A modern day Odd Couple, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum made the most unlikely buddy cop comedy pairing in 2012 when they teamed up for Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street, an adaptation of the cult favorite 1980s Johnny Depp series of the same name. Now the two are back for the highly anticipated sequel that brings their bumbling heroes Schmidt and Jenko to the dizzying world of college.
They were kind enough to sit down with us last week to discuss 22 Jump Street, and how it reflected their own collegiate experiences. Tatum also expressed his desire to play Gambit in an upcoming film and how it could differ from other modern superhero flicks while Hill revealed just how deep his love for co-star Ice Cube and N.W.A. goes.
Congratulations guys. It’s not too often that you exceed the original movie when you do a sequel. You guys probably sensed that going in that it was looking good.
Jonah Hill: Definitely not going in. I think maybe that fear and anxiety going in made us work really hard to try and make a good movie.
Channing Tatum: Yeah, for sure. We obviously ended the first movie with going to college and we wanted to do another one just because we had fun with the first one. But, I don’t know, the movie’s not out yet, so I don’t want to jinx it. I’m a little superstitious that way.
JH: Especially because it comes out on Friday the 13th.
CT: Yeah. Good point.
JH: I don’t like that at all.
When did you guys know that this chemistry worked? Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord] were saying what made this one different from the last was that there was more comfort and you had the chemistry—When did you actually know, “Okay, I think we’re actually good together?”
CT: I think we kind of knew from—even from the [first] movie, we got along really quickly. I don’t really know how to explain it. It wasn’t like a gestation period or anything. He just seemed like a lot of the kids that I grew up with. I actually have a friend named Schmidt that’s one of my favorite crazy funny friends from Florida, and they have a similar personality— so, I don’t know, it was easy, it was quick.
JH: Yeah. I’m trying to pinpoint the scene in the first one where maybe I felt things were working really well, you know?
CT: I would say the first scene, I mean—
JH: Yeah, if you want to say that, that’s fine.
Sounds like Jonah has his doubts! [Laughs]
JH: We hit it off right away. I am talking about chemistry as like, these characters which have been in two movies, where you understood that are a good odd-couple comedy paring, you know? We started off in the hotel room in the first one with Johnny Depp. That was our first week of shooting a live-action film. I am trying to remember what that was like.
CT: Out of body experience—
JH: I think right away, we figured out that we were supposed to both jump over this couch and Chan immediately did a flip over this couch and then I got up to it and then walked around it— and I think we just realized—
CT: I immediately learned a big lesson.
JH: [Laughs] So, that kind of set the standard through the two movies. Maybe this will be really funny because one guy is really good at stuff and the other guy is not, so maybe that will be really fun. But personally we just always hit it off, yeah.
Channing, you did a lot of your own stunts in this. How do you prepare for that?
CT: I just got off three back-to-back movies that were by far the most physical movies I have done to date. This movie? There was no preparing. I played football for like 10 years of my life, so I wasn’t really worried about that. I was just worried about keeping my body together. I’d been banged up throughout those other films. I like doing the stuff. We used to do the stuff growing up, like in a really unsafe manner, and now I get to do them with some of the best safety guys and stunt guys in the world. So, it’s just fun for me!
Was there one that was more challenging than the others?
CT: I had two bum wheels on this, so it was pretty disappointing to do the football. I had a rolled ankle that was taped up about this thick and a torn ligament in my right foot. And you always just wish, “Man I get to play football again, and I can’t do as well as I want to,” but it worked out. The stuff, I haven’t seen all of it, but it looks okay.
What about your stunts? Jonah, was it tough for you?
JH: I mean, no [Laughs], in this one I just felt more creatively inspired to think of the most clumsy way to do each stunt. I think in an action-comedy you kind of have to have that element—
There’s art in that too.
JH: Well, there’s some creative puzzling of that. Like putting together a puzzle: here’s how you obviously would do this, and there are people there to help you do it right. How could I completely mess that up, you know? I find it fun. It’s so different than anything I’ve done that it is fun. It’s just different.
There are some other actual football movies, and I know they’ve said sometimes they have said that pick-up games have actually broken out on the set. Was there anything on this set during the football scenes where you had a bunch of guys around when they weren’t shooting you guys were actually playing or anything like that?
CT: You let me headbutt you really hard one time—
JH: Yeah. I was very interested in the fact—I had never worn football pads before, so I was excited at the idea that you could run into things or have someone run into you, and it didn’t hurt as bad as not wearing a helmet or pads. I don’t think I had worn a helmet before in my life. So, I let Chan headbutt me and—
CT: No, actually, I hit you one time and you were like, “Alright, just do it” and we got into a three-point stance and he took it—
JH: Yeah. And I learned my dog is obsessed with footballs.
CT: Oh my God, yeah, that’s actually completely true.
JH: The whole crew would watch. The crew and everyone would be throwing around footballs with one another, and she literally spent the entire week, I’ve never seen anything like it. I know this maybe is like, your kid—no one gives a shit [and] your dog: no one gives a shit—but it was really interesting. She was obsessed with a football. It’s funny.
What kind of dog?
JH: Uh- French Bulldog. I’m sure that’s what you want to spend the majority of your limited time with us talking about my French Bulldog.
You guys went to college, so what was your experience like? Was it like anything at all like what we saw on screen?
CT: I wish I could say I went to college. I barely went a semester, so, very little, and it wasn’t anything like this. [Laughs]
JH: I went to Boulder for one semester and it was more like this, I’d say, but then I went to New School in New York, and it was the opposite of stereotypical college life. It was a liberal arts school, you know, very artsy and in a major metropolitan city— it was not collegiate campus life, frat life, you know? But fun, both fun in very different ways.
I know you guys don’t control your shoot dates and your release dates, but you’re both right now in a point where your careers are in a perfect balance of hitting all genres at one time. Whether it’s something coming to you through your agent or you searching for it; are you conscious of trying to get that perfect balance in there when you’re picking what to do?
JH: I only make decisions based on release schedules. I don’t think about filmmaker or script, I just look at a big calendar of like when Transformers is coming out and when Iron Man is coming out and I go, “what can I put somewhere—” No. [Laughs]. Thanks. That’s really nice.
I can only speak for myself, but I just make movies that I would want to go out and see with filmmakers I believe in. I think Phil and Chris are at the beginning of a journey to becoming really interesting. I mean they already are really interesting, talented filmmakers, but I think they could be like Robert Zemeckis or something like that would be a good comparison. I think they are just so imaginative and just so interesting. It’s usually filmmaker based, and who you get to act along side. That was, for me, that was two things on this movie that were clear as day as things I wanted to do.
CT: Yeah. I did the first one really because I really wanted to work with Jonah and I wanted to try to sort of tiptoe out into the comedy world and be working with a very capable net underneath me. That was probably the first reason. You just try to challenge yourself with every single part and try not to do something derivative or something you’ve already done. If it’s going to be another action movie or another love story, try to let it be a wildly different character than the last one or something. So, it’s really just trying to challenge myself to be better and to do different things.
Is that why you chose Gambit?
CT: I chose Gambit, because it was my childhood. It’s the only real X-Man that I followed. I’m not a big X-Men head, but my dad is from Louisiana, I grew up 45 miles east of New Orleans. He’s just the coolest one to me. He’s the smoking, drinking, woman-chasing, cussing … He’s not even a good guy, he’s a thief. So, we’re going to hopefully try and maybe change up the forum of superhero movies and try to give it a different look.
Who knows if that will be something that people will like, but we’re going to try and change it up. And hopefully it works out, the deals and stuff — that machine is huge, that machine is just ginormous — for everything to align will be crazy, but I’m hoping that it works out because I’ve been pretty vocal about wanting to do it for a while.
You guys got to work really close with Cube. What are the misconceptions and what are on point with what people say about him?
CT: What do people say about Cube?
That’s he’s intimidating; he’s scary.
CT: Oh, that’s all true. [Laughs] Yeah, I was pretty intimidated. I wasn’t scared, because I don’t think he really wants you to, but it’s just him; he’s got a persona. It was really fun to get to watch Jonah around him, because Cube is like his childhood hero, and it was really fun to kind of watch them interact. I’d just sit back and watch.
JH: I grew up in Los Angeles in the ‘80s, so Ice Cube and Magic Johnson who were who I idolized, and later Martin Scorsese. They’re my three heroes.
CT: Really weird three.
JH: I’m a really weird dude. [Laughs] So, I got to be around Ice Cube. When we were writing the first one, the first idea that we wrote down was that the person who wrote “Fuck Da Police” would play the Police Chief in the film.
Which is subversive—
JH: We found that funny, or yeah, subversive or interesting. And he said yes, and so when we were around him, I got to ask him any question I wanted about N.W.A. or Three Kings, or “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”. I love his music. “It Was A Good Day” is my number one favorite song. “It Was A Good Day” and “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys are my two favorite songs of all time. We literally got to ask him—because there are theories that that song [is literally based on a day], which is not true, he told us. [Laughs] “Fucked around and got a triple double?” [Laughs] “T in the morning, hit the Fatburger?” We’d try and get to Fatburger at two in the morning in high school as we were listening to that song, so… Being around this guy was really definitely like a childhood kind of dream for me.
CT: He was wildly tolerant of all of the questions. [Laughs]
JH: He answered—I would say pretty psyched that someone cared so deeply.
CT: Yeah, completely. I was waiting for him to be like, “Alright man, I’m ready to stop talkin,’” but he was the coolest cat about it.
JH: Over two movies, you know what I mean? That’s like a full six months of questioning.
You didn’t just have questions for one movie, even during the second movie you were still asking questions?
JH: Even more, because I had a year and half the think of all the—I got to go back to the drawing board and really think of new questions.
Channing, you’re the jack of all trades. You can do your own stunts, comedy, drama—but I have to ask you, how are your diaper changing skills?
CT: I’m solid at diaper changing! If a guy isn’t good at changing a diaper, I don’t know what he’s there for really, because they’re not there for the first seven months for any other reason than to do that because the mom’s the end-all be-all of everything.
How quickly can you do it? [Laughs]
CT: She does not like sitting still, and I can do it when she’s crawling, standing up, doing the whole thing, so I’m pretty solid at it.
No mishaps or?
CT: There’s always mishaps. The whole day is just a big ol’ mishap. I find it really fun. It’s always a different thing every day. Watching her experience things for the first time—like she just saw a kite for the first time the other day and she was just like, “WHAT?! What is it??” It was crazy.
Thank you for sharing.
CT: Yeah, no problem, all good, thanks for asking.
Can you out-improv Jonah now that you’ve seasoned your talents?
CT: Out? No, no, no. Absolutely not—
JH: That’s not true.
CT: That IS true. Thank you for being nice man, but…I’ve only seen one person, and she’s in the movie, be able to make Jonah take a little step back; I think he realized he was in a fight, and that was Jillian Bell. She brings the pain. I was so excited when she came, I don’t have many scenes with her in it, but I was so excited, even though I knew I’d take some hits along the way, but it was one of those things like being in the ring with Muhammad Ali and [Joe] Frazier and just being like, “Ah! What’s gonna’ happen! What is going to happen!?” And they would just battle it out, and it was awesome.
You invited a lot of funny people to the comedy party. There are big laughs—
JH: To cast funny people in the film?
Yeah, and give them really funny stuff to do.
JH: Yeah, but you know what the really great thing is? I learned this from Judd [Apatow] and Seth [Rogen], and those guys early on. Jillian Bell’s part was, as one of the writers I’m saying, incredibly underwritten and not very fleshed out. And when Jillian came in and auditioned, and we started improvising, she made that part her own. That’s what actors should do, is no matter if it’s a comedy or drama, they should make that part fleshed out and great. And that’s what a great actor does. She more than did that. She made that part great. It wasn’t written great.
Pretty funny stuff.
JH: Yeah, talented lady. And Rob Riggle, same thing, that part in the first movie, he’s in this movie, but in the first movie [it’s] a criminally underwritten part; it was more just like a bad guy. And he made that what it was because he’s so brilliant. That’s the fun of being an actor and being a producer, writer, whatever: seeing people turn something bland into something wonderful.
What is your next Oscar-nominated movie you’ve chosen?
JH: I don’t have any. I think I’m just going to take a little break, maybe, I don’t know. I have no clue what’s next and that’s exciting in it’s own way. But whatever I do next, it will be something I’m passionate about. Probably a sequel to something, or— [Laughs]
Wolf of Wall Street!?
JH: Yeah, that would be great. [Laughs] Moneyball 2. More baseball winnings. [Laughs]
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think the end credits of this are probably the best maybe ever— they’re so funny—
JH: That’s all Phil and Chris. And this company Alma Mater. Phil and Chris had this idea and they just ran with it—
What is next for you Channing in your agenda?
CT: We’re writing Magic Mike  to shoot at the end of this year, if we ever finish writing it.
JH: Yeah, you’ve been so unproductive lately. [Laughs]
CT: And then Evel Knievel sometime after that—
JH: That’s going to be so cool—
CT: And then that’s it. Just spend some time with the family. Reid and I, my creative partner, we want to start our very slow climb up the mountain of learning directing and start taking our journey through that. And that’s really it. I want to slow down and really don’t miss my child’s first 10 years of life— it would be nice.