21 Jump Street Cast
: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Ice CubeDirectors
: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller Genre
: Action, ComedyRated
: MARunning time
: 109 minutesSynopsis
: In the action-comedy 21 Jump Street, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are more than ready to leave their adolescent problems behind. Joining the police force and the secret Jump Street unit, they go undercover in a local high school to investigate a dangerous drug ring. As they trade in their guns for backpacks, they realise they must confront the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they thought they had left behind. Release Date
: March 15, 2012
About the Film
The idea for breathing new life into 21 Jump Street as a feature film began with Stephen J. Cannell, who had co-created the popular television series with Patrick Hasburgh back in the day. One of the most venerable, talented, and prolific television writer-producers, Stephen J. Cannell's many credits - from "The A-Team" to "The Rockford Files" to "The Greatest American Hero" to "Wiseguy," among many others - earned him a legion of fans and admirers, especially among his colleagues in entertainment.
One such admirer is producer Neal H. Moritz, who has earned his own reputation as a go-to producer of action films. "He was incredibly charismatic - I loved everything about him," says Neal H. Moritz of Stephen J. Cannell, who died in 2010 at the age of 69. Neal H. Moritz recalls their initial meeting: "We started talking about '21 Jump Street' and I told him how much I had loved that show. He mentioned that he was working on turning it into a movie, that he was a fan of my movies, and he asked me if I would like to get involved with the project. Are you kidding?"
"21 Jump Street" ran for five seasons, the first four on the nascent Fox network, providing them with one of their first hits. Starring Johnny Depp in his first major role, the drama about young-looking cops going undercover in high schools scored high ratings in the key demographic of young viewers that the then-fledgling network was beginning to court.
Neal H. Moritz and executive producer Tania Landau immediately saw the promise in updating that premise, but it wasn't until Jonah Hill became involved that the project really came into focus. "It's a great concept," Tania Landau says. "Two young-looking cops go undercover at a high school, and against all odds, bust a drug ring. We make a lot of action movies, so that was how we saw the direction for this project, too. But things changed when we had lunch with Jonah Hill he suggested doing it as an R-rated action comedy, and suddenly it all fell into place."
Jonah Hill says that it started with a simple question: "It started with asking myself what would it be like to relieve the most important time period of your youth... high school. You think you have all the answers that you didn't have then, but then you get back there and realise those answers are all wrong. You then immediately revert back to the insecurities and problems you had when you were seventeen."
Jonah Hill, also an executive producer of the film, wrote the story with Michael Bacall, who wrote the screenplay. "At first, nothing goes as planned for the characters. These guys treat it like wish fulfillment - 'Oh, if I only knew then what I know now,'" Michael Bacall explains. "But all of the information that they have no longer applies. Jenko - who was always the cool kid back then - falls in with the nerds, and Schmidt - the nerdier of the two - falls in with the cool crowd. It's a total role reversal."
According to Jonah Hill, the fact that the show has been off the air for a generation worked to their advantage in devising the story and the tone. "I'll meet teenagers and I'll ask them if they know the series - they don't," he says. "So I tell them it's about young-looking cops who go undercover in a high school, and they say, 'That sounds awesome.' It's such a great premise for an action-comedy."
Neal H. Moritz and Tania Landau immediately sparked to Hill and Michael Bacall's fresh take on the material, and Stephen J. Cannell, too, thought it was a great spin on the Jump Street series. As the project moved forward, the next step was to find a director that could make the new vision pop on the screen. They got two for the price of one: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who had previously helmed the animated hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Could the directors of a family friendly animated film possibly be the right choice for this R-rated live-action action-comedy? "We felt like we wanted to do something that was the exact opposite of what we had just done - although, to be fair, Cloudy is an action comedy, just geared to a different audience. Still, we had a lot to prove," Neal H. Moritz explains. "So we made a whole presentation that showed what we would do. We knew we had to do a little razzle-dazzle."
Whatever skepticism the producers may have had was washed away by the meeting. "When they came in, they were incredibly prepared," says Tania Landau. "They had a PowerPoint presentation. They had created a book with every point of the movie and how it should look. I was blown away, and so was Neal H. Moritz. The guys were so creative and enthusiastic - we were all in sync."
One of the reasons that Phil Lord and Neal H. Moritz were so excited by the material was that they wouldn't just be directing the movie - they would be living out the themes of the story. "When I was growing up, I watched 'Jump Street' because the cute girls in my high school were watching it - I wanted to be up on the storylines. So, this project is like coming full circle - I become a cool person by making this movie," says Phil Lord.
With Jonah Hill's comic sense under Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's direction, combined with Neal H. Moritz' action chops, the project had the perfect mix of talent. "You have Neal Moritz's Fast and Furious action side, and Jonah Hill style comedy," says Chistopher Miller. "Those things combine, explode, and recombine their atoms to make the perfectly formed movie."
"Neal H. Moritz has produced lots of great and successful action movies," says Jonah Hill. "So I felt that he would be a great partner in making this because I have made a lot of comedies and he has made a lot of action movies and together we could hopefully make a great action comedy."
"As a matter of fact," says Christopher Miller, "we were looking at cars and Neal H. Moritz knew exactly what we needed. It had to be a 1971 Camaro Z28. It had to be the Z28 and it had to be 1971. He even knew exactly what the exhaust pipe should look like. He is the expert. He knows more about cars than anyone else."
"There are some major chases in this movie," says executive producer Ezra Swerdlow. "For example, there's a limousine chase through the city, throwing people out the door, people shooting through the sun roof - it's full-scale action. Neal H. Moritz is just a master at this stuff - the pace of the action, the number of shots, the framing of the shots."
At the same time, says George Aguilar, the film's 1st unit stunt coordinator, that sequence is a good example of the way the film balances action and comedy. "The directors wanted a fast and furious action sequence, but with a comedy tone in it. It looks exciting, there's a danger to the sequence, and inside their limo they have a drunk girl that they have to get rid of. It's hysterical when the girl joins the chase."
"Every time I do an action movie, I feel like we have to top the last one," says Neal H. Moritz. "But it's not about bigger explosions or bigger car crashes - that doesn't work. The action has to be character-based, it has to be something you haven't seen before. For 21 Jump Street, because it's an action comedy, we tried to have the action be clever and humorous, to really come out of the characters and their relationships."
George Aguilar echoes the point. He has extensive experience in action-comedies, having previously overseen the stunts on such films as Zombieland. He says that in 21 Jump Street, just as in that film, the action and the comedy has to flow together naturally. "You can't stop for a joke you have to make it work within the chase," he says. "Neal H. Moritz wants it realistic, he wants it fast, he wants people to say 'wow,' but he also doesn't want to sacrifice anything funny. You have to keep the stakes high and then work in the funny situation."
George Aguilar says that Jonah Hill contributed greatly to the action sequences. "Jonah Hill is always thinking and coming up with new and better ideas," he says. "He'd always come up with a twist. He insisted that his character should not look slick - even though he's been through the police academy, he's still not so good at certain things."
Jonah Hill, of course, plays Schmidt, the onetime nerd who finds himself suddenly cool for the first time in his life. "It's one of the more interesting characters I've played," says Jonah Hill. "He just wants to be a good cop, but he has insecurities that date all the way back to high school. When he gets sent back to high school, undercover, he gets drunk with power, forgets about police work, forgets about his friendship with Jenko. He likes living this fake high school life - better than the life he has as a guy in his mid-20s." So in essence it's the story of a guy who gets lost in his moment in the sun.
Opposite Hill, the filmmakers looked for an actor to play Jenko - a guy for whom everything went right during high school who discovers that things aren't so easy the second time around. Who could be handsome and an alpha male, but funny, too?
"When we met Channing Tatum, we realised he's perfect for the role because he's naturally funny and sincere," adds Christopher Miller.
"Channing Tatum hits all the right notes," says Phil Lord. "Everyone knows he can pull off the heroic stuff, but there's an underlying kindness to him that makes a nice contrast to his performance. And he's so much funnier than people expect. We knew that the actor who plays Jenko had to be somebody who could be comedic and have a twinkle in his eye, and Channing Tatum has that."
"Channing Tatum wins you over immediately," says George Aguilar. "Like everyone, I knew he was physically talented, and he's done enough of the action stuff to know what he's good at, but I didn't know that he's also hysterical, and that's a powerful combination."
Channing Tatum, who also signed on as an executive producer, says, modestly, "I'm the biggest fan of comedies, but I'm terrified of them. I'm so envious of guys like Jonah Hill - so when he called and he said, 'We're doing 21 Jump Street, and we want you to be in it,' I really thought I got the wrong call. Comedy is just so different - not only do you have to worry about being honest in the scene, but you also have to figure out where the funny beats are and punch them, then drop and stop talking. It's a fine art. Fortunately, I was surrounded by comedy writers and stand-up comics who really knew what they were doing - I learned an enormous amount."
To confirm what they already knew - that Channing Tatum had the comedy chops and would have fantastic chemistry with Jonah Hill - the directors put them into costume and watched their interaction. "Channing Tatum plays the reality of the moment, and that's the best thing you can do as a comedian," says Phil Lord. "It also happens to be how Jonah Hill likes to work - a lot of his comedy comes from character and situation. It's less about super-funny jokes and more about what's funny in the moment right now, so it ends up working beautifully."
Channing Tatum's character, Jenko, is the living opposite of JonahHill's Schmidt. "They went to high school together, and the first time around, Jenko was the popular kid, the jock who got the girls," says Channing Tatum. "When they go back, they find that everything has changed in 10 years. It used to be all about picking on kids, being a bully, sleeping through class. Now everyone's a vegan, running their cars on vegetable oil? they're into everything that Jenko thinks is BS. Jenko ends up hanging around with the nerds, and for the first time, sees that all the stuff that nerds do - learning - is actually cool."
The fact that they are opposites is one of the reasons they work so well together, according to Jonah Hill. "Even a two-shot of us is funny, because we're such different types - you wonder how we even met each other, let alone became best friends. It was clear right from the table read that the two of us would work well together - Channing Tatum surpassed all of my expectations of how cool and talented he is."
"One of the things about Jenko - I think if you asked him why he wanted to be a cop, he wouldn't have an answer. I'm guessing he just watched a lot of cop movies and thought it would be really cool," says Channing Tatum. In a way, Channing Tatum and his character had similar childhoods. "My friends and I would get an old Civic, one guy would drive it and the other would roll across the hood, to see who could do the fastest one. I don't think Jonah did that kind of stupid stuff."
"Channing Tatum told this crazy story about hanging with his buddies from childhood - they partied really hard, then went out to the desert and shot guns, and then they all got tattoos, and then they went over to another friend's house and scared him, and then they all got crazy together," says Phil Lord. "I said, 'Wow, when did this happen?' and he said, 'Saturday.' I love this guy - he is Jenko."
Brie Larson leads the supporting roles as Molly. Though Jonah Hill's character, Schmidt, was too nerdy to date girls when he was in high school, he discovers that today, nerd is the new cool. The girls - especially Molly, played by Brie Larson - go for him.
In guiding the character of Molly, the directors wanted more than a cheerleader type, but a girl who stands out from the crowd. It was important that she become someone that the audience loves not just because she's beautiful, but because there's something extra to her. "You meet Brie Larson and you know there's a lot happening there," says Christopher Miller. "She's a great comedic talent and a terrific actor, but what sets her apart is a unique personal style and attitude that you just don't find in many young women."
Molly is in a semi-open but unfulfilling relationship with Eric, the drug dealer played by Dave Franco. She has been through many disappointments in her life and feels she can't really count on anyone. Schmidt changes all that when she gets to know him, she starts to think that maybe he's a guy she can trust. What she doesn't know, of course, is that he's an undercover cop who's lying to her.
"Our characters are in the school play together - he's Peter Pan and she's Wendy," Brie Larson explains. "They have a moment when they gaze into each other's eyes and realise there's something special between them. Later, when the truth comes out, she doesn't take it too well."
Dave Franco plays a pivotal role as Eric, who sets most of the plot in motion. "Eric is dealing a new drug at his high school, which is the reason why Schmidt and Jenko are going undercover - they have to find out the source of this drug so they can eradicate it," says Christopher Miller.
Casting Dave Franco in the role was another way the film could contrast how high school has changed since Schmidt and Jenko's first time around. "Dave Franco is essentially the perfect man," says Phil Lord. "He's a nice, compact Greek/Roman-sized person - the girls go crazy for him. The cool kids nowadays are not the same from a teen movie from the 1980s - Eric drives Jenko nuts because he's so cool."
"We saw a lot of people, but I knew we had to cast Davey, because he's the one guy I kept trying to impress. I already had the part and I'm trying to impress the guy who's auditioning, make him think I'm cool," says Jonah Hill. "That's exactly what we wanted for the part."
It was important to all of the filmmakers to make Dave Franco's character well-rounded. "Everyone should be a hero in their own narrative," says Phil Lord. "I always thought that the character shouldn't be an evil thug. The kids I knew in high school who were dealing drugs were kids who were making messed-up choices - they weren't evil, they were funny or charming or interesting, and had you known them, you'd have good things to say about them. We thought this was a good opportunity to show a grounded, real person who happened to be dealing drugs."
With that in mind, the filmmakers and Dave Franco focused on the character's concern for the environment. "You have the cool guy talking about composting and finding ways to conserve water, but at the same time he's dealing drugs," says Dave Franco. "I felt it was a new take on the character. It was a lot of fun because I wasn't playing a straight jerk. He's full of it, but he's also charming - you get to see the more vulnerable side to the character."
For the role of Mr. Walters, the gym teacher, the filmmakers had one reason for selecting Rob Riggle: "We cast him because he's the funniest guy you'll ever meet," says Christopher Miller.
"Rob Riggle is an athletic guy, like Channing Tatum - he was in the Marines," says Phil Lord. "The thing that's so great about Rob Riggle is that in real life, he's always so happy to be doing what he's doing. That translates directly to his characters - the way he plays them, his characters are just so psyched to be wherever they are. And that certainly applies to his gym teacher, Mr. Walters. It's a great energy."
"He's a pretty amiable guy," says Rob Riggle of his character. "He coaches track, looks after the kids, teaches a sex ed class now and then. He loves Jenko because he is just beautiful, a fabulous specimen, and hates Schmidt, because he is not beautiful and screws up the track team."
Rounding out the lead cast is Ice Cube as the leader of the Jump Street unit, Captain Dickson. "My least favorite people in high school were the narcs, but now here we are," says Ice Cube. "I play Capt. Dickson - the hard-nosed, hard-talking captain who puts Schmidt and Jenko on the assignment and makes their lives a living hell. My spin on it is not just to be yelling all the time, but to have those peaks and valleys and hit the funny points - balance the over-the-top angry police captain with the jokes in the script - it's very well-written, very funny."
"Captain Dickson is a guy who would scare the piss out of you, but still somebody you want to please really badly," Phil Lord says, explaining why Ice Cube is perfect for the role. "Ice Cube happens to intimidate the hell out of me - and it's all self-induced it's something about his eyebrows. He's actually a really nice person, super friendly and very smart. It was a childhood dream to meet him. What do you call him? Mr. Cube? Ice?"
Ice Cube was excited to join the project by the prospect of re-teaming with Neal H. Moritz. "I've known Neal H. Moritz for many years now, over a decade," he explains. "I was in a few films he produced - Torque and XXX: State of the Union. I love working with him and this movie is right in his wheelhouse - it's funny and furious."
Of course, there's only so much that a guy like Ice Cube can relate to the story of 21 Jump Street. What would he possibly want to change about his high school experience? "My senior year, I quit playing football to concentrate on music," he remembers. "If I went back, I would play my senior year of football. But that's it. I was one of the coolest kids at my school - I don't have to change that part."