Cast: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
Director: Jonah Hill
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 85 minutes
Synopsis: Follows Stevie, a thirteen-year-old in 1990s-era Los Angeles who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.
Release Date: April 4th, 2019
Rembert Browne is a writer from Atlanta, based in New York City. While serving as a staff writer at Grantland and writer-at-large at New York Magazine, he's interviewed a variety of subjects, from Barack Obama and Lin-Manuel Miranda to Issa Rae and Donald Glover. In addition to currently being a contributor at The Ringer, he recently penned the Time Magazine cover story on Spike Lee.
Rembert Browne: Okay, so I'm watching your film and, within the first ten minutes I was like, "hmm, I wonder what parts of Mid90s are autobiographical?" Is there a little bit of you in each character? Or is one character you or maybe none of them are? To what degree are any of the characters, the setting, the backdrop, things pulled from your life and your actual self?
Jonah Hill: Well, that's a very good question. First and foremost, I'm a writer and this is a story. So, it's not autobiographical. It's a story I wrote that I wanted to tell. A lot of the feelings of growing up are personal. And maybe some things happened to friends of mine. But, ultimately, its complex characters I wanted to write, in a story that I really wanted to tell, you know?
Rembert Browne: I get it. And when you were beginning to create that story, where did it stem from? Did you focus on location first? Was it, like, skate culture frost?
Jonah Hill: Yeah, it wasn't a culture thing. I grew up skateboarding in LA, in the mid-nineties. And I spent all my time at the courthouse, which is in the film.
Rembert Browne: I loved the scenes there.
Jonah Hill: We actually recreated the courthouse to be how it was back then, with matching, like, graffiti and stuff. And the city actually let us keep it that way, which is very cool. Skateboarding at that time, although I never got very good, was about me finding a tribe. A group of friends, you know. And when you're the younger kid, you're working your way up through the animal kingdom. And when you're the older kid, you're watching them struggle to work their way up in the animal kingdom. It's an animal kingdom movie, essentially, a young cub going in and learning to survive and build himself within a pack.
Rembert Browne: Exactly.
Jonah Hill: I always connected to, like, the anti-ethic of skateboarding. I would give all of this up to be able to do certain tricks that I watched the kids do, but more importantly it gave me a point of view, taste, and outlook. And, you know, a family outside of my home. So even if Mid90s is not my story, the backdrop of the courthouse and LA was the backdrop of how and where I grew up.
Rembert Browne: I remember being not just the youngest, but the physically smallest one. With these giants that felt like they were twenty years older than me, when it was really just three years older. I remember being the cool shithead of the group and the cool "it's not cool to be an underachiever" kid. So, watching it, I remembered being each one of the characters, which I thought was so interesting. Because, for me, and so many others, they're so relatable.
Jonah Hill: The fact that you felt that way, and if anyone feels that way " that's the best compliment I could get. The movies that I love represent complex characters, but also ones that you can see yourself in. At that time, especially with skate culture, or hip hop culture, or just teenagers doing things, it was very uncool to be motivated. It was almost the lamest thing you can do " be motivated.
Rembert Browne: It was, "oh, you try?"
Jonah Hill: Trying hard was corny. Which we talk about in the movie. And so, the people that were motivational in a way " in that world with an aesthetic and a point of view that was cool " they stuck out to me forever. I wanted to have a character that really represented that. And then once I met Na-Kel Smith, he's like that. Because he's so cool, and he's such a good actor, and he's never corny.
Rembert Browne: He's such a good actor.
Jonah Hill: He could pull off someone who's motivational, but never corny. And to me the movie relied on that. Finding these kids, and making the movie with these kids, and watching them go from kids who could skate to becoming great actors was probably the most moving experience of my life.
Rembert Browne: Yeah, I was going to ask about the process of finding them? And not just finding them but turning them " or, better yet, helping them " become this very believable crew?
Jonah Hill: (Laughing) Two very different questions.
Rembert Browne: Yeah, I had to correct myself mid-thought.
Jonah Hill: I mean, it was great. You write these characters and all you want to do is see them come to life. I knew tons of people in skateboarding, some from growing up, some more recently. So, I did all the research and started meeting people. My friend and co-producer Mikey Alfred was very helpful. But then, for example, I met Sunny at a skate park. And, you know, we had not read anybody yet. I had not read one person yet. And he comes up and I start talking to him. And it was him.
Rembert Browne: Yeah.
Jonah Hill: What I was looking for was a kid who was three feet tall, but twelve feet tall inside. You know? And what I think very deeply about Sunny is that he understands the character way more at the end of the film, with the bravado, and with the confidence. It's why he's so believable. You can reverse engineer him to be like a meek, shy kid, but you can't fake the funk with a meek, shy kid acting like he does at the end of the movie. Sunny " he just was a combination. And we cast him that day.
Rembert Browne: That's amazing.
Jonah Hill: They're all so incredible, but I've never had a part as an actor where I'd have to anchor a movie like Sunny does. And there are so many great performances. I love all the kids, plus Katherine's and Lucas' performances. Everyone was great, but he anchors the film and he was eleven years old when we shot it. It was very important to me, what you said; representing that at that age when you just look like a little kid, when you're with people three years older, and they look like adults. That was just the most confusing time of life, and I really wanted to see that represented on screen. And Sunny, he was just at that perfect moment, you know?
Rembert Browne: When he's yelling at his mom, or how he is at the end of the film, I was like holy shit.
Jonah Hill: And he's not like that in real life, but he's confident, and he skates, so he's with older people. And he's used to being on camera, because they film each other skating all the time. Everyone knows what it's like to have been shy in a situation. Or, you've been in a situation that makes you feel bad, you know? And so, I felt that was easier to get done with, like, rehearsal and performance and stuff as opposed to someone inherently shy and nervous. When it's that, they're really just imagining what it's like to be like explosive.
Rembert Browne: It's not, "I wonder what it's like to yell at your mom?"
Jonah Hill: Exactly. But if you've been an explosive kind of person who's very emotional, you can really imagine the instances that you've been a shy outsider.
Rembert Browne: This is the first film you've written by yourself, right?
Jonah Hill: Mm-hmm.
Rembert Browne: What was that like? What did you do? Has this been something you'd wanted to do for a while? Did you, like, go off and hole up? Did you go to LA? I'm just curious in how you prepared for leaping into two new lanes, writing and directing? I think that was eight questions at once.
Jonah Hill: All good questions. How'd I feel prepared? All of the experiences.
I've had this incredible film school for the past fifteen years, you know. As an actor I always wanted to direct and write. And my acting career is such a blessing. It took off, and I got to learn from my heroes for 15 years. So, a lot of times what I saw as an actor, when someone would direct, is they would do it too soon. They'd be a good writer, and they didn't have the experience to direct yet.
Rembert Browne: Yeah.
Jonah Hill: Ultimately, I knew I was going to make a film and I was going to put years into it. I knew I wanted to tell a story that really meant something to me. Then, years ago, I was writing a play with Spike Jonze, and we would do this thing after we would work on the play, we would talk about what we were writing, individually. And he and I would tell each other a story, which is kind of a good writing exercise, having to tell the story from the beginning to end, over and over. I was writing my first movie. I tell him the story. And it was about something completely different. But it would ﬂash back to when they were twelve, skating, when the main character was twelve, skating with his friends. And Spike said, "you look really bored when you're talking about the main story, and you light up when you talk about the ﬂashbacks." And he's like, "you should just write that movie."
Rembert Browne: Yeah. When was that?
Jonah Hill: Four years ago.
Rembert Browne: And that was the moment?
Jonah Hill: That was the moment when I decided to start writing Mid90s.
Rembert Browne: I love it.
Jonah Hill: And it has just been this amazing thing. I actually locked the film today. This morning. I'm highly emotional.
Rembert Browne: Of course you are. Congrats, dude.
Jonah Hill: Thanks so much, seriously. Because, for four years, it's been, like, whenever I've been lonely or had any excess energy " negative or positive " it's gone towards this thing. It's like my best friend.
Rembert Browne: Yep.
Jonah Hill: Then you invite all these people, and they believe in you. And they come in on it. And it's the most moving thing in the entire world. Because you think no one's going to care. And, I don't know, it's just been the most incredible experience of my life. For four years, I would write at the courthouse at night a lot. I would go sit on the steps where the kids are sitting in the film, where they're watching and talking about the pros and stuff. And then I moved to New York very early on in the three-year process. I love writing, and I love editing.
Rembert Browne: Editing? I genuinely didn't expect you to say that. Tell me more.
Jonah Hill: Shooting I love, too, but editing is the greatest thing ever, because on set there's so much money and pressure. It's high-stakes creativity. Writing and editing is what I would call low-stakes creativity. Where it's this quiet creativity, where it's just you, or you and your editor. And you can take major swings at things, and you fall on your face, and only you or your editor see it. And on set, taking a major swing might be the moment where you had to get the actual swing you need. But editing is like writing with images. It's the most beautiful experience I've ever had in my life. Like, I'm sad it's over, you know?
Rembert Browne: It seems like a completely different, intimate type of storytelling.
Jonah Hill: It's just you and the kids, and Nick, my editor, he's a genius. Nick Houy. I loved it. I could've done it for ten more years. Honestly, I just want to write another movie just so I can edit it. Someone told me one time that shooting is the reward for writing, and editing is the reward for shooting. Which I disagree with, because I love writing. To me, this movie is a result of that. These kids, for them to understand what they were doing, they had to understand who these characters were. And the fact that I can give them these characters, and they recognise them in life, it was the best.
Rembert Browne: Watching them become your characters must have been wild.
Jonah Hill: These kids had never acted, except for Sunny. They never acted, and they were so nervous at first. It shows how good of actors the kids are, because they're highly motivated people. The fact that they could do this and take it that seriously is remarkable
Rembert Browne: What were some favorite memories, throughout the whole process?
Jonah Hill: Well, first off, a story.
Rembert Browne: Shoot.
Jonah Hill: Olan, who plays Fuckshit, is so charismatic as a person. When he just walked in the room, I forgot to have him audition. Scott Rudin was calling me and was like, "we didn't have him audition." I go, "uhh yeah, sorry, yeah. He's just so amazing. Like, obviously he's getting the part, this is a star." He explodes off the screen.
Rembert Browne: And he's just a skater, right.
Jonah Hill: He's a skateboarder, yeah. So, Olan's a very explosively funny person. Extremely energetic. But one time was really quiet. And I'm like, "oh, what's up? Like, is he upset or something?" You know? Like, I want make sure everything's fine. Sometimes you are like a parent in these situations. You're like, "oh, is he, like, upset about something? Does he feel uncomfortable?" And I look and under the table he has this wrinkled up script. And he's, like, rehearsing for the scene.
Rembert Browne: Cool, I'm going to cry.
Jonah Hill: Without being corny, it totally made me cry later on in the day. Because this was a guy who I couldn't get to show up on time. You know, or, like, he's an hour late to the audition. And by the end of the movie, these kids are as seasoned, and firing on all cylinders, as much as any professional actor I've worked with in my career. It was just so moving, you know?
Rembert Browne: That's awesome.
Jonah Hill: My whole thing originally was structuring the movie where, for any crew member I hired, or any department head, we hide the fact that we're making a movie from the kids. If they feel they're in a movie, they're going to be scared or something. And then half way through Na-kel's like, "okay, so this is a mother/daughter shot. Sound's going to have a field day with that. You're going to split the difference here." And you're like, "oh, right, those kids are geniuses."
Rembert Browne: Infinitely smarter than I am.
Jonah Hill: And they're hungry for knowledge. And it was the coolest thing in the entire world. It was moving. It was the best summer ever. I look at pictures, I miss it every day.
Rembert Browne: A hard, but fun summer, I take it.
Jonah Hill: Oh yeah. I was so stressed out, sometimes to the kids, when they talk about the summer, I go, "you guys look like you had a great time, I wish I was there."
Rembert Browne: Hahahaha.
Jonah Hill: Working with the kids was hard work, explaining things over and over again, which is when my experience as an actor comes in. Because I understand why they're maybe making certain acting choices. Or, I get how to loosen people up, get people comfortable just to be themselves, inspire them to find these characters " and that they're good enough to be these characters.
Rembert Browne: : Yeah. It seems more like a confidence thing than teaching them how to act.
Jonah Hill: It's about getting them to believe in themselves. And some of the kids said to me, very specifically, which was another really moving part " and, not to bring it in, like, a saccharine direction, but it just the truth " that even though skateboarding has come so far, they're seen as outcasts, or losers or something. You know, the signs and everything. And, even though it's punk, some of the kids said to me that they had never been empowered to be artistic or given this opportunity by an adult. And they ran with it. You hear that and go, "I think those kids learned that they can do whatever they want." And I don't want to speak for them, but that's the feeling. And by the end you were like, "whoa, you are a machine. You are, like, on fire right now."
Rembert Browne: You were talking earlier about when you were younger as an actor, the fact that you got to learn from your heroes. Who are some of those people that you feel put their stamp on you?
Jonah Hill: Everyone I've ever worked with. Because, if you want to be a director, and you're an actor, you have a front row seat.
Rembert Browne: That's true.
Jonah Hill: And I've made like sixty movies. You know, I'm older than you actually think.
Rembert Browne: We're basically the same age, which just made me feel old, but continue.
Jonah Hill: (Laughter) I'm thirty four, and I've made sixty films, so for me, I had a front row seat, good and bad, you know? And you learn almost as much from the ones that don't work as the ones that do work. And, for me, it started with Superbad. I got to watch Seth and Evan, two people I admire and love, make a film, in their voice, of what they wanted to make. At a very young age I got to witness that. And that put the seed in me of, you can do that. Now, because I was in that movie, people thought I was just going to do some version of that. But I was like, these guys are geniuses. This was their voice. They inspired me so much. And then I went on to work with, like, Bennett Miller. And I got to witness, like, an amazing director, directing a dramatic film, with a front row seat. Still, to this day, I call him all the time. Like, just bother him. But what's interesting, I think, is people are excited to pass it on, when they can tell someone is coming from the right place.
Rembert Browne: Yeah.
Jonah Hill: I learned so much from Bennett, and then I went on to Tarantino, and then Scorsese. And Coen Brothers, and Gus Van Sant, and Harmony Korine...
Rembert Browne: You're like an eighth-year senior in film school.
Jonah Hill: I don't ever want it to end.
Rembert Browne: Never graduate.
Jonah Hill: To me, it's knowledge. The reward is knowledge, so, when I went to make my first film, I felt ready. I felt nervous. I felt excited. I felt everything, but I had done the homework, in my opinion. And have worked on the script for three years. What I'd seen so much in movies is, you rush a script, you rush a movie. I have no idea what people are going to think about this film, but the one thing I know is that I've thought it through.
Rembert Browne: There's not going to be an "oh shit, I didn't even think of that."
Jonah Hill: Right. For better or for worse, I understand that the great movies that I love, or the ones that I've been in that are good, there was time, and effort, and obsession there. And heart. A lot of movies are not made from that place. And again, you have no idea how the world will look at anything you ever make, but if it comes from your heart and you worked really hard, that's what I've noticed, from my heroes, tend to be the films they are proud of, at the end of the day. And I stand by the movie forever.
Rembert Browne: There's something really beautiful about that, where you're just like, "I left it all on the table."
Jonah Hill: And I love long-term creativity. I love short-term creativity, which is more acting, I would say. Like, you just have to go in, get your job done, service the movie, and then you're not involved anymore, you know? But, to me, making things with people I love is the greatest gift of my life. And people I respect. To be in there and work with Trent and Atticus or Scott Rudin and Eli Bush, you know, or A24, Ken Kao. It's just this like... I don't know. It's really kind of Field of Dreams stuff " if you build it, they will come.
Rembert Browne: Yeah.
Jonah Hill: Because there're so many moments where no one wants to make this, or you don't think anyone's going to want to make it. And then people are like, "okay, is it like a superhero film? Blah, blah, blah." And you're like, "no, it's a bunch of kids... hanging out."
Rembert Browne: But when do they get powers?
Jonah Hill: And what do they do? "oh, no, they just kind of talk about their feelings. And then Del the Funky Homosapien is there." Which is my favorite scene. So, you just have to believe and work. Believe and work.
Rembert Browne: It's funny, even before I saw the film, one thing I knew was, like " even if this shit sucks, I know the music is going to be fire.
Jonah Hill: (Laughing) Because of Trent and Atticus?
Rembert Browne: No, because I know you care about music.
Jonah Hill: These scenes were written to songs.
Rembert Browne: I'm not surprised. Because I knew the music would be highly purposeful.
Jonah Hill: Right. That's a really nice compliment.
Rembert Browne: So, there's that, and then mix it with Trent and Atticus, and in the first three minutes I'm like, "oh my god. This is wild Philip Glass-inspired shit, I'm ready.
Jonah Hill: I mean, we can talk about the music all day.
Rembert Browne: Yeah, I know. But one other thing: there was even a point towards the end of the movie, one thing I noticed is the music's acting kind of as a narrator for the film. Like, there's a part towards the end and the lyric goes"
Jonah Hill: "That was the night everything changed."
Rembert Browne: Yeah. And literally, it was when everything changed.
Jonah Hill: I mean, first of it all it's so cool. I mean, that's the first song on Liquid Swords. And so, to me, the fact that, like, at the end of the second act, going into the third act, I used probably the most definitive song from my childhood.
Rembert Browne: Fucking GZA.
Jonah Hill: And if you know that, you've heard that a million times. But to use it in the story, unreal. We were like, should we? Producers that don't get, like, GZA? People that were not, like, Liquid Swords guys? My agent was like, what does that mean? Like, why are you putting that in there? And I'm, like " I could so easily take it out, but if this is part of your DNA like it is mine, you'll be so excited by the fact that we used something you just have in the back of your brain forever, and we incorporate it into the story.
Rembert Browne: Just makes you want to high five someone else that gets it.
Jonah Hill: But that's the beauty of Eli Bush, also, and the beauty of Scott Rudin, who just believes in hard work, and just his taste, even if it's not his thing. And what's been amazing about Eli is he's my age. We're friends, and he gets that, so he can fight some of those fights with me. And that's why A24 is amazing. And why Ken Kao is amazing. If this was at Universal Studios, they'd be like, "take out the weird like Kung Fu narration that says this is the night everything changed," but, to me, it's like... it's for the heads. We showed Raekwon the movie.
Rembert Browne: What.
Jonah Hill: And he cried after.
Rembert Browne: I'm dead.
Jonah Hill: It makes people emotional. Which is something, because showing emotion is so against the ethics, often, in hip hop. Especially in the mid-nineties, at that time. And so Raekwon sees the movie, and he's crying, and as the credits come up he goes, "made me emotional, B!" He was not expecting to be emotional, I think.
Rembert Browne: Were there things you were attempting to avoid, in making the film?
Jonah Hill: Our two rules were: no nostalgia porn, and no skate porn. Yes, we'll throw the perfect Street Fighter shirt on, but we're not like making a meal of it. It's just what he's wearing, you know, it's not like that nineties movie. Or that skate movie, which is the problem with any movie that ever featured skateboarding. It's just there. It's in the bloodstream of the movie, you know.
Rembert Browne: It's still about the characters, above all.
Jonah Hill: The joy I get when people come up to me and tell me, like, their life story, after they watch the movie, you know? It's so beautiful. It's what I love about movies. Na-kel is the movie star I always wanted that I never had.
Rembert Browne: I really can't say enough about him.
Jonah Hill: I was like, who's the movie star I wanted my whole life that I never had? Okay, I'm going to go make that happen. And that scene with him and Sunny, that was one of the first scenes I wrote. It stayed pretty much word-for-word in the movie.
Rembert Browne: The one that's just the two of them, toward the end?
Jonah Hill: When they're sitting outside and he's saying, like, "you wouldn't trade your shit for other people's shit."
Rembert Browne: That one.
Jonah Hill: And, always, it was people's favorite scene in the script. Because it's the part of the movie where I think people get the most emotional. At least in the bigger screenings we've had. People are like, "that's obviously the best scene in the movie." But also, it was tricky. Because if it goes wrong one degree off, it's the most corny, lame scene in the entire world.
Rembert Browne: Yeah, that's true.
Jonah Hill: And it rested on finding an actor who can talk that emotionally freely without sounding corny. And to be that supportive and, kind of, open. I wanted it to be, like, direct. And all those things that are in there, writing-wise, to not make it be like, okay, like, Mr. Miyagi comes in and, like, gives this perfect speech to these kids.
Rembert Browne: On some, "a very special episode of…"
Jonah Hill: It was the hardest thing. But when an actor does that for you, goes there, you're like, "I would actually take a bullet for you." I had to say to him, "if you look stupid, you can beat me up. You know? Like, if you see this movie, and you look stupid " because it's so vulnerable " I promise you, the more vulnerable you go, it's the only way that it will work. There's no one degree off. It's either, like, all or nothing. So, either we don't do it, or you go all in." And he just goes, "I got it."
Rembert Browne: Damn.
Jonah Hill: And after only, like, two takes, everyone just shut up. Everyone just was like, "okay he's a real serious actor." I've been acting for a long time. You don't see that very often. And all I want to do is create a framework with the writing and the filmmaking to allow these kids' hearts to come out.
Rembert Browne: A comfortable environment for it to come out.
Jonah Hill: It's all about safety, and love, and freedom, knowing you can fall on your face and we won't judge you. I mean, it's hard enough being, like, fourteen " imagine doing it, like, in a movie. But what was amazing about them is they all wanted to impress each other, too.
Rembert Browne: That's cool.
Jonah Hill: And what's amazing is Na-kel is one of the coolest skateboarders in the world.
Rembert Browne: That he is.
Jonah Hill: So, they all do naturally look up to him like the alpha. He is naturally the alpha of that world, because he is, like, an amazing professional skateboarder. So, Sunny is way more psyched to be around Na-kel than he is me. He doesn't give shit about me. He's like, "I don't care about you," you know? So, for him to be around Na-kel " it adds to the performance.
Na-kel originally wasn't the character that was the alpha. But when I had Olan and Na-kel, I had to have them swap parts and re-write. So, casting affects the writing. I don't know. It's just " I just smile thinking about it all.
Rembert Browne: Wanted to ask one more thing about the music.
Jonah Hill: Oh, before you ask " Morrissey.
Rembert Browne: Tell me everything.
Jonah Hill: The Morrissey song is the first one we cleared. I wrote letters to everybody " and we didn't have a huge music budget " but I wrote Morrissey this letter, and he wrote back, and he gave us the song. The scenes are so tied to the songs. Herbie Hancock, that was the second-most complex shot in the film, the shot at the party. The Mamas & the Papas one where they're going down the hill, that was the other most complex one. But the Herbie Hancock one, that was a nod to Malice. What we said making the movie, "if you know, you know."
Rembert Browne: It's like knowing the homeless man is Del the Funky Homosapien.
Jonah Hill: If you know that it's him, it adds a layer of coolness. If you don't, it doesn't affect your experience at all.
Rembert Browne: I was going to ask, were there certain pieces of pop culture from this era that you wanted to expose to the kids?
Jonah Hill: We, well we didn't give them, like, any, like, gadgets or video games, or make them watch "Beavis and Butthead." You know, I felt like the era doesn't matter. This is a story about people, and these kids need to focus on becoming these people and understanding their actions and reactions to things, and how they feel alone, and how they feel bravado and false bravado. Those are the things, and me and the crew will build the world around them. When the brothers are playing Twisted Metal "
Rembert Browne: Thank you for that, by the way.
Jonah Hill: Exactly. Because that's a video game my friends and I played. So I was like, "that's fun if you pick up on that. But the scene's an intense scene between two brothers." And it wasn't the nineties stuff. But, I did give them iPods with music " something I learned from Scorsese, who gave me an iPod when I was doing Wolf of Wall Street, to get into character, with music from the era. I was worried they weren't going to get into Souls of Mischief or The Pharcyde. But they liked it.
Rembert Browne: I like that.
Jonah Hill: We also showed them a lot of skate videos from the time. Ones that were big inﬂuences on the film… and then we showed them This Is England. That was the one movie I made them all watch, and obviously this film is a lot different than This Is England. But what I loved was how young that kid was, and how young these kids were, and they didn't feel like babies, even though they looked like babies. I just wanted to make sure they understood the tone. That they should be going for real life, and emotionally not hold anything back, and not think that they're in a movie. Because if you watch movies your whole life, the way you act is like what I've seen in a movie, and I was trying to make the interactions not like typical movies.
Rembert Browne: I love the fish eye lens. I was just like, "fuck yes." (Laughing)
Jonah Hill: If I told you the amount of effort that went into that " because these cameras break all the time. You can order them constantly, but they're from 1995. We used the appropriate-era cameras. We didn't do the filter thing. It was all appropriately done, and it was great, and Fourth Grade was filming the entire time.
I think the movie has a totally unique look. Super 16mm, 4:3. Our DP, Chris Blauvelt, he trained under Harris Savides and he's just " I love him and I trust him. He's one of my very closest collaborators. I wanted it to feel like a film that you just found from 1995.
Rembert Browne: And it did, but not on some Instagram filter shit.
Jonah Hill: I was about to say that! Anyway, we considered cross cutting super 16mm footage with footage from the Hi8 camera, the fish eye " where it cut seamlessly. But it wouldn't work if you were using an Alexa, and then you cut to video footage, and then you cut back.
We tested cameras until it worked to cut back and forth even though we didn't end up doing it. Sorry, this is so, like, nerdy and tactical, but this is the shit I love to talk about. And also, I haven't talked to anyone my age about the film, so it's just nice to talk (laughs).
Rembert Browne: Even though that kind of went over my head, I appreciated it. Also, I won't lie, I'm in the middle of writing my first feature. And knowing it was your first, it lit a fire under my ass. And after I saw Mid90s, I went home and wrote.
Jonah Hill: Dude, that's literally the nicest thing anyone's ever said.
Rembert Browne: It gave me a nice adrenaline boost.
Jonah Hill: You're such a good writer.
Rembert Browne: Thanks, man. What a nice afternoon this has become.
Jonah Hill: Can I tell you what lit the fire under me?
Rembert Browne: What?
Jonah Hill: I saw Whiplash with Bennett Miller at the Angelika, I think. We walk out and, talking about Damien Chazelle, he goes, "that guy's younger than you." And I was like, "yeah." And he's like, "he's bringing it. You better get to work."
Rembert Browne: That is routinely the best way to get me going, reminding me of someone born in 1991 who is killing it.
Jonah Hill: I literally went home, and I was like, "oh, for real?" I went home and started writing and would move my pace up. And I think that's the nicest thing you could ever say to me, man, is that I made a movie that, in some way, made you want to go make a movie.
Rembert Browne: Well, it got me motivated. Also, just this idea of telling generational tales. When you feel uniquely positioned to tell the stories that you understand more than most people, and you have a platform, you should tell those stories.
Jonah Hill: Why I love A24 so much is they can make movies on a scale where things can be nuanced, and emotional, and elegant, and not have to follow certain things to make a certain amount of money. And I'm so grateful for that, because this movie in any other hands is bad, you know? It's not a good movie. I really hope you make a movie very soon.
Rembert Browne: Yeah. I'm hoping, too. One of the last thing I wanted to ask is, cause it's "
Jonah Hill: Oh, can I say one more thing? Just because I think you'll like this.
Rembert Browne: Duh.
Jonah Hill: To me, one of the most important attempts in the flm is to frame hip hop as an important art form of our childhood. So, what the Beatles were to our parents, Tribe and Mobb Deep were to me. That's the background of my growing up. And I've often felt hip hop is misused in movies. And I really wanted to paint the emotional importance of the golden era of hip hop in my growing up experience. And not just me, my peers.
Rembert Browne: Absolutely.
Jonah Hill: And then Trent and Atticus scoring it, and to have that framed in that way just means something to me.
Rembert Browne: What was the working relationship between you and Trent and Atticus like?
Jonah Hill: Oh, this is funny. We've never met. We speak every day and we've never met. It's the most funny thing ever.
Rembert Browne: That is amazing.
Jonah Hill: Like, deep conversations. Super intense, super amazing, they're incredible. I mean, I won the lottery, because if I could have anyone in the world score the movie, it would be them. It also has that added layer that Trent's a nineties icon as well.
Rembert Browne: Yeah.
Jonah Hill: But it doesn't exploit that. It's just the appropriate score for the film, in my opinion. Trent and Atticus, they are so great. They're so not precious, they're so brilliant, they want to collaborate, and they want do what's right for the film. There's no ego involved.
Rembert Browne: I was going to say, it's not like, "we're here, get out of our way."
Jonah Hill: No, and in fact, to me, it was like, "what would those warm and difficult feelings of nostalgia feel like coming from Trent and Atticus?" Like, The Social Network's score is so icy and brilliant and desolate, but like, that's the idea, because it was so appropriate for that character. And I was like, "what would warmth feel like from Trent and Atticus?" And they liked that. I was like, "I want to see what you guys being warm sounds like. I bet it'd be pretty complicated and interesting." Honestly, I can't believe it.
Rembert Browne: Even for someone accomplished like you, that's still crazy that it all came true.
Jonah Hill: I just feel very grateful. You think you're crazy when you ask them to do this. Then they say yes. And you're like, "oh wait, maybe it doesn't suck." I don't think they were paying them a lot, it's not ' like Superman or Star Wars or something, so it all gives you energy to keep going. Because you're like, "whoa okay, they're in on this? I have to work hard. I have to impress them. I have to make sure I don't let them down."
Rembert Browne: Exactly. Which is such a good self-motivating tool.
Jonah Hill: You know? 'Cause they're co-signing me. And that's what I've learned, the reward of my life and all this has been in education. And when I'm around people that have done it more, that I'm learning from, you rise. There's no bigger engine than that. And when you're not learning, you're spinning down " My whole thing always was like, when you see the trucks, it's real. I would be like, "okay, we have an offce." Then "the whole crew's here." But I was still like, "until I see the trucks on day one, this isn't real. It could just go away."
Rembert Browne: Yeah.
Jonah Hill: And I had never thought past that. You know? I thought of making it, I thought of the fantasy of making it. I didn't realise how much editing would be a life-changing experience. And then, when I come here and they, like, showed me the poster, the trailer, and now it's going to come out. And then now, we're going to Toronto. It is surreal in a way I can't describe. But you ﬂash back to those nights in your apartment, when you're like, "no one cares. No one's reading it." And now you are just like, boom. It's the one thing professionally in my life that I will look back as an old man and be like, "okay, I did something." You know? It was a blank sheet of paper and now there's a poster. So, when you think no one cares, or it's going to suck for two more years, you can work through it.
Rembert Browne: You start thinking to yourself, "is this the best use of my time?"
Jonah Hill: Yes. But it is. To me, it's four years of my life. It's college. And I didn't graduate college, but four years ended today. And it's emotional. Your life is so different from when you started. You know, it's like a benchmark. You're like, "wow, look at what's happened in these four years." But I've just never been so proud of something. So, go home right now and just fucking write.
Rembert Browne: Literally, I will. As an actor, was there ever a moment that you considered giving yourself a cameo?
Jonah Hill: No. I just wanted no trace of me. I love my career as an actor, but I wanted this to be a separate thing. And I really wanted you to care about these kids.
Rembert Browne: Last question, because it cracked me the fuck up. There are so many people, on paper, that could've done that part played by Jerrod Carmichael. But then after seeing it I'm like, "only him." It was such an unexpected, amazing scene. I find him extremely funny. The dynamic of five versus one, it's just always funny. Five little shithead kids go to town on him.
Jonah Hill: You know what's funny? I originally wrote it for Prince Paul or Biz Markie. I was gonna have one of them, or you know, just someone I worshiped from growing up, in hip hop. But I was like, I don't want to do that too many times cause of Del and stuff. It's not a move you want to do multiple times. But, when we read the scene with the kids, and me doing Jerrod's part during rehearsal, I kept doing Jerrod's part. And we realized, part of our theory of this movie, a thing we wanted to prove was, can you shoot comedy like an art film? Like hardcore comedy. Like laugh-per-second comedy, in like a really artful way, you know?
And I was like, "Blauvelt shoots, like, Kelly Reichardt films." And here he's shooting, like, a banger that blows up the AMC for three minutes. And we were like, "oh, we need a comedian." It's the funniest scene in the movie, we need a killer. And we thought, "okay, well you're not going to try and get someone super famous, because with the whole ethic of this movie, it'll take you right out of the movie if they're too recognisable."
Rembert Browne: What you're saying is, you can't have Chappelle.
Jonah Hill: You can't have Chappelle. You want Chappelle, but you can't have Chappelle. Then, you're just like, "I'm watching Dave Chappelle fuck around with these kids." And so, Eli and are like, "who is, like, the next dude? Who's the next comedian who's blowing up that we love? But isn't blown up to the point where it takes you out of the film." And we were like, "Jerrod." But then we were like, "Jerrod's famous. People know who Jerrod is." But we need someone on his level of comedy to deliver these punch lines and stuff. We need an assassin.
Rembert Browne: He really is.
Jonah Hill: And so, what I did was, I shot him through a gate. So, it was, like, less blatant that it was him. It was a lot harder to recognise him, and I never did a close up. That we put him in there where it's not like, "and now ladies and gentlemen, Jerrod" because he's far away, he's at the gate. He was there for, like, forty-five minutes, did us a huge favor. The outtakes of that are really funny.
Rembert Browne: Where'd the idea come from?
Jonah Hill: The whole idea was actually from how I would notice that African American security guards and cops were prejudiced towards African American skaters. And I was like, that was an interesting observation from growing up. Because they'd be pretty nice to me.
Rembert Browne: "But why you trying to be like a white boy?"
Jonah Hill: But every movie, it's a white cop being mean, being racist, right?
Which is, I think, a lot like real life. But I noticed the African American security guard would always be like, "why are you skateboarding? Black people don't skate." Really hard on your friends. So, it was supposed to have this undertone of a little discomfort.
At one point, I'm shouting out things and Jerrod says "Jesus smokes cigarettes, the Bible's pro-cigarettes" and to Na-Kel I'm like, "ask him what kind of cigarettes" and Jerrod says "Jesus smokes Kools" and I was like, "okay, Jerrod, thank you. You're a legend. Let's all go home." It was 4:30 PM and we were like, "we're done, dude." And what's amazing, I still can't believe it, the tone of the film. It's what I would continue to want to do in movies " something really funny happening, and the next seconds will be really ugly or violent, or then something emotional happening. A couple filmmakers were actually warning me about doing things like that. But I've been amazed how people ride with all these themes of heavy stuff, and then funny stuff. I think if you do things from the right place, if you hook them the right way and they know it's coming from your heart, they just go on the ride with you.
Release Date: April 4th, 2019