Jonah Hill. Channing Tatum. One is an Oscar nominated actor who rose to the top of his profession thanks to his performances in modern comedy classics Knocked Up and Superbad. The other is one of Hollywood’s most in demand leading men, appearing in films as diverse as A Guide to Recognising Your Saints and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
As on screen duos go they may seem the most unlikely, yet come together Hill and Tatum have to hilarious results in 21 Jump Street.
Yes, that 21 Jump Street. The popular ‘80s TV show about undercover teen cops that catapulted Johnny Depp into stardom, now adapted into a kinetic buddy cop movie. Hill and Tatum star as Schmidt and Jenko, newly graduated police cadets assigned to an undercover division where (you guessed it) youthful looking cops go undercover as teens to take down high school dwelling criminals.
As TV show adaptations have the shakiest of track records, many looked upon 21 Jump Street with rightful suspicions. Among them is Hill, who before signing as star/producer/writer had his own hesitations about the project.
“When they approached me to do it five years ago I rolled my eyes like anyone else would when you hear about a television show turned into a movie” says Hill. “You kind of think it seems like a corporate cash grab or whatever, just to plant something that was popular a long time ago. But we make that joke in the movie three minutes into the film saying, ‘Hey, we get what you’re thinking and we’re gonna call it out before you can and show you that it’s a way better movie than you think you’re about to see.’ ”
“For us it was just about ‘Hey, if you could go back and relive the most important period of your youth thinking you have all of the answers and getting back there with all of the answers, would you think you have it wrong?’ That’s a cool idea for a film so that’s kind of the reason why I did it.”
Tatum brings home another point: namely, this is not your older brothers 21 Jump Street.
“I wonder if you changed the title of this movie would most people even know what it is” says Tatum. “It has almost nothing to do…it’s not like we’re playing the same characters that were in the TV show or anything. It’s a whole re-imagination of it, because young kids don’t know what 21 Jump Street is. (Laughs) They don’t have a clue! I’m 31 and I’m like ‘21 Jump Street! What!? This is awesome!” And then I’m like ‘Wait a minute…that shows not on air anymore.’ ”
When Hill was approached to take on an adaptation of 21 Jump Street, the initial direction of the film was far from the high energy, raunchy action comedy which is sure to entertain audiences comes its March 15th release date.
“I just got a DVD of the show. That’s all there was” says Hill. “And there was a real serious Miami Vice style version of a script that we threw out and didn’t use. Super straight, Miami Vice style script. We read it and it was a good script but it wasn’t the take we were trying to do on the movie.”
“When they approached me to do it five years ago I rolled my eyes like anyone else would when you hear about a television show turned into a movie” - Jonah Hill
To help achieve that aim an unconventional choice was taken to fill the director’s chair, with the tandem of Phil Lloyd and Chris Miller (who wowed with the animated adventure Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) stepping into the world of live action and doing a brilliant job at it.
“We had a bunch of director’s audition basically to get the job” says Hill. “(Lloyd and Miller) had a cool take about it. There were a lot of great people that came close, but they just had a cool take on the material that we were doing, so we took a chance on them and they did a really good job for their first live film, for sure.”
Another unconventional choice was the casting of Tatum in the action man role. While the former model has proven himself as an actor capable of physical performances, some have pointed out a lack of personality in Tatum’s on screen persona, a crucial element needed in a game where personality goes a long way.
Yet with every scene in 21 Jump Street Tatum proves his detractors wrong, no doubt winning new fans in the process. Yet his biggest fan just might be Jonah Hill.
“We pictured that it would be me and an action star” says Hill. “That was kind of the idea, that we wanted someone who was known for action movies who was willing to play with that persona in a totally different kind of film.”
“Channing is the best person working in that field, I think, and he was ballsy enough to take a leap of faith to do something completely different. I love when any actor that has that kind of cojones to jump into something so foreign to them is gonna be good, because they’re courageous.”
A big surprise for Tatum was the improvisational nature of comedy filmmaking, with the freedom to stray from the script at opportune times one that he took to with glee.
“I haven’t done a lot of comedy so I didn’t understand before we started that you can do a riffs session” says Tatum. “I’ve never done that. In drama you don’t really do that. It’s not like you can riff on some sort of drama scene, and it’s just so cool to me that you can do that in comedies.”
For Tatum, 21 Jump Street will be released during an extremely prolific period for the Hollywood heartthrob with romantic drama The Vow and action thriller Haywire released before it, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation following in August. “It’s weird” said Tatum when asked about his busy schedule. “I had no intentions of that happening!”
It was his work in Haywire that brought about a new collaborative partnership with Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic). Already Tatum has completed another film with Soderbergh in the male stripper movie Magic Mike, and has begun prepping work on another drama The Bitter Pill, which co-stars The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo actress Rooney Mara.
“I’ve found somebody in a way that I can honestly say that I’ve never worked with anyone on the directorial level that is more collaborative than he is” says Tatum. “To be someone who has made as many great movies as he has, he doesn’t have to be. He really doesn’t. But I think that’s one of his biggest strengths, that he empowers you as an actor, as a set designer, as a grip, as a costume designer…to literally take it and run with it.”
“It’s unbelievable. I don’t know any other director that I’ve worked with who has that much freedom and sort of self-assured hand with everything. He’s such a confident director that he knows he’s gonna find his way through it.”
“I haven’t done a lot of comedy so I didn’t understand before we started that you can do a riffs session....In drama you don’t really do that. It’s not like you can riff on some sort of drama scene, and it’s just so cool to me that you can do that in comedies.” - Channing Tatum
Of the collaborations it is Magic Mike which has drawn the most interest, namely since it is based on Tatum’s experience as a male stripper during his pre-Hollywood days.
“He called me for Haywire and I was like I don’t even need to read it. Just tell me where to show up’’” says Tatum. “I did and over a beer one day after work on Haywire I told him that I was a stripper for 8 months in my life and he laughed his ass off, and then was like ‘That would be a great movie.’ And I said ‘Yeah, I want to make it a movie one day.’ (laughs) He said ‘You should write it.’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, I will get right on that Steven Soderbergh.’ (laughs)”
“Cut to 6 or 7 months later and my business partner Reid Carolin wrote it and we’re doing it. We financed it, produced, acted in it and (Soderbergh) directed it. We’re almost done with it now.”
Not to be outdone, Hill has also accumulated an impressive resume of late, with his work in 21 Jump Street and last year’s Moneyball career highlights for the 29 year old actor.
“The past year 21 Jump Street and Moneyball have come out 6 months apart from one another” says Hill. “These two movies are movies I’m really, really proud of and I think it’s a perfect example of what I want to do in the comedy world and what I want to do in the drama world. To come out so close together is a perfect example of what I want out of my career.”
It also seems that is what the industry wants as well, with Hill receiving an Oscar nomination for his role as numbers wiz Peter Brand who inspires under duress baseball manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) to embrace a new scouting system that would go on to change the game.
“I was thrilled and shocked and humbled and honoured…I just expect to enjoy it” said Hill days prior to the Oscar ceremony. “I’m bringing my mum and I hope she has fun. I’m sure that’s the kind of thing that mums really obviously would have a lot of fun being proud of their son for doing a good job, you know? I’m just excited to get to go. Hopefully they won’t kick me out.”
If Hill and Tatum’s work in 21 Jump Street is any indication, count on the duo to be around for a while.