The infectious insanity of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” continues to spread, as audiences settle down for their first viewing of the 3-hour, NC-17-skirting film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, or perhaps a second or third after a horribly misguided Christmas outing with the family. We called it “ a wild, potent ride” in our review, and from hearing actor Jonah Hill speak about his experience on the film—playing Jordan Belfort’s right-hand man Donnie Azoff—it’s clear that the “Moneyball” actor was feeling the same vibes throughout the entire shoot.
Mainly a character sketch of Wall Street exec Danny Porush, Azoff as played by Hill is a confidently deranged slice of WASPy energy. In fact though, Hill—a lifelong Scorsese fan—was terrified coming into the fold with one of his favorite directors. During a recent roundtable discussion in Los Angeles, he pointed to “three or four weeks” elapsing before he thought he wasn’t actually going to get fired, “because they’ve probably shot enough to not want to reshoot all that stuff with somebody else. And for more with the actor on his unique “Wolf” experience, dive in below.
On What Hill Took Away From Working With Scorsese
Jonah Hill: It exceeded my expectations, and my expectations couldn’t have been higher. As far as what I’ve learned, what I was able to do with Donnie doesn’t come along often in people’s careers—to be that unhinged, messed up, fractured and out of control. I think what Scorsese does better than anybody else is he creates organized chaos. He creates a safe and organized place for people to become completely unhinged, and I don’t know how he does that.
On Witnessing Scorsese’s Encyclopedic Film Knowledge
Every part of working with him was so amazing, but I remember one day he asked me, “Have you ever seen Elaine May‘s ‘A New Leaf?’ ” I said no, and then the next day someone handed me a copy of the film. That would happen often—you’d watch a film and then have to be able to talk about it, and that was amazing for him to do that for me. It was just a cool, amazing bonus to not only be working with your hero and learning from him about what you’re working on, but also being able to have a dialogue about things. I love film more than anything, other than personal relationships, but the fact that you can learn from your hero, who knows more about the history of film than pretty much anyone in the world and why things are important—it’s just amazing.
[Be sure to check out our retrospective on Elaine May right here].
Hill Also Managed To Indulge With Scorsese About The Director’s Filmography
I think he knows people really look up to him, and not in an egotistic way at all. “Goodfellas” is one of my favorite films, and we’d just be sitting around in between takes and he would mostly start talking about “Goodfellas” or “Taxi Driver” or something organically if there was something that reminded him of them. And then I would just launch into questions, because he had started it. So it was like once he opened the door, I was like, “Okay, what about this? And what was this like?” It was amazing. Rob Reiner was there a lot, which was great, and one day by circumstance I got to sit in a room and hang out for an hour and a half with Robbie Robertson from The Band and Scorsese and Rob Reiner. It was one of the greatest days ever that I got to sit near these guys and talk about their work. Steven Spielberg came one day while we were working and sat behind the monitors and we would go get notes. It was just the most surreal, amazing thing you could ever imagine.
Realizing The Reality of Jordan Belfort’s Book Intrigued Hill The Most
I read the book a few times when I found out I was in contention for the part. I couldn’t put the book down, and I couldn’t believe this was actually how people behaved with other people. That’s what makes the movie a story worth telling, is that this is what these people did, and this is how they got punished for it. And the most interesting part is that they get a slap on the wrist and they’re okay. That’s what’s really shocking to me.
Donny is pretty hard to like. I found him entertaining. You know, if you were at a party with this person you might talk to him. But he’s really more obnoxious than anything else. I had a harder time with that. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I wouldn’t want to actually be friends with these people. I found them entertaining to watch. I find lots of characters in movies entertaining to watch that I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend my time with.
On Approaching The Tight-Knit Working Pair of DiCaprio and Scorsese
We rehearsed for about a month and a half beforehand, and the first month was just Scorsese, Leo, and myself in a room, you know, and I was terrified. And these guys know each other so well. But Leo, what’s so great about him is that, even though he’s made five movies with him, he has the same reverence we all have for Scorsese. He grew up worshipping “Goodfellas” and all those movies as well. He understands that, so he understands that you might be intimidated and he tries to make it more comfortable.
It was great because [Leo and I] got to spend so much time together, and that usually, to me, creates a bond. That’s usually the process that I enjoy. Same thing with “Moneyball”, where I spent a lot of time with Brad Pitt, or “Superbad” with Michael Cera—it kind of gets you on the same page of what we’re all making. But Leo and I just talked and talked and talked, and we happened to get along great. That was great, because I got a new friend, and it helps a lot obviously, but I think it’s just you can’t force relationships, and that could probably work in the opposite direction if you didn’t like working with that person… I think the movies that I’ve made that are good are the ones where the people are all on the same page of what you’re making. It’s just that unspoken, cosmic thing.
Hill Divides A Line Between His Approach To Comedy and Drama
The process of making a broad comedy and a drama are just completely different from one another. When you’re in a broad comedy like “21 Jump Street” or “Superbad” or something, you have the responsibility to make the audience laugh every minute or you’ve failed. And with a movie like “Cyrus” or “Moneyball” or “Wolf of Wall Street,” you just have a responsibility to be that character as intricately and authentically as you can. And that, as an actor, is way more interesting because you just get to be this person and that’s your responsibility.
It’s completely different [in ‘Wolf’]. We never try to make a joke. Like in “21 Jump Street” I’m trying to be funny throughout the film. They are abstract comedic ideas. More of the stuff in a comedy is the writing and the improvisational writing of what you’re doing; it’s more about what is the idea of this joke. Whereas drama you would never think, “I’m gonna say this for this effect.” You just say it because it’s natural to that moment.
On Transitioning From “Wolf of Wall Street” to Another Story Ripped From Real Life, “True Story” opposite James Franco
Both in “Moneyball” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” the names were changed and that was a relief to me—these people have families and they didn’t write the books the movies are based on so it’s like, “Alright, that takes the pressure off.” You can do what you need to make the character how you and the director feel is necessary. And “True Story” was really dark, so honestly doing ‘Wolf’ and “True Story” was doing two dark characters in a row. I had to do “22 Jump Street” just to not be bummed out for a year straight, or live in that world for that long. I think it’s why people take long breaks between movies or take time off, because the film is a true story about young kids who got murdered, and it’s really heavy stuff. But I find real life fascinating. I think movies should feel as much like documentaries as they can, and acting should feel like you’re watching a documentary. How people treat each other, and why they hurt one another is what’s interesting to me. And that’s something that I’d like to keep exploring.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is in theaters now.