Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum 21 JUMP STREET Set Visit Interview

     February 15, 2012


Both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have made the jump into producing in the past couple years, and each has an executive producing credit on 21 Jump Street.  That’s encouraging, because turning 21 Jump Street into a quality movie is not a given.  Hill even admits as much—his first reaction when Sony pitched him on the remake was, “I don’t know, that sounds kinds of stupid.”  But Hill found promise in the idea that the story is fundamentally about the chance to relive high school: “Thinking you would get it right this time, and having all the answers, but immediately reverting back to the insecurities you had the first time around.”  With the action credentials of fellow producer Neal Moritz (Fast Five) and the comedy chops of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), the creative team was able to produce a remake they are proud to put their names on.  By all accounts the result is a wicked funny buddy cop movie.

A group of us movie bloggers had the chance to interview Hill and Tatum on set in New Orleans near the end of the shoot.  They talk about their characters, what brought them to the project and what they wanted to do with a 21 Jump Street movie, their admiration for Lord and Miller, plus what it was like for Hill to do action and for Tatum to try comedy.  Read what they had to say after the jump.

Question: Have you been enjoying the heat of Louisiana?

jonah-hill-channing-tatum-21-jump-streetCHANNING TATUM: It’s a little hot.

JONAH HILL: It’s not that bad today.  It’s been worse.  It’s been worse since we started shooting.

But you’re wearing a jacket.

TATUM: I’m always wearing a jacket.  It’s professional.

HILL: Bizarre move, man.

So what do the insides of each other’s mouths feel like?

TATUM: A lot like you think it would.  Gushy, and—

HILL: Sweat.

TATUM: Sweat?

HILL: Not sweat.  Moist.

You said that you would walk around like surgeons before?

HILL: Yeah.  We had these cups filled with Listerine that we were dipping our hands into like surgeons.  To constantly make sure the other person know our hands were clean.

But that had nothing to do with the actual scene?

21-jump-street-posterHILL: No, we do this every day.

Is this the grossest thing you’ve done on a set so far?

HILL: You guys are familiar with my career.  This is like a normal Tuesday for me.

TATUM: It wasn’t so much in my movie career, but I’ve definitely done worse than that.

How quickly did it take for you guys to fall into a rhythm of doing banter back and forth? [To Channing] I know you haven’t done as much improvisation.

TATUM: Zero.  It’s not like you can improv dramas all that well.  But Jonah really brought me onto this.  He called me up.  I’ve been a huge fan of his forever.  The thing that you don’t do is probably like the pinnacle.  I was terrified of comedy.  What these guys have sort of been able to create for the comedy world, I think, has changed it immensely.  I just wanted to come and play in his playground for a while, and follow him.  I’m holding onto the coattails.

HILL: Riding it straight to the fire, unfortunately.

We talked to Neal and he said that you came and pitched this to him.  Where did the idea come from to make it a buddy comedy?

HILL: The studio and Neal owned the property 21 Jump Street, and the studio called my agent with a list of things.  It was right when we had made Superbad, but it hadn’t been released yet.  The studio had seen Superbad, but it hadn’t been released yet.  I got this about four years ago.  By the time it comes out, it’ll be exactly five years.  They had a list of properties.  I think they were just trying to keep me in the family.  My agent told me about [it.] She was like, “What about 21 Jump Street?” And I said, “I don’t know, that sounds kinds of stupid.” I never thought of myself as someone who was going to remake a TV show, or anything like that.  Especially when I wasn’t particularly a massive fan of [the show].  But I’ve talked about this before in interviews: I thought it was really cool to relive high school.  Thinking you would get it right this time, and having all the answers, but immediately reverting back to the insecurities you had the first time around.  That, to me, is the one nugget that has remained true over these past five years.  That is the story I wanted to be involved in.  And that’s what we did.  With a week left, I hope that’s what we did.  There’s no going back now.

Which one of you is Drew Barrymore?

HILL: Drew Barrymore?

channing-tatum-jonah-hill-21-jump-streetDid you see Never Been Kissed?

HILL: Oh, yes I did… that’s awkward.  You’re banned from the next ur rounds of questions.

What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Are these updated iterations of characters that were on the show?

HILL: All my research for this movie came from a very honest place.  I was a twenty-three year-old playing a seventeen year-old in Superbad.  I had just done all this research about being someone in their twenties going back and pretending to be in high school.  I moved back in with my parents, into my childhood room.  Basically, that’s how I got most of the set pieces, or things Mike Bacall and I were talking about from what I did for Superbad.  Basically, we’re people in our twenties pretending to be teenagers.  I had literally just been a twenty-three year-old pretending to be a seventeen year-old!  With all the stuff I did, there was so much humor derived from trying to get into that mindset.  We took the big set pieces from that.  Once the directors came on and Chan came on, we just personalized it to all of our high school experiences.

TATUM: I can’t say that we studied how to be police in depth or anything.  I think you’ll see the movie and see that it doesn’t really matter.  It’s just us going back.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t read that well in high school.  So we put that in the movie.  I love it because it’s all the insecurities that you had—and even if you didn’t have them, now it’s just flipped.  One of my favorite lines is, “God, if I was just born five years later, I would have been so cool!”  It was a really funny development in my mind.  I had an all right high school [experience], even though I hated school.  I wasn’t massively popular, but I was okay.  But I wouldn’t want to do it again.  Jenko’s character is like, “We’ll breeze right through this.  We’ve got the almanac.  We already know what this is going to be like.”

21-jump-street-channing-tatum-jonah-hillHILL: And I finally got a Back to the Future II reference in a movie.  I was so happy about that.  He talks about how we have the almanac in this situation.

TATUM: I was a huge fan of the TV show.  I think it came on right before an old TV show, Friday the Thirteenth about a haunted antique store, where, like, a teacup would kill people.  Me and my sister would never miss those two shows.

What about some of the action that you guys had to do? Was the prom scene worse than the action scenes?

TATUM: The prom scene was only worse because we had to shoot nights.  It was almost our longest day of shooting.  Sixteen hours.  It was fine, it was fun.  We didn’t have to do any awkward dancing.

That was the next question.

HILL: Action is new for me, obviously.  This is my first big action movie.  Chan is amazing at all of that stuff, and was so helpful.  I think it’s cool that for the comedy stuff, I would be helpful with telling him what I knew from my experiences, and with the action stuff—I would not have been able to do it without him.  Even though my character is supposed to be bad at it.  It was just a totally different type of filmmaking experience.  When you say, “What’s harder: the prom or the action stuff?” I think what’s cool about the movie is that everything that’s in high school melds the cop action together.  Everything is kind of infused with everything else.  Every normal high school set piece has action in it, and every action set piece has high school emotions and feelings.  That’s kind of the whole goal of the movie.  They do intertwine.  Whenever we get too caught up in one thing, the other comes in.

21-jump-street-posterI feel like I need to redeem myself.

HILL: I’m sorry, are you still here? I’m just kidding.  But seriously, you should leave.  I’m just joking! Come on, that’s our rapport! That’s our witty rapport!

This is all going to be on the tape!

HILL: I know.  They’re not going to be able to see us all laughing and smiling.  It’s just going to be, “Hills Asks Journalist to Seriously Leave the Room: Silence for the Next Forty-Five Minutes.  Throws a Cup of a Coffee in Channing’s Face.”

Forget it, man.

HILL: To answer your question, I am the Drew Barrymore.

You guys are both producers of the film.  How does that role intertwine with your acting? Do you have to wear different hats when you’re on the set?

TATUM: Between Jonah and I, we’ve been on a lot of sets now.  I’ve done this for seven or eight years now.  I’m not sure how long you’ve done it.

HILL: Ninety-one years.

TATUM: Ninety-one, there it is.  With this being Chris and Phil’s first live action movie, we can help out on how to run a set.  Even blocking a scene and not having the entire crew around.  It’s quiet, we can work it out, and not have the pressure of bouncing stuff off each other with forty-five people sitting around waiting and watching us.  Even knowing those little things helps a set run smoother.

HILL: I’ll say that Chan helps a tremendous amount with them as well in the action sequences.  He’s done a million of those.  Phil and Chris and I have not done those.  That is a tremendous producerial help in making those feel real and cool and big and huge and awesome.  My producing this is, I’m a writer.

TATUM: Yeah, you’re a writer, but you also know how comedy plays.  I just learned that comedy played on a two shot.  I had no idea of that before.  That’s like a rule, or an urban legend, or whatever you want to call it.

21-jump-street-channing-tatum-jonah-hillHILL: In a buddy comedy, you want most of the bigger jokes to show both of our expressions at the exact same time.

TATUM: The timing, how you shoot it.  It’s definitely a good pairing.  And Neal [Moritz] has done a ton of these types of films.  It’s a good mix of ability.

HILL: It’s a potpourri of weirdoes.

Jonah, as an actor, you have to play a cop, playing a high school student, playing Peter Pan.  With all those layers of performance, do you ever get lost?

HILL: I lose myself.  I went full Donnie Brasco.  I was like Daniel Day-Lewis.  I actually became Peter Pan for three years leading up to this movie.  I went and lived in Neverland and had a pretty horrible enemy in Captain Hook.  He is what you imagine him to be.  He’s a god-awful man.  With the Peter Pan thing, I don’t want to give too much away.  I think that’ll be in the first trailer.  It’s one of the first set pieces we thought of: that my character should be in a play, and in the middle of the play, while in some ridiculous costume, [there’s] an action sequence.  I’d have to be in what would normally be a cool-looking action sequence, but I’m dressed as Peter Pan and I look ridiculous.  Again, this is a comedy.  It has a lot of cool action, but it’s a comedy.  Things like that are just crazy fun.

The bad guys, or the cool kids in this movie are kind of atypical.  They’re not into sports, or that kind of stuff.  What prompted this sort of choice as opposed to maybe making this more conventionally a high school movie?

jonah-hill-channing-tatum-21-jump-streetHILL: Because you just used the term “conventional high school movie.” The 80s bully would be like Billy Zabka from The Karate Kid. Or just the super-handsome tough dudes and the nerds of Saved by the Bell with suspenders and glasses.  I feel like every generation feels out of touch with the generation after them.  When I was in high school, I remember my parents saying, “The kids are different now,” and I was like, “That’s crazy.  That’ll never happen to me.” And now when I meet people who are sixteen, I’m like, “Man, it was so different when I was in high school to the way it is now.” I think we just wanted it to be the opposite of the way it was when we went to school.  In doing research, we found out that it is really cool to be into the environment, and to be more thoughtful.  It was also really important in casting a guy like Chan, and myself together, that we want to play on your expectations.  The expectation was that Chan would go back and be the coolest guy in school, and I’d be more of an outcast.  We wanted to flip it and do the exact opposite.  I think that’s one of the best decisions we’ve made on this movie.

What made you want to be a producer on this project?

TATUM: I’ve been on so many movies.  Generally, I haven’t gotten to be on the ground level.  As of two years ago, in Dear John, I got to really be on the ground floor.  I wasn’t a producer.  I felt like a put the work in, and I did have a lot of sway on what got fixed, reshoots, so on and so forth.  It felt really good.  I felt like I had a more personal relationship to the film.  I made that decision that I wanted to take control, and grow, and get better, and not just sign up for a part and show up on day one.  You can always go deeper and put more of yourself and more effort in.  The audience deserves it.

Does the studio approach you? Do you approach them?

21-jump-street-jonah-hill-channing-tatumTATUM: It comes in all different shapes and sizes.  Sometimes you take it to them.  Sometimes you sign onto a movie like this and they were gracious enough to come on as a co-executive producer.  That was just me wanting to start to do that and to help protect the film.

What’s it been like working with Phil and Chris? What do they bring to this in addition to what’s in the script?

TATUM: They come from the art world.  They have a really good eye.  I haven’t seen a comedy that is really this beautiful.  The perspective they take is not just, “Where’s the comedy?  Let’s go for that.” They really do want it to look awesome and feel kinetic.  They zero in and pinpoint the comedy.  I think they work really well together.  Chris is more of the technical guy, and deals with the camera and that side of things, and Phil comes to us and we spit things off the cuff, trying to come up with different things for different takes.

I’m interested in the description “beautiful.” Can you think of an example of a scene where you thought, “This is going to be gorgeous”?

HILL: Jump Street.  And Pete Wenham, our production designer, is sick.

TATUM: Unreal.  It’s this old Korean church.  There’s a Jesus, and it’s blue behind him, and there’s clouds.  It looks like a cartoon.  It’s really sculpted.

HILL: I would use the term “aesthetics.”

TATUM: And the car chase.  It’s not just running.  It’s beautiful sun gleaming.  Darius killed it in this movie.

channing-tatum-jonah-hill-21-jump-street-imageHILL: And the colors of our costumes.

TATUM: They really put a lot of thought in.

What similarities would you say there are between this and Green Hornet, another Neal Moritz movie?

HILL: I wouldn’t compare it to Green Hornet in any way, besides [the fact that] my friends made the movie.  Aside from my friendship with Seth and Evan and Neal and Johnny, our first AD, I wouldn’t give any comparison to the two.  One’s a superhero movie and one’s a throwback 80s action buddy cop comedy and high school comedy.  When I talk to sixteen year-olds, they don’t know what 21 Jump Street is.  When they say, “What’s that about?” I say, “It’s about young looking cops going back to high school,” they say, “I’d see that!” That’s the way I look at the project as a whole.  If you have seen it, you have nostalgia for it.  But if you haven’t, it’s such a cool idea to get to experience high school again.

TATUM: You can go nuts.  There’s no pressure.  We don’t have to get good grades.  But then, all of a sudden, we sort of want to get good grades and be popular.  You fall into those traps.

What’s the timeframe for the film?

TATUM: I think it’s like the last two months of school when we transfer in.

HILL: Yeah.  There’s like ninety days left, or something.

channing-tatum-jonah-hill-dave-franco-21-jump-streetWe talked to Brie [Larson] earlier.  Can you enlighten us on the spark between your character and her character, and your love story?

TATUM: She’s a pro football player.

HILL: That’s basically it.  It’d just be icing, anything I said now.  Brie plays Molly, a girl who goes to the high school.  Once I infiltrate the cool kids and become part of the popular crowd, she’s a part of that group, and her and I hit it off.  Without giving too much away, it’s kind of a struggle, because I’m twenty-five years old and she’s…


HILL: Yeah.  And there’s a lot of hilarious debate on our part—

TATUM: To Catch a Predator type shit.

HILL: Yeah.  On how far the relationship’s allowed to go.  But it’s very sweet, and we do kind of grow feelings for one another.  It’s kind of a sweet, high school puppy love type of thing.  But it’s very much forbidden because I’m lying and pretending to be eighteen or seventeen, and am actually an adult police officer.

You talk about the audience’s potential sense of nostalgia.  Do you see this as something that you came into, and said, “I’m just going to take the name of something,” or do you have any particular affection for the show that you wanted to incorporate?

21-jump-street-jonah-hill-channing-tatumHILL: Yeah.  I got to spend time with Steven Cannell, who was a great guy, and will be missed dearly, may he rest in peace.  I respect him a crazy amount, if you look at what he’s done.  He’s such an impressive, nice man.  I really did like the show.  I’ve seen every episode a hundred times at this point.  But it wasn’t a pressure to make it feel like the show.  I just loved the idea, like I said originally.  That’s what gravitated me towards telling the story.  The story is getting to relive a really important time of your life, and trying to resurrect those mistakes, and having the same feelings even years later.  That’s all I really care about.  And we did throw in a lot of winks to the show in the movie.  Certain cameos or locations, things like that.  Other than that, the only thing I feel a responsibility to do is tell a great story along the lines that I described to you.

Do either of you guys have a favorite character or episode from the show?

TATUM: There was an episode where Johnny wore a turban.  I don’t remember what he was doing or who he was trying to be like.  But he actually had a turban, with a jewel in the middle.

HILL: The show gets very crazy.  I’m just going to throw that out there.

TATUM: They might have been older than we are in doing this.

HILL: There’s a lot of stuff that plays odd now within the actual show.  But we’re not spoofing it.  We have a respect for the show.  The idea of what that show was is what we all loved.

You mentioned that the headquarters of 21 Jump Street was in a church.  I remember the church from the old one.  Does it look anything like that?

HILL: You’re just going to have to see.

TATUM: I’ll say no, I don’t think so.

jonah-hill-channing-tatum-21-jump-streetHILL: We had a different spin on what kind of church it was.

Is there a fire pole?

HILL: I don’t think there was a fire pole.

TATUM: There might be a stripper pole.

HILL: In my trailer.

I want to ask you guys about hip-hop.  I know that Ice Cube is in this movie.  And you were also in Get Him to the Greek with Diddy.  What’s it like working with hip hop artists? Do you guys like rap music?

TATUM: I love rap.

HILL: Me too.  I’m a big hip hop fan.

TATUM: Huge Ice Cube fan.

HILL: I’m like the biggest Ice Cube fan.

Is that why he’s in this movie?

ice-cube-jonah-hill-channing-tatum-21-jump-streetHILL: It is.  When Mike Bacall and I sat down the first time we met about the movie, we talked about the stereotype of the angry black captain in every 80s cop movie and why we found that funny, and how we were going to make it different.  We talked about someone being aware of that stereotype.  That would be funny if the person who was our captain was African American and was aware of that stereotype and couldn’t shake it, but didn’t care.  We were like, “Ice Cube is the only person who can play this part.” It was the first time we even talked about there being a movie.  We thought it would be great having the guy who wrote “Fuck the Police” play a police captain.  I’ve worked with Diddy.  I’m a massive hip hop fan.  I grew up in the 80s in LA, so Ice Cube and Magic Johnson are my heroes.  It was cool.  He told us all NWA stories.

TATUM: I just shut up and listened to this guy.

HILL: Three Kings, Friday, all that stuff.  That guy’s had an epic career.  It was so cool that he did this.

TATUM: That guy’s such a professional, man.  He knew his lines, he had a lot of heavy lifting in the movie.  He came in and nailed it every time.

Are any of you gentleman shirtless in the movie?

HILL: I’m in a track uniform.  I’m assuming that question is aimed more at Channing by your salivation and leaping out of your chair.

For more coverage from the set:

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