Jonah Hill is one of Judd Apatow's boys now. In Hollywood, that's like being adopted by Jesus and given a corner office.
Apatow is the anointed comedy savior who directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Hill played a part in each and now Apatow has bestowed his blessing on Hill as a leading man in Superbad, a high school sex comedy opening today. Apatow produced this time.
"Judd has given me every opportunity in the world to succeed," Hill says by phone recently. "The last thing I want to do is let him down."
Hill, 23, has hair by Screech, a body by Cinnabon, and a face by Gerber. That disqualifies him from playing Jason Bourne, but makes him a marquee topper as teenage nebbish Seth trying to have sex in Superbad. Seth and his pal, the Dartmouth-bound Evan (Michael Cera), try to procure booze for a graduation party where their virginity-shedding targets await. Seth Rogen of Knocked Up, who co-wrote Superbad with Evan Goldberg, does a twisted cop bit.
During filming, Hill moved back home into his old room to conjure the feeling of being in high school again. The lack of privacy stood out the most, he says. If moments didn't feel age-authentic in the movie, he and director Greg Mottola agreed to ditch them.
"I think the great thing about the movie is that everything is not so clear-cut," says Hill, who launches into a lecture on the geeks-vs.-jocks boilerplate of many schooldays romps. "Michael and I weren't the coolest guys in school but we weren't the nerdiest guys in school. ... At my high school it wasn't like the jocks were the coolest people. ... It's less clear-cut than that."
Hill attended Crossroads, an L.A. prep school. Hill says he did not have the economic advantages of his schoolmates and had no show-business connections, only a desire to write for the movies. "My dad forced me to go to a nice college. He made it very clear to me that my life wasn't set up after school, though."
Good thing Hill spent most of his time in a bar. At the Black and White in the East Village, his skits caught the attention of Dustin Hoffman's kids, Rebecca and Jake, who introduced Hill to their dad. Hoffman helped get Hill a role in his movie I Huckabees (2004). Hill then wangled an interview with Apatow's casting agent, landing turns in Apatow's megahits The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Meanwhile, Hill was transporting his plucky dweeb persona to other projects such as Evan Almighty, Ten Items Or Less (2006), Click (2006) and the create-your-own college goof Accepted (2006), his first starring role.
His writing aspirations have taken flight, too. Not only has Hill contributed on the page to most of the movies he's appeared in, he has screenplays in development with Universal and Sony.
"Now ... that I'm a paid writer, that's just my dream come true," he says. "The day we shoot one of my movies will be the happiest day of my life till I get married or something."
Hill says he now spends five to six hours a day writing while running errands on his bicycle and making the requisite phone calls. Although he lives alone, he does not partake of the L.A. nightlife because it makes him uncomfortable.
"I date the same girls that I would ever date before I was in movies and stuff," he says. "People think that once you're in movies your life changes in a crazy way. It really doesn't. If you choose to have it change in a crazy way, it will. I have my same groups of friends I was friends with in high school. We're all a bunch of really normal guys, like Michael and Seth, Judd and everybody. They're grounded, nice people."
Ron Dicker writes for the Hartford Courant.