In Adam McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up, a movie full of Hollywood’s most famous faces, Jonah Hill certainly holds his own. For a role he says he based partially on Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland and partially on the Rich Kids of Instagram, Hill had to forge quick chemistry with Meryl Streep (his character is both the son and the chief of staff of Streep’s President Janie Orlean). Thankfully, he was already acquainted with one of the film’s other megastars, Leonardo DiCaprio. For W’s Best Performances issue, Hill talks Birkin bags, his idea for a Superbad sequel, and being extremely late to Game of Thrones mania.
How did your role in Don’t Look Up come about?
I heard about Don’t Look Up, and I’ve always been a fan of the director, Adam McKay. He made Step Brothers, which is a modern masterpiece and should be in the Smithsonian. He wanted me to play this part where Meryl Streep is my mom! We’d all been stuck in our houses because of Covid, and I was lonely and bored, and I felt like, Wow, what a depressing time. Covid was horrific, but it did make me reprioritize the value of being irreverent and funny. I thought, We should all just laugh! While in lockdown, during the making of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio and I decided to live together in Boston. We couldn’t go to restaurants, so we lived in a house together and watched tons of films.
Your character is the son of the president. He carries a Birkin!
He’s in a suit because he works in the White House, but I gave him a Birkin because he’s kind of emulating his mother. A lot of these people worship their dads, and I thought it was cool that he worships his mom. He always calls his mom a “total rock star.” Isn’t that awesome?
Did you get starstruck at all? Literally half the famous people in the world are in the movie.
For sure. I definitely was when I met Meryl. I maybe shook her hand a couple of times. Then, like, right away we had to have a superclose dynamic. I was excited. She’s so awesome: as a person, as a professional, as an artist. She was there rehearsing after I left. She was there before me. She's like in beast mode all the time, and cool. We would talk a lot and hang out, so the intimidation goes away pretty quickly.
Leo and I are friends and have worked together. Jennifer Lawrence I knew, but I put them both in this “freak” category. I put myself in this category where you kind of just convince yourself that it's happening. Then you got the Leo and Jen category. Jen will be like, “Check out this TikTok.” Then they yell “action,” and it's the best thing you've ever seen in your entire life.
Your first starring role was in Superbad. Was that the first time you saw your name on a billboard?
Yeah. I lived in an apartment near Canter’s Deli, in Los Angeles, and there was a Superbad billboard above my little-ass apartment. Every day, I would walk to Canter’s to get sandwiches, and no one knew who I was, but there was a billboard with me on it right there! It was nuts. I kind of got this vibe, like, whoa—shit’s about to be really...different.
You could have done probably 10 sequels. I'm sure they asked you.
I haven't pitched this to anybody. What I want to do is when we're like 80, do a Superbad 2. Like, “old-folks-home Superbad.” Our spouses die, and we're single again. That's what I want Superbad 2 to be, and that's the only way I would ever make it.
Have you ever lied about seeing a famous film or TV show?
I've done that when I was a kid. It's embarrassing. Can I go off on a tangent for a second? I don’t watch sci-fi and stuff like that, so I had never seen Game of Thrones. Never seen an episode. I started in the past couple of months. I’m on season 4.
I used to have a rule: If it didn't happen or it couldn't happen, then I just wasn't interested, because I would lose focus. Leo made me watch The Mandalorian when we were making Don't Look Up, and it was like, Baby Yoda was so cute, but I just didn't give a fuck because I didn't know anything that it was about. Game of Thrones is so sick. I know this is hilarious, because I'm in 2012. I'm just watching three episodes at a time, like you would binge any show. But I forget this happened in real time and was like a cultural event. So I watched the Red Wedding, as one of three episodes I watched that night. I'm calling friends, like, “Oh my god, Robb Stark got killed, blah, blah, blah.” And they're like, “Yeah, dude. It was like the end-of-Sopranos-level cultural event.”
Hair for portfolio by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup for portfolio by Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel at MA+ Group; manicure for portfolio by Michelle Saunders for Nailtopia. Set design by Gary Card at Streeters. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set coordinator: Sarah Hein; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click