INTERVIEW WITH JONAH HILL & MILES TELLER
BY KYLE LEVY
War Dogs is a comedy crime-drama just released on DVD. The story is based on the true events of two friends. Jonah Hill plays the real-life role of Efraim Diveroli, a boisterous young man living in Miami who partners with his friend, David Packouz (played by Miles Teller) in not only bidding, but winning a $300 million arms contract from the Pentagon that will arm American allies in Afghanistan. The movie is a winning combination of the two talented actors: Jonah Hill utilizes both of his talents as an actor and writer to give fans the kind of belly-busting laughter that is an injection for good health. Miles Teller draws from his very grounded upbringing to shift 180-degrees, from awkward roles to strong and egocentric, to funny and even lovable. Hill, born Jonah Hill Feldstein in Los Angeles, comes from a creative family. His father, Richard Feldstein, was a tour accountant for Guns N’ Roses, and his mother, Sharon Lyn, a costume designer and fashion stylist. His brother, Jordan, is the manager for rock band, Maroon 5, and his sister, Beanie, is also an actor. With dreams of becoming a writer for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live”, Hill’s career took a definitive change in path when he managed to get an introduction to the legendary actor, Dustin Hoffman, (through his friendship to Hoffman’s children, Rebecca and Jake Hoffman), which opened the door to his first film role in the 2004 movie, I Heart Huckabees. When Hill landed the lead role in the 2007 hit teen comedy, Superbad, it earned him cred with Millennials as a young comedian, which paved the way for his later sophomoric hit movie of the younger generation, 21 Jump Street (2012) and its sequel, 22 Jump Street. But in 2011, the 28-year-old actor was able to truly show off his talent, performing in a “Best Picture” nominated film for three years in a row: 2011’s Moneyball (for which he received a nod for Best Supporting Actor; 2012’s Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino (who took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film), and 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street (for which he received his second nomination for Best Supporting Actor). Ironically, for The Wolf of Wall Street movie, which was all about making the big bucks, Hill took a cut in pay in order to work on the film, explaining: “It’s not about money for me. None of this shit is about money. I would sell my house and give him all my money to work for [director Martin Scorsese]. I would have done anything in the world. I would do it again in a second. Martin Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker of all time. I would paint his house if he asked me to.” It’s been published that Hill made an even $60-Grand to work on a film that could possibly have been some of the finest acting he has performed. Teller, an actor and musician, (playing drums since age 16) has had a strong family support system, born and raised in Pennsylvania before moving to Florida at 13, which has played a part in molding him into the smart-witted, confident man that he’s become. Yet his odd fate with automobile accidents has played a unique part in both his personal life as well as his career, starting with his own accident at age 20 that threw him unconscious some 30 feet from the car, leaving deep facial cuts that required numerous laser surgeries that could not remove some scarring that still remains on his chin and throat. Less than a year later, one of his close friends died in a motorcycle accident. One month later, another car accident—another close friend. The unusual part of Teller’s history with automobile accidents is that car crashes have been an integral part of the story in many of his movies, starting with his film debut, Rabbit Hole, where he plays a teenager who accidentally runs over and kills the young son of a couple played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart; and again in the 2015 film, Whiplash, in which Teller plays a virtuoso jazz drummer, starring opposite J.K. Simmons (who received the Oscar for Best Actor) as Teller’s abusive instructor. On the way to a key rehearsal, Teller’s character gets sideswiped, making him arrive late, only to bleed all over his drum kit. The disturbing movie put Teller on Hollywood’s red carpet for gifted acting. Teller did get some lighter-hearted roles, like Footloose, after he’d been performing the same part in the stage musical earlier in the same year, and co-starring with friend, Shailene Woodley in both the 2013 romantic comedy, The Spectacular Now and the Divergent film series. A brief recess from auto accidents, and Teller is tested once again this month in his newest real-life role as World Champion Boxer, Vinny Pazienza, who suffers a near fatal car crash in the film, Bleed For This. The inspirational story is one of the most incredible sports comebacks, after the crash that left the boxer not knowing if he’d ever walk again. Hopefully this is the end of Teller’s long history with car accidents, both on and off camera.
Jonah and Miles sat down with us to discuss the two very opposite characters they portray together in the film, War Dogs, recently released on DVD. The fact that the film is based on true events is almost as unbelievable as the characters themselves. Hill’s uniquely larger-than-life Miami-based character, Efraim, made for dramatically comedic scenes with Teller’s character, David, being the family man who is loyal to his boisterous friend. Hill was surprisingly sober as he spoke, in contrast to the lively characters he has played, while Teller was somewhat subdued, as one might expect.
STRIPLV: We’ve heard there were several changes to the script. What did you think of the script when you read it?
HILL: Well, I’d read it a few times, and then I wasn’t gonna do it, and then Todd was like: “You have to read this last version. Just check it out, and then give it one more chance.” And then I read the final version of it, and I loved it. You know, I think he put so much work into it and was so passionate about it that I had to be a part of it.
STRIPLV: And for you, Miles?
TELLER: Yeah, for me, by the time I was kinda brought around to the project, Todd already had Jonah, and I’d been wanting to work with Todd for a long time, and I had just finished doing a movie that was a very boisterous, kind of flamboyant character and I was enjoying the opportunity to play somebody off of that. And I really wanted to see, like, what that other side of it would be. And I just liked the dynamic between the two guys. I thought it was a great relationship I hadn’t seen on film.
STRIPLV: So let’s talk about these two guys. Who is Efraim and who is David?
HILL: Efraim is a very bombastic, flamboyant kind of manipulative, shady, charming kind of guy. And I think all those qualities are very like, juxtaposing. They’re very opposite qualities, and so you have to kind of meld them—that was the challenge that I was interested in the most.
STRIPLV: And David is more…
TELLER: Well, I think he’s loyal. I think at that point he’s vulnerable, because his own private enterprises haven’t really worked out. So I think he’s very impressionable. In the beginning of the movie he’s kind of stuck, but yeah, I think David shows such a loyalty to Efraim from the fact that they were really great friends growing up. And he also wants to provide for his family. You know that’s something that is really driving him. It’s not so much greed. I think it can get kind of deluded a little bit, but for the most part, it’s just about being able to provide for his family.
STRIPLV: I thought that one of the best things about the movie was the tone. This is not a comedy, but it is funny. How would you describe the tone? I think Todd really got the tone right. And that was not easy to.
HILL: Yeah, I think the director’s new job is to capture the tone, and Todd did a really great job—because it’s not a comedy, especially like his other comedies. It’s definitely more of a drama, but it has really fun moments, because these guys are putting themselves in really insane positions and making some really bad decisions. So, while it’s a dramatic story, there’s lots of laughs throughout, but they come from more of a place of, you know, the authenticity of what’s happening and the authenticity of the characters.
STRIPLV: Got anything to add to that?
TELLER: Yeah, I agree that the tone is the director, yeah… (laughs, then sits forward like talking into a mic, imitating Rocky Balboa type voice) Tone’s good!
STRIPLV: (laughter) You guys traveled a lot for this film. How was that experience?
HILL: It was definitely challenging, for sure, you know? I’ve never travelled so much for a movie, ever, not even close. You know, getting off the plane in Romania or Morocco, and starting to shoot the next day.
STRIPLV: I love the references to the movie, Scarface. Is that a movie that you especially like?
HILL: I mean, I like Scarface. It’s not like one of my favorite movies, you know? I love Brian De Palma. I love him. There’s a great documentary on him that just came out that Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow just made. It’s just one of those movies that people of this world are obsessed with and have seen over and over again. You know, like, hip-hop people, people that want to be hip-hop people or gangsters… they kind of idolized Scarface. So it was more of like a choice of these characters to have them be obsessed with Scarface.
TELLER: Yeah, I’ve seen it. I really enjoyed the work Al Pacino does in that. It’s not one of my favorite movies, but yeah, I enjoyed that character. I think you kinda root for that character, even though you shouldn’t, morally.
STRIPLV: Same happens with you guys. We like you in the movie—even though you do… (chuckles)
HILL: (chuckling) I’m sorry…
TELLER: Don’t lump my character in that… please, God. (laughter)
STRIPLV: I’m wondering how you prepared for those roles, because they are based on real people, but I guess they’re not really that famous. People don’t know them that well. It’s not like you were doing a movie about Ray Charles. I mean, we all know what he looks like and how he sings. What did you do to prepare for this?
HILL: A lot of it, for me, started with Miami culture, and these guys are a product of growing up in Miami and a lot of that, meaning, Miami is a very interesting place, very like, loud colors, loud culture, you know the music, food, culture, you know, the way people dress. And I don’t mean it in a negative way, but people in Miami are definitely like on their hustle, you know? And that represents… that’s like a really deep part of Efraim. His is more negative than most people, but he is definitely on his hustle all the time.
STRIPLV: Miles, in your case, I don’t believe you even met David, is that right?
TELLER: Yeah, he’s got a small cameo in the film. He’s the guitar-playing guy singing at the retirement home. He’s singing, “Don’t Fear The Reaper” for the elderly. Yeah, so I met him and it was great, you know, because anytime you can meet the real person… It didn’t play into my prep as much, because I didn’t feel like I needed to imitate this guy in any means. But yeah, it’s more like just in good faith: “I want you to know that I’m taking this very seriously and I’m not trying to make a joke out of you.
STRIPLV: I wanted to ask you guys about Ana de Armas, because I think she’s great in the movie and that she grounds it, and that character’s very important. What can you say about her and about the character she plays?
TELLER: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s really important. I think that it’s nice to see David caring about someone else, because a lot of the motives that these guys have seem very selfish. So it is important to have that girl and that child. And Anna, just as an actress, is great. That character was not written for her ethnicity by any means, but she came in and I think I read with her on just a couple of pieces, and she was clearly the one. I think she has a lot of depth that really translates.
STRIPLV: None of you had worked with Todd before. What is he like on set as a director?
HILL: You know, I think Todd is someone who really knows what they want ahead of time. I think he had been thinking about this movie and working on it for years. So you know, he had the movie kind of in his head and then was just trying to explain it to us, and then us add whatever we could through our characters.
TELLER: Yeah, Todd’s great. He actually produced a film that I did a couple of years ago called Project X. The first day of filming was my scene. I think I only had one scene. So Todd directed that day. So that was cool. He knows what he wants, and he’s got the whole movie laid out. He writes and co-writes most of his scripts, so it’s just such a great resource to have—somebody that’s that locked in.
STRIPLV: Going back to the character, Efraim. He’s so larger than life. But for an actor, that must have been a fun character to play. Is it true, Jonah, you came up with the laugh? That laugh that he has?
HILL: Yeah. You know you’re putting these people together, and you’re trying to create a character kinda from the page. And I felt like I kinda had everything very close to where it ended up. And then I was like: “There’s just something missing,” and then finally I thought why you remember certain people, even if you’ve only met them a handful of times, and a lot of times it’s because they have a very distinct laugh. So I tried to create a laugh that you might remember for a long time.
STRIPLV: I think we will! I think when you see the movie—it’s funny. You stay with that laugh.
HILL: That’s good.
STRIPLV: What did you guys think when you saw the movie completed?
HILL: I liked it. I was proud of it. I was happy that I did it.
TELLER: Yeah, when I saw it for the first time, I was just like, “Man, Todd is a really good filmmaker.” It looked incredible. I loved the pace of it. I loved the tone, and the soundtrack I thought was one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a movie in a while. So I just thought Todd did a killer job with it.
STRIPLV: I couldn’t agree more. Thank you both so much.
HILL & TELLER: Thank you.