The Lost Roles of Jonah Hill
Not only one of the best young comedic performers in Hollywood but also an accomplished writer, producer, and dramatic actor, Jonah Hill is a guy that wears a lot of hats. Still only in his 20s, Hill has already earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting turn in Moneyball. In that film, he pulled off the comedy-to-drama transition that has taken some of his peers decades to complete and eluded others. Jonah Hill also picks his projects wisely – the movies he stars in are consistently good and he’s mostly avoided starring in duds. Hill’s newest film, 21 Jump Street, which he wrote, produced and starred in, opens this Friday, and it’s already drawing a great deal of critical acclaim.
Let’s take a look at the projects Jonah Hill has worked on or been offered over the years, including his Seth Rogen buddy movie that was cancelled when Will Ferrell made something too similar, the Transformers part he turned down, and projects that would have seen him working with Robert Rodriguez, Michael Bay, and Quentin Tarantino.
The Middle Child (unproduced, in development 2006-2008)
After impressing Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen with a small but memorable performance in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Jonah Hill was welcomed into their comedy clique, landing substantial roles in their next two movies, Knocked Up and Superbad. Hill also began working for Apatow as a writer in 2006. He sold his script The Middle Child to Apatow as a starring vehicle for himself and Seth Rogen. The Middle Child would have starred Jonah Hill as a guy who comes home from college to find that his parents have reunited with his older brother (Seth Rogen) whom they’d given up for adoption years ago. Hill’s character would then become jealous of Rogen’s, who’s now stealing all of his parents’ love and affection, while he goes through middle child syndrome in his early 20s. Before The Middle Child made it into production, Judd Apatow began producing another comedy starring a pair of curly-haired comedians as two guys who suddenly become siblings, Step Brothers. The Middle Child was deemed too similar and the project was scrapped.
Pure Imagination (unproduced, in development 2007-2010)
The following year, Judd Apatow bought another Jonah Hill-scripted story, Pure Imagination, which would have also starred Hill. He was working on the screenplay as recently as 2010, but the project seems to be on hold for the time being. Hill described the movie as a cross between the Apatow sensibility and that of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. He was quoted as saying:
“It’s a really hard movie to crack because it’s such an intricate story. It’s about a guy who basically has an imaginary friend. His girlfriend breaks up with him and then his life kinda goes crazy and he goes through a bit of a meltdown. And his life picks back up when he meets this guy and in the midst of this breakdown, he realizes he’s best friends with someone who doesn’t exist. And then in the middle of all this he starts dating this girl and isn’t quite sure if she exists or not, but then decides he doesn’t want to know, because he likes her so much.”
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
The role: Leo Spitz
Who got it: Ramón Rodríguez
Jonah Hill was in talks to play Shia LeBouf’s character’s sidekick/college roommate in the second Transformers movie, but he opted of the project, saying he wasn’t ready to make something so drastically different from his previous work yet. Here’s Hill on the matter back in 2009:
“I just think like I have to prove myself more in what I’m doing now, making comedies and stuff before I do the big action movie… I’m not proven yet… I’ve only been in one movie that people have seen that I’ve been the lead in so like, um, I could still suck in people’s minds, they don’t know yet!…It was very cool of them but I thought I should make some more comedies first, you know?”
Zoolander 2 (unproduced, in development 2008-present)
Ben Stiller has been trying to get a Zoolander sequel made for years now. When he talked to the press in 2010, he mentioned that he had Jonah Hill in mind for one of the movie’s villains. Don’t worry, Hill would hypothetically be appearing alongside Will Ferrell’s Mugatu, not replacing him. Zoolander 2 still isn’t anywhere close to production and the project has run into some resistance from the studio – although Ben Stiller and co-writer Justin Theroux are still working on it. It’s not known, however, whether Jonah Hill is still connected to the film as he hasn’t been mentioned in any recent news items about it. Given Stiller, Theroux, Ferrell, Hill, and Owen Wilson’s busy schedules, and how hard it is to get a movie made, it’s understandable that this one hasn’t come together yet. Hill told the press this two years ago:
“I talked with Ben [Stiller] and Justin [Theroux], and they had an idea of who they wanted me to play, and I kind of riffed on that idea and gave them some other ideas. I’d love to be a part of it whenever they get it together.”
Jonah Hill’s next film after 21 Jump Street is Neighborhood Watch, which will see him starring alongside Ben Stiller, who he’s also worked with on the Night at the Museum movies. Hill and Stiller clearly enjoy working together, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Hill makes it into the Zoolander sequel if and when it ever happens.
The Adventurer’s Handbook (unproduced, in development 2009-2010)
Jonah Hill teamed up with his buddies Max Winkler and Matt Spicer to write this R-rated 80s-style adventure movie. Like a raunchy Goonies or Indiana Jones. Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, and Jason Schwartzman were cast as the three leads, with the Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer directing. The movie was supposed to film in the summer of 2010 in the break for Segel and Schwartzman’s TV shows, How I Met Your Mother and Bored to Death respectively, but the shows went over schedule, causing scheduling conflicts that prevented production of the movie. Adventurer’s Handbook has been on hiatus ever since, but Jonah Hill still hopes to come back to it when he gets the chance.
The role: Julio
Who got it: Daryl Sabara
Robert Rodriguez offered Jonah Hill a part in his fake Grindhouse trailer-turned movie Machete, but Hill wasn’t able to work it into his schedule. Ex-Spy Kid Darryl Sabara, who’s also a very funny actor, slid into his place instead. To date, Jonah Hill has still never starred in a movie based on a fake trailer.
Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino always makes surprising casting choices, and he wanted Jonah Hill to play a small part in his new Spaghetti Western-style slavery epic, Django Unchained. Unfortunately, Hill couldn’t squeeze the shoot into his schedule. Hill made a big splash in his first dramatic film, Moneyball, last year, even earning an Oscar nomination, and Django Unchained would have been a nice chance for him to work on another prestige project. Hill said, “Doing Quentin’s movie would have obviously been amazing, but my schedule didn’t work out, which sucks.” Successful people problems, man. Successful people problems.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.