absolutely brilliant.
Movies.com: So were you just spending a lot of time Googling “super-tacky early ’90s clothing”?
Hill: Donnie’s whole thing is that he’s trying to portray a Waspier, more upper crust image of himself than that which is real. So we tried to dress him as Waspy and preppy, and Sandy just found these outfits that were early ‘90s, late ‘80s that were incredible.
Movies.com: What were you doing when all this was happening in the early ‘90s? What’s your fondest memory of those days?
Hill: Probably the Dream Team. Basketball was my life. Hip-hop, basketball and movies.
Movies.com: The guy you portray in the movie didn’t want anything to do with it, so was it harder for you to create this character? What did you use other than Jordan Belfort’s book?
Hill: Well, Donnie’s a composite character of a few different people, and Jordan [Belfort] was the biggest well of information while we were making the film because you could just call him whenever and ask him, “What was this like?” “What was that like?” He was available that minute to answer you.
Movies.com: Some of the people who were there but did not participate in making the movie are claiming you’re glorifying these crimes. Do you think you’re glorifying what these guys did?
Hill: No. I think the whole point of the movie is that you see what this lifestyle leads to. I personally think how these guys were living their lives and what they were doing was not right. They were hurting people. They were stealing from people.
Movies.com: What’s your big takeaway after working with a director like Martin Scorsese? What did you learn that you didn’t know before? What did you get to try that you never tried before?
Hill: Well he’s my favorite director of all time. Every second I was there for over six months with him every day, working with him. I just learned so much, and I got so sad when it was over because I got to be around my favorite artist of all time. And he’s go giving with his experiences and his stories, and he must know that people like me love hearing about them. It was just the greatest experience of my life.
Movies.com: What was it like the first time you watched the movie?
Hill: I just couldn’t believe I was in a Martin Scorsese film. The first time I watched it I couldn’t even take it all in until a couple of days after I saw it. It took a while to sink in.
Movies.com: A lot of people are comparing it to Goodfellas – where does that rank among your favorite Scorsese movies?
Hill: Oh, it’s my all-time favorite movie.
Movies.com: Oh, that means we gotta ask for your favorite Goodfellas quote. Which is the one you’re quoting all the time with your friends.
Hill: “One dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other way, and this guy’s like, ‘What do you want from me?’”
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