Interview: Director Nicholas Stoller and Actor Jonah Hill (GET HIM TO THE GREEK)
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL was one of those sleeper comedies that became kind of like a cult hit instantly. Director Nicholas Stoller took his pen to paper to give one of the stand out characters from the film, Aldous Snow, his own film. With it comes more original music, Jonah Hill in a completely different role, and many memorable cinematic moments.
GATW and other media outlets had the opportunity to sit down at a roundtable with director Nicholas Stoller and actor Jonah Hill to discuss GET HIM TO THE GREEK which hits theaters June 4th. In the interview, almost nothing is off limits, which includes life tips from none other than Sean "Diddy" Combs and why you might see him performing at your local UCB Theater in the very near future. Enjoy!
As we all know Jonah played Matthew the Waiter in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. Nick, when you were writing how did you reconcile that fact? Did you have Jonah in mind when you were writing this character and how were you going to explain this character?
Jonah Hill: DUH!
Nicholas Stoller: I figured that the STAR TREK movie completely redid their universe and there’s like 40 years of fans. So I don’t think anyone’s going to be that upset that we changed our three year old comedy universe.
Were you sure about that? Were you trolling the blogs?
NS: No, I wasn’t concerned about that. It seemed like we had to. Honestly when I originally conceived of the movie Russell was a different guy and it was a completely different thing. But then in writing the draft, it was like he can’t just play a different rock star because we’ll be called out for being lazy. So we decided to just own that laziness and make it a spinoff.
You guys have a whole bunch of, I guess callbacks, to forgetting Sarah Marshall. Did you ever feel like you were going to be doing it too much or did you hold back trying not to make the two films that much together or was it kind of like the more the merrier?
NS: It’s such a different movie and I didn’t want anyone to think that it is a sequel or anything like that because it’s not. But there is…people really do like that movie, which of course we are glad about. It’s fun to just have a nod to it. We actually shot a lot of that show that Sarah Marshall’s in, Blind Medicine. So we shot a ton of stuff of them acting you know, her and Ricky Schroeder on the show. And we had different scenes in various cuts of the movie but it never worked because it was so off story that we didn’t end up using it.
So I’ve read Russell’s book and in it he talks about his struggle with drugs and everything. How did you approach that subject matter when you were writing for someone who has actually dealt with it?
NS: By asking him.
JH: It was so great to ask someone.
NS: We would just sit there and interview him. There was nothing from his life that is directly in the movie but emotionally. I would say that it is all you know true…the truth. So I would sit down with him and [ask]“What would make you fall off the wagon?” “How would you behave with your assistant?” “How would you cajole him to do x or y?” “How would you get drugs on a plane?” And he would be like “Put it up my bum.” So this makes sense, this sequence makes sense?” “Yup, it makes sense."
JH: And he would be the first to say when something didn’t make sense. Luckily we had people like Russell and Diddy to call out things about elements of the movie...like the music business and addiction or things that they could say, "That’s valid" or "That’s not valid."
NS: Then I would ask Jonah what it’s like to be in a relationship with a girl.
JH: Key word: “Girl.”
NS: Yeah, yeah. Honestly Jonah’s character is the “me” character in the movie. It’s like the only…I remember when we were shooting a scene…
JH: The relationship scene.
NS: …with [Jonah] and Elizabeth Moss and [Jonah] said something really funny. He said, “This is the first time I understand what we are talking about.” The conversation about he wants to go out and she doesn’t. It was the first time that Jonah, Rodney, and myself were totally comfortable with the subject matter.
JH: Because we just knew from experience. Like when you’re with a rock star, you don’t know what the hell that is like.
NS: I had to exaggerate moments with actual famous comedians. Which is nothing like anything, you know?
So how was the writing process as far as the music goes? All the songs are produced very well-- the Infant Sorrow songs, the Chocolate Daddy songs, even the Jackie Q. Everything sounds like it could be real music. How did you get Jarvis Cocker on board and stuff like that. How did that happen?
JH: Chocolate Daddy! Make the money money!
NS: I’ll say “Chocolate Daddy” was written by Rodney Rothman and it came to him in a flash. He just came up to me and was like “I just wrote a hit song.”
JH: Make that money money!
NS: It was like he funniest thing because we knew that we wanted all these money sounds. And that song’s amazing because of all the money making sounds. Clink, clink, clink. That was our only note on the song – more money making sounds. We knew that the songs had to be…you had to buy him as a real rock star. It’s the worst thing when you see someone in a movie and you’re supposed to buy him as whatever in a movie and you see them do their thing.
JH: That’s why ALMOST FAMOUS worked because they seemed like a real band.
NS: Yeah, and so we knew that there had to be good songs, solid songs.
JH: You had to believe that he was a rock star and not a comedian playing a rock star. And I think that is why Russell is so good in the movie because by the end when you watch the performance you’re like, "I’m watching like a real epic rock concert right now and not like some cheesy movie version of a rock concert." I felt.
How did you prepare him for that role? Were you watching all these videos of people like David Bowie, Marc Bolan and other stuff? Or did you do the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN thing where Johnny Depp is channeling Keith Richards? Was it something like that or was he just like this is who I’m going to be?
NS: Well he kind of developed this character a little, and you know on SARAH MARSHALL, he sung before but not really professionally and he kind of started to get into singing because we recorded two songs for that movie. But then on this he got really good. He took a huge leap forward. We recorded a bunch of songs. 20 songs. And his character wasn’t based on anyone. It wasn’t an impression of anyone. I think he was drawing upon these darker moments I would say. And the person he plays in the movie is very different from who he is. Like Aldous is very kind of standoffish and dark and laconic. Russell is very in your face and talks a million miles per second.
Was it hard to rein him in and get him to be that character?
NS: No, he really…On SARAH MARSHALL we kind of had to as we discovered what made him funny in that role. There was a little bit of that as we figured out creatively. But on this I would [say], “The codeword is you’re standoffish.”
Jonah, you were cast from the initial conception of the film, how much of you were you able to contribute to the film and get into your lead character? How much of the writing were you able to help out with?
JH: Oh from the beginning I think Nick is super cool about being collaborative with the people he is working with. Which is a sign of any good director is someone who acknowledges good opinions when he hears them and can disregard bad opinions. You know? Not every opinion is good by me or anyone. And from the beginning we just talked about who we wanted the guy to be, and I think it was really important for me and I’m sure for Nick. I don’t want to speak for him but for me, the big importance was that my guy had to represent the audience. It had to feel that they were on this ride with this rock star. Because at the end of the day, the reason why people will go see the movie and the reason why it’s exciting, at least for me, is it's everyone’s fantasy.You know?
Like, who doesn’t want to go on a trip with their favorite rock star? That is the coolest thing ever you know? Sort of wish fulfillment. But then when he gets there he realizes that it’s not what he thinks it’s going to be. You know? So I’m the audience and when I’m getting dragged through these crazy things they have to think, “Gosh that could be me getting dragged through these crazy things.” That was really important to me, just the relatability and that he was a real person with real problems, relatable problems, and the relationship that feels very real to me. Nick is super collaborative and allowed me to put input in and it was great.
NS: Yeah, from the beginning like when I first talked to him and we started riffing on stuff through the whole table read process and drafts...it was very collaborative.
Was that a challenge for you to not have reactive moments or bust out in laughter when there was jokey dialogue like “mind fucking” or any of that kind of stuff?
JH: No, because we would kind of riff that stuff and come up with it. “Mind fucking” was something that Diddy started talking in rehearsals. The goal is not to laugh. I would make Sean laugh sometimes, and also I would mess with him a lot, and I think it helped get weird performance stuff out of him. I would just mess with him. Like if he had to be angry I would make him angry with me, and like one thing I would do when he had to yell at me to really piss him off was I would talk over him. So he’d start saying his line and I’d start saying my line on top of it and he’d start going “What are you doing?” And Nick would be like use that stuff and really get him angry. And I would interview him a lot when I was off camera because he has such funny opinions about stuff that like…
NS: That “mind fucking” one goes on forever because he was like…this was before Michael Jackson died so we couldn’t use it,bBut he was like, “I mind fucked Michael Jackson.” And [Jonah] started interviewing him and [Jonah] was like “Who else did you mind fuck?” And he was like, “I mind fucked Prince. When I was a backup dancer.”
JH: Yeah, you just ask him. He had this one thing that was amazing that came out of that interviewing that weird technique. He started talking about how he thought George Washington was black and who else was black and he started going through people in history who he believed were black and despite pictures and things like that.
NS: And a cartoon character. He was like Snoopy or someone like that, but I can’t remember who…
JH: He’s amazing. I really admire him. He’s a beautiful mind. When I watch the movie A BEAUTIFUL MIND, I now think of Diddy.
NS: He was new to our process and came in having memorized the script and thinking we were just going to shoot the script. And you know, a lot of it was being like don’t worry about that [the script], and like we’ll shoot the script and a lot of it was trying to get him off that and as soon as he did it was brilliant.
JH: He’s also open to knowing. Like if we were going to go make an album we would listen to we wouldn’t tell him how we do things in comedy filmmaking, we would know we need to listen to him; and he being such the highly intelligent guy that he is, came into a process saying, "I need to learn from you guys. I don’t know how it is. I don’t know how to do this." And I thought that was so cool of him cause he is used to being the boss and he’s so respectful, and willing, and eager to learn this process.
NS: There is this really funny moment where he is talking, and this was after many months shooting, and we were rehearsing that scene with Pharrell-- where he goes to Pharell, we have it on camera, “Yeah we do a lot of improv.”
JH: Just to hear those words come out of Sean Combs mouth.
NS: It’s like wow. We just turned him into a fucking comedy nerd.
JH: [Laughs] “We do a lot of improv.” Another thing he did that was so funny in improvising was, oh he was like, when you start dating a girl you have to have her take a shit in your apartment. Because if she can hide taking a shit, she can hide dick in her mouth.
NS: It’s the funniest…We had to cut that whole scene, but it will be on the DVD. It’s like the funniest, and you are like what? You know? But we also shot two cameras a lot, and way more than on SARAH MARSHALL and it's really useful. During the "Mind fucking the house N-word sequence," you actually, Jonah was actually shocked and we got it at the same time so that reaction is real. Diddy hadn’t said that before and it was totally improved, and I can see you not knowing how to react the and we got it and it’s kind of priceless.
In terms of your cameos you guys got throughout the film, did any of them end up on the cutting room floor and those that did end up in how did you get them involved?
NS: Yeah, Penn Badgley, Alanis Morrissette, and Katy Perry. And we shot a bunch of stuff on the red carpet at the MTV VMAs, like a bunch of people but we couldn’t work it into the movie.
And how did you get the people involved that you did? Was everybody kind of willing?
NS: Yeah, we kind of just asked people and I think because there is good will for SARAH MARSHALL and like you know Russell and Jonah were just excited to be a part of it and they kind of know…
JS: People are very egotistical and want to do cameos in movies as themselves.
NS: Yeah, I have to say. I think that is what it is.
JH: It’s flattering to do a cameo as yourself, it means you’re relevant enough that like you being you is a big deal. Think about that, it's cool. It is flattering.
NS: And everyone we asked we got. And almost everyone we asked was pretty excited. I can’t believe The Today Show let us.
JH: Meredith Vieira is still to me the most exciting cameo we have.
NS: Yeah she is pretty awesome. She’s really funny.
JH: Because when you get there and its actually her, and that to me, was great reaction last night. And Russell said stuff to her that was not in the script to her and I went up to her to apologize and she was like, “I don’t care. He is the one who looks like an idiot.” So smart and logical.
NS: And also, people in the control room weren’t actors.
JH: They were funny.
Was the film MY FAVORITE YEAR an influence when you were writing?
NS: Yeah, I like that movie and when I pitched the idea I then heard it was like that. So I watched it to see, so it certainly is in that genre.
JH: I watched MY FAVORITE YEAR a lot before shooting. MY FAVORITE YEAR, MIDNIGHT RUN, and ALMOST FAMOUS those were the three that I watched a bunch.
NS: I watched SID & NANCY and TRAINSPOTTING. [Laughs]
Yet, the film doesn’t get as dark as those movies were. How was it trying to navigate between making something that would be palatable to a mainstream audience but dealing with drug addiction?
NS: I think any good comedy is, you know, is essentially a dramatic story you know. And so I knew that since we were dealing with a serious issue drug abuse and with Russell, who had that in his life, and so we knew we had to treat it seriously. So the idea of the movie is that you’re partying and partying it’s really fun, and then this guy won’t stop partying, and suddenly he turns dark and weird. There was a clear kind of arch to it, and those scenes you know the serious scenes in the movie, are I think part of the fabric of the movie are necessary to the story we were telling.
JH: I think if you take away the drugs from it, it’s like, "Awesome I’m going to go party with my favorite rock star for two days." It’s like, "Yes!" And then it’s like, "Oh my god I miss just normal life." This guy doesn’t have anything to hold onto that is real, and part of it is, even if you take drugs out of it just going out and drinking and whatever you have nothing else to connect to beside that, and that to me is the overall thing. And you do have to address the drugs. That is the sadder part is not having anything real in your life.