First-time filmmaker Jonah Hill’s imminent debut feature “Mid90s” harkens back to the multi-hyphenate’s own misbegotten youth amongst the skate rats of his native Los Angeles. In celebration of the film’s upcoming release, indie distributor A24 asked the newly minted writer-director to interview a handful of celebrities he admires most, including his “Superbad” co-star Michael Cera, Kathryn Hahn, Q-Tip, skateboarder Mark Gonzalez, and his own sister Beanie Feldstein, with an eye towards chatting about their own hidden inner lives, especially the lives of their youth.
The interviews all appear in A24’s own recurring zine, together under the title “Inner Children.” IndieWire is proud to exclusively debut Hill’s interview with his self-professed “favorite actress,” Edie Falco. As Hill says in the interview, he “wanted to interview a bunch of people that I really admire, essentially about the idea that we all have versions of ourselves that we’re most embarrassed of.” To that end, he and Falco spent their time together talking about some heady topics, from humility to imposter syndrome, the pains of their childhood, and how to stay happy and productive in a tough industry.
You can read the full interview below, exclusively on IndieWire.
Jonah Hill: Hi Edie. As I told you — the one time we met — you’re my favorite actress.
Edie Falco: Oh, Lord. Thank you. Lordy.
JH: Not to embarrass you, or make you feel weird. I get uncomfortable with compliments. I wanted to interview a bunch of people that I really admire, essentially about the idea that we all have versions of ourselves that we’re most embarrassed of. For me, I’m 14. I have terrible acne. I’m overweight. I feel hideous and not part of the world.
As I grew up and all these things happened to me—accomplishments, bad stuff, good stuff, or whatever—I still feel that I carry that with me.
EF: It’s so interesting. God, there’s a million things that come to mind for me. I grew up in a household with young parents who were just kind of making it up as they went along. My mother, in particular, came from craziness.
I mean this with all due respect to my parents, but I kid around about having been raised by wolves. I don’t think I owned a pair of shoes. I never really had a haircut, so my hair was really long and kind of stringy. I was a little bit like a feral child.
JH: Like Howard Hughes as a child?
EF: Exactly. As a funny aside, my first Emmys that I went to, that I had to get a fancy dress for, somebody recommended a certain person. I went and got a dress, and did my thing. And then I found out that I was on Joan Rivers’ “Worst Dressed” list.
JH: Oh, heartbreaking.
EF: And I was fucking mortified. It’s almost like I had been found out. I took it so much harder than someone else might have, because it felt like she saw the real me that doesn’t know how to dress, whose hair was done wrong, or whatever the hell else was said in the article. And here I am, I’m raising kids of my own now. They’re 10 and 13. And you know what? They don’t take baths every day. Their hair is a little ratty. Sometimes we grab something from Starbucks and that’s our dinner.
I really struggle with what that might look like to other people, and this feeling of no matter how far I come, I can’t escape this legacy of not really knowing how to grow up, or how to raise other people. Like, even after all is said and done, I’m still raising my children like wolves.
EF: But I’ve been in therapy since they invented therapy pretty much, and I’m a Buddhist, so I have a very huge support system in that regard, and a set of values that I aspire to. And what has come around all these years later is that, this is just who I am.
I don’t give a shit if my kids have stains on their clothes, or their hair’s a little dirty, or their fingernails are dirty. It makes me chuckle. I actually find it sort of charming. I look at them and they look like little wild kids running through the West Village of New York City. And I have come to absolutely f adore it. I don’t give a shit. Who cares? I started here. It is who I am. I really have come to sort of accept and embrace that fact.
JH: Do you think the end of your story is, you’ve accepted who you are, and you’ve accepted that’s how you’re raising your kids, and they’re great, whether they fucking have shoes on or not?
EF: Exactly right.
JH: That’s the ultimate goal. You’re not only accepting who you are and how you’re raising your kids and who your kids are, but you’re literally laughing at the idea of what you used to be ashamed of. I think that’s beautiful.
EF: I won’t get too heavy on you now, but one of the things I learned in Buddhism is that we have habitual thoughts that come up in our mind, and what we don’t know is that we can choose not to think them. You learn that the thoughts that we have that we think are set in stone, like, “This is good, this is bad, this person’s terrible,” are really just habits. And you learn to train your mind to be more positive.
JH: So, you basically have a thought and say, “Oh, I’m the worst.” And then you catch it, and it’s exercising a reflex to make it think a more positive thought?
EF: That’s right, because not only are you changing your mind, but when the first thought that pops up is, “Oh, I’m a piece of shit,” you come to learn that it’s just not true. You’re not just moving it away because it doesn’t serve you. You’re moving it away because it’s not true.
JH: That’s amazing. That’s a skill I could really benefit from. I read Paul Simon’s book, and one of the things he said was he makes the negative voice in his head have a Bugs Bunny voice. So, it’s literally as silly as a cartoon.
JH: I felt that was brilliant, because how are you gonna take that thought seriously? I get trapped so in my own head about those kinds of thoughts.
EF: I like Paul Simon’s idea, but the thing is, you have to recognize which is the voice that’s telling you bullshit. And it takes a long time to realize “Oh, that should actually be a Bugs Bunny voice too.”
JH: You got to really differentiate, and they sound the same.
EF: They do, and they masquerade as each other. It’s very tricky. One of the things about Buddhism is you take a thought that causes you any pain, any stress, and say it’s not true, period. If it’s not love or compassion, or one of those virtuous traits, then it’s just incorrect.
JH: Fuck, that is so amazing. It must take such discipline to get there.
EF: Oh, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’m still nowhere near.
JH: That’s why monks are grandmasters because they’ve dedicated their lives to practicing.
EF: They’ve been meditating in a cave for 20 years, and they still hate themselves.
JH: So, that’s something that you practiced that you felt has gotten you a long way from this snapshot of a negative version of yourself?
EF: You know, it’s hard to know. It’s definitely Buddhism, but therapy has been a huge part of my life for many years too, so who knows what came from where? It’s all leading to where I want to be.
JH: In some ways I wonder if that’s how you’re able to sink into a character, or sink into writing, or build a world, or a feeling, because you can believe these things you’re reading or writing on a page.
EF: I mean, a lot of the Buddhist stuff starts with your imagination, to imagine yourself as a sort of up and coming Buddha. They call it the bodhisattva, a person heading towards enlightenment. You’re strengthening the muscles of imagination all the time. And then I turn around and go to work, and that’s what I do for a living. Crazy.
JH: But then how do you not believe the negative voice?
EF: The negative voice in a character you mean?
JH: For me, I have trouble if I’m reading or writing a script, or directing, my methodology is just believing that it’s happening.
I’m not a classically trained actor, and I definitely write in a way where it feels so real to me. My go to is to convince myself that what’s in my head is real, so I can do a good job. And then that’s really problematic in life, I’m finding out.
EF: Oh, that’s interesting. Well, it’s the same technique regardless. You see the thought come up, like, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” And you kind of look at it with a little bit of kindness, and chuckle at it. And if you just try to suppress it, that never works. You gotta acknowledge it for its service, and then you pass it.
JH: I’m finding with the people I’m interviewing, it’s just so fascinating to hear that the creative people I look up to tend to hold onto shit a lot more.
EF: Well, there’s also the theory that people who are holding onto shit, you know, stuff that happened or rough childhoods or whatever, are the ones that become artists. They’ve got their stories to tell, or maybe they weren’t heard as a kid, and they desperately wanted to show their truth. I don’t know if it’s the other way around that artists happen to hold onto shit.
JH: It’s like those people tend to go into the arts because they’re obsessed with this past and their need to express it, and maybe that expression is the only way to kind of let go of it?
I think when I was younger, maybe I romanticized pain in some way.
EF: I think we all did. Totally.
JH: It’s definitely something that is often romanticized, and now, I just want to be happy and let go of all this shit.
EF: That’s right, man. Lighten the load a little.
JH: A lot of artists I know have a hard time patting themselves on the back for something they did, myself included. I don’t sit around and think of a performance and go, “Man, that was great.” Or, “I was awesome.”
EF: I do struggle with that a bit, because my fear is that too much patting on the back becomes indulgence. But the truth of the matter is, I’m nowhere near finished with this journey. But being able to recognize the things that I do well, and to tell myself it’s okay if I rest a little bit because I’ve been working hard; that shit is still hard for me.
JH: That’s so true.
EF: I’m in charge of so many things, it’s hard for me to just kind of sit back and say, “You did good,” you know? Just relax for a minute. It does happen. I have certain memories in my mind of coming home from work after a particularly rough scene thinking, “You fucking did it. You did it. That’s what you wanted to get to in the scene, and you showed up for it. Good job.” I can’t say that happens often, but it has and it’s very satisfying.
JH: Well, I’ll let you know, I’ve done that for you about 50 billion times. I think you got there every time.
EF: Oh, for heaven’s sake.
JH: But I think the idea of confidence in general, is a balance. The balance of the appropriate amount of acceptance of praise, and the appropriate amount of self-praise, it’s actually kind of important.
EF: I agree. Humility is huge. One other thought I had is that a lot of people who go into the creative arts feel unloved. I think a lot of us may not want to toot our own horns, as you said, for fear of appearing unlikeable, because we’re doing this in the first place because we want to be loved.
JH: Yeah, I am so unsurprised because of the depth and humanity in all your performances, but I’m very grateful for your insightful answers.
EF: Well, I’m breathing now, so as not to make a joke about it, or it could ruin you.
JH: You know what? You’re incredible. You’re a fast practice to execution I think. That’s incredible.
EF: Yeah, I’m working on it. I never stop working.
JH: Wow, that’s a great way to end this. That’s perfect.
A24 will release “Mid90s” in theaters on Friday, October 19.