Jonah Hill has cemented his status as one of Hollywood’s go-to funnymen, but he’s tired of that distinction. It’s fitting, then, that his character in Gus Van Sant’s new film, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, will probably bring you to tears. Starring opposite Joaquin Phoenix as Donny — a gay recovering alcoholic dying of AIDS — the two-time Oscar nominee brings impressive gravitas to one of the most difficult and rewarding performances of his career. Here, he talks about switching from wisecracks to wisdom and ponders the legacy of the brom-com.
Donny might be your most dramatic role yet. Do people still act surprised when you stretch beyond traditional comedy?
Every time I do something that’s not a comedy, people act like it’s the first time. It makes me laugh. I’ve actually been doing the same thing for years: going back and forth between comedy and drama. Things should be funny one second, heartbreaking the next — severe, horrible, and amazing.
How did you connect with Gus Van Sant?
I met Gus a while ago. He’s comically hard to read. I said, “I’m such a big fan — so nice to meet you!” Then I was like, Oh, shoot...I embarrassed myself. Years later, he wrote me an email that said, “I want you for this part next to Joaquin Phoenix,” and sent me the hook. I didn’t even read it. It was a no-brainer.
What about playing Donny affected you most?
Donny’s the first character I’ve played who’s at ease with himself. Even when he’s sick, he’s accepted his life and who he is. It’s fuckin’ inspired. And it really helped me get more comfortable with myself.
Speaking of growth, your directorial debut, Mid-90s, hits theaters this fall.
I can’t wait. It’s the only thing that represents me. You’ll see me as a human being and my point of view. I was 21 when you guys met me in my work — now I’ve finally found what I’m supposed to do. Also, when you enter the Director’s Guild for your first film, you need three directors to cosign you. Gus was one of the three I chose.
Some of your earlier films, like Superbad, weren’t queer, but many felt they had homoerotic undertones.
I loved those films. They’re so funny and well-intentioned, but if I look at the bromantic comedy thing now, I wonder if it’s bordering on making fun of two men being close. Thinking about it, I’m like, What’s funny about being close to your best friend? Nothing. It was a different time.