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Career Watch: Jonah Hill Is King of the Box Office

Career Watch: Jonah Hill Is King of the Box Office

With Jonah Hill’s involvement in both of the sequels that opened as the No. 1 and 2 highest-grossing titles this past weekend,  the actor has earned the right at age 30 to be proclaimed not just one of Hollywood’s most coveted court jesters but also a king of the box office. And he did it the hard way, proving himself yet again to be a genius at playing sidekicks.

 In “22 Jump Street,” which claimed the top spot by pulling in $60 million, he and Channing Tatum take their Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis hunk-geek man-love thing (as Tatum’s Jenko says to Hill’s Schmidt, “We don’t have to put a label on it”) to the next level. They continue to milk homoerotic in-jokes and high jinks out of a premise based on a very ‘80s TV undercover cop show (one that Johnny Depp probably wishes he could disown) and turn it into a 21st century buddy comedy sensation on the big screen.

As for the animated “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which fired up $50 million in ticket sales, Hill once again lends his voice to Snotlout, the obnoxious Viking bully who overestimates his physical abilities at every turn, opposite Jay Baruchel’s new-age Nordic warrior and chief-to-be Hiccup.    

Critics were effusive in their praise for Hill’s continued partnership with Tatum in “22 Jump Street,” including admiring Christy Lemire: “Through it all, Hill and Tatum retain a loose, comfortable chemistry, and an energy as they bounce off each other that’s infectious. Hill is the master of the deadpan, self-deprecating one-liner, while Tatum goes big in his buffoonery.”

Signature line:  “You know when you hear girls say ‘Ah man, I was so (bleep)-faced last night, I shouldn’t have (bleep)-ed that guy?’ We could be that mistake!” – as Seth, the high-school senior who, along with pal Evan (Michael Cera), hatches a plot to lose their virginity in 2007’s “Superbad.” |

Career peaks:  While attending college in New York, L.A. native Hill was befriended by two of Dustin Hoffman’s children. The older actor arranged for Hill to audition for David O. Russell’s 2004 comedy “I Heart Huckabees,” which would become Hill’s film debut. He stood out in supporting roles in a pair of hit comedies directed by Judd Apatow – as a chubby oddball kid who lusts after a pair of hooker-style platform boots on eBay in 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and as one of Seth Rogen’s unruly housemates in 2007’s “Knocked Up.”

But it was Hill’s work in the Apatow-produced “Superbad”–a late-summer sleeper hit also from 2007 that brought in more than $120 million at the box office–that truly supercharged his career. The riotously raunchy booze-soaked comedy centered around his co-dependent relationship with Juno’s low-key Cera that was as hilariously bromantic as anything in the “Jump Street” movies. Declared Scott Foundas in The Village Voice:  “At 19 and 23 respectively, Cera and Hill have the fully developed comic timing of seasoned pros—Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in sneakers and cargo shorts.”

Hill proved that he could be more than just the funny guy when he surprised everyone but himself as an owlish Ivy League stats whiz who helps Brad Pitt’s baseball manager of the losing Oakland A’s turn his team around in 2011’s “Moneyball.” “I’m an actor,’ insists Hill, who not only managed to shine as a more introspective character, but also dropped 40 pounds after the shoot to prepare for the action requirements of the original “Jump Street” movie. “I’m not a comedian. I never was a comedian.”  (TOH’s video interview with Hill here.)

He proved himself to be a serious actor again, even while being outrageously vile, debauched, drug-fueled and corrupt, after Martin Scorsese asked him to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s stockbroker sidekick in crime in last year’s  “The Wolf of Wall Street.” In fact, he was so invested in the part, he wore off-putting caps on his teeth   (“I don’t want to give the teeth 100 percent credit, but I’ll give them their fair share”) and flashed a prosthetic penis in a crowded party scene. (His Q & A at the 92nd Street Y is here.)

Biggest assets:  The Daily Beast last year got it right when it dubbed Hill as “Hollywood’s ultimate wingman. “Like the best character actors, he knows how to make his co-star look good, whether being a reluctant drug mule for Russell Brand’s debased rock star in “Get Him to the Greek” or behaving possessively clingy while coming between mother Marisa Tomei and new beau John C. Reilly in “Cyrus,” both from 2010.

Awards attention: Hill is one of the few first-string members of the Apatow gang besides James Franco to garner Oscar consideration, having been nominated for his supporting roles in “Moneyball” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He also became a voting member of the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2012.

Biggest misfire: Maybe it’s best if Hill keeps his distance from members of the Frat Pack considering what happened when he teamed with Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn for the snake-bit 2012 sci-fi comedy, “The Watch.” On top of the film’s original title of “Neighborhood Watch” and gun-related marketing having to be altered in light of the Trayvon Martin murder case, “The Watch” also had the misfortune of opening the weekend after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings that killed 12. Critics were not pleased, either — the approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes was a mere 17%. Total box office: a paltry $35.3 million.

Biggest problem: As Hill himself has noted in the wake of the recent controversy surrounding his use of an anti-gay term while shouting at an intrusive cameraman, he is not always comfortable with the celebrity aspect of being in the limelight. “I think I’m pretty good at making movies. I am not good at being a famous person. I’m just not,” he said after apologizing on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show. “There are some people who are meant for it. [But] if you call me ugly, if you call family members of mine drug addicts and maniacs, I am eventually going to lose my cool.”

Gossip fodder:  Not much besides his dating life. He broke up with his high-school sweetheart Jordan Klein in 2011 and was seeing Dustin Hoffman’s daughter, Ali, for a while in 2012. Lately, he has been attached to budding actress-model Isabelle McNally.   

Career advice: Hill has done a better job than his friend and mentor, Seth Rogen — who is only a year older – at transitioning to more mature material. As he himself has said, “I’m taking my life seriously. I’m taking my acting really seriously, and it’s important for me to play adults.”

And while Hill excels at being a second banana, we’d like to see him as a solo lead at some point. That the actor has been serious about adding more screenwriting and producing credits to his resume – jobs he performed on both “Jump Street” movies – could pay off with more varied roles for him to play. Working with great filmmakers such as “Moneyball’s” Bennett Miller, Scorsese and even Quentin Tarantino (Hill had a small humorous role as a horseback-riding KKK member in “Django Unchained”) is also a good move.

What’s next: Nothing that looks to be in the league of “Moneyball,” but we shall see. He will play a real-life journalist whose identity was used by a murderer on the FBI’s most-wanted list opposite Franco in “True Story.” He will continue his string of animated voices (besides the “Dragon” franchise, he contributed to 2008’s “Horton Hears a Who!” and this year’s “The Lego Movie”). He will be heard alongside Franco, Cera and Rogen (who also is a co-writer) in 2016’s “Sausage Movie,” which is indeed about supermarket meat links along with other food products and will likely be R-rated. And in something that sounds more than a little like a “Jump Street”-inspired premise, Hill and co-star Mark Wahlberg are fun-loving mercenaries who must hunt down a terrorist who ends up being someone they know in “Good Time Gang.”  

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