Oscar nominee. Street-style icon. Newly minted writer-director. Zine writer. In an effort to promote his directorial debut, the period skateboarding drama Mid90s, Jonah Hill is putting out an indie magazine (in conjunction with his film’s distributor A24) called Inner Children, for which he interviewed a bunch of famous people he admires including Edie Falco, skateboarder Mark Gonzalez, supermodel Behati Prinsloo, DJ Premier, and artist Raymond Pettibon.
In this exclusive excerpt from the zine, Hill interviews his Superbad co-star Michael Cera about the version of himself he tried to “hide from the world.”
I became famous in my late teens and then spent most of my young adult life listening to people say that I was fat and gross and unattractive. It’s only in the last four years, writing and directing my movie Mid90s, that I’ve started to understand how much that hurt and got into my head.
I really believe everyone has a snapshot of themselves from a time when they were young that they’re ashamed of. For me, it’s that 14-year-old overweight and unattractive kid who felt ugly to the world, who listened to hip-hop and wanted so badly to be accepted by this community of skaters.
For this magazine, I asked twelve people I respect and admire if they can relate to this in their own way and how they’ve learned to love themselves. The interviews are all centered around the question of, “What is that snapshot of you?” They turned into some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had.
Michael Cera: How ya doing buddy? Can you hear me? My phone needs a few seconds, it’s warming up.
Jonah Hill: Should we let the people know what kind of technology you’re working with?
Yeah, it’s a Samsung.
You’ve never converted to a smartphone?
No, it’s a dumb phone.
I’m gonna ask you some questions Mikey, my friend. Where did you grow up?
In Canada. You know that. I’m just gonna say “you know that” to everything you ask.
You grew up in Branson, I know that. I didn’t know you when you were a kid. You were probably like 17 when I met you. Underage.
Yeah. I remember.
What were you like as a little kid? Did you have the same sense of humor?
I was pretty fun. Starting around five I had a couple friends and we were a solid group that just kind of grew. I loved that. I was bad at school. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have some kind of job where I don’t have to have any formal education.
When did you start performing professionally?
I started going on commercial auditions when I was nine. It was not a thing that my parents pushed. I had a great acting teacher that liked me a lot, and he told my mom I should get an agent and maybe I could make a little money for school or something.
Did you take those acting classes because you enjoyed it?
I think I did it because my friend Scott was doing it. It was fun, and I was kind of good at it. I was not good at anything athletic. All my friends were excelling at hockey, and I just never even started with hockey. I missed the boat on it. I just needed something to do and be good at.
The class was a very small, townie kind of thing. We would put on a show at the end of the year, a performance for the parents. It was a little taste of backstage nerves and this kind of dopamine rush of performance.
Now you’re doing a lot of Broadway and stage work. It’s been incredible to watch you become this amazing theater actor. Do you see any connection between how you felt then and why you’re doing a lot of that now?
I don’t know. When I did a play for real for the first time a few years ago, it felt like something very new.
It was almost like a new challenge?
A totally new challenge. The duration of it and the whole thing, just the unknown of it. What happens when we screw up and we’re hanging out there in front of people? What could happen?
I like that too, that excitement and kinetic energy of newness and fear. But I feel like you and I both share an element of not wanting that in life.
It’s true. I guess some people seek that in life.
It’s interesting that we would both seek that adventure and kinetic sort of fear and newness in work.
Maybe we’re lucky and we have the kind of work where we can get it in so we don’t have to get it in our lives in destructive ways. It’s an outlet.
One-hundred percent. A lot of times I don’t have to act out bad behavior in real life because I’ve gotten to do it through a character. You get to experience what it’s like to be that kind of person, but with a safety net.
Exactly, and in a very controlled environment and circumstance. Most people don’t have something like that.
Yeah. What a gift.
Yeah it is.
You’d definitely be a serial killer if you didn’t act. Anyway, so you’re a kid, you’re doing this thing that you love. I wonder, what is the version of yourself that you tried to hide from the world?
My immediate answer would honestly be the 11-year-old version of me, just struggling with self-confidence. Even though there’s no real reason I could point to. I had a lot of friends and they all loved me and everything. It was great. You’re just figuring it out and trying to learn who you are as you keep changing radically. When you get into your 20s, you level off a little bit and the changes stop being so dramatic so you can get used to yourself for a minute.
One of the things I admire most about you is that at a very young age, even like 19, you started to understand and respect who you were. You made choices in life that I was too insecure to make, which had to do with self-love.
Yeah, or at least I wanted to try. I found it very challenging for a while. I don’t feel like I really clicked into a thing until 27.
Wow. Do you think you carried that 11-year-old kid with you?
Probably. Not in ways that I think about often or understand clearly, because the other thing is that you’re not just that 11-year-old kid. That’s part of the big mixed bag of all the people that you’ve been. That’s something my mind goes to, but it’s not the whole story.
Are you able to separate and go, “That’s not me now”?
Yeah. I’m able to look at myself 10 years back and understand that that’s not who I am now. Do you have that?
I have trouble with it.
I struggle with the idea that you’re supposed to love that person and include them?
Instead of being like, “I’m not that piece of shit anymore.” Because then it’s almost like you’re not whole. You’re not loving every part of yourself.
You’re denying something. It’s also natural to grow as you get older. I think that happens without even needing to do too much active work. It’s natural that you would look back at yourself in whichever period you’re thinking of and see a person that you don’t like as much as now. I think that’s better than liking yourself less now than then.
I’ve always respected your ability to be true to yourself when things got too exposed. You kind of went in a quieter direction. I love how you handled being in your 20s in a very unique situation.
Yeah for me it was a bit of a crisis. It was very weird. I was so unsure, and there was nothing that made a lot of sense to me about the way my life was configured. I didn’t feel like any of it was something that I had built. I feel like as you get older and you go into adulthood, you kind of construct your life, or try to.
I was living in L.A. without really understanding why I lived there or how I ended up there. I had this very sudden exposure to people knowing who I was, which made everything even more confusing just on a day-to-day, existing basis. I also feel like that time was about evolving and figuring out what I like, what I want, and what I gravitate towards.
I think that’s a really good way of approaching it, just allowing yourself to be easy on yourself, not putting on the pressure of what other people want from you.
If I think back to myself in my teenage years, it’s alarming. I have this footage of us from the Superbad press tour and even watching that and looking at myself when I was like 19, it’s really disturbing.
That’s strange to me because I look back on you at 19 and think you were fully-formed.
Well it’s clear that you liked me. When I watch the footage of us hanging out, I’m like, “Wow, Jonah is really tolerating me as a 19-year-old in a very sweet way.” We had a lot of love for each other that has lasted. I look at the insane version of myself and I’m like, “That guy is terrible. I couldn’t spend five minutes with him.”
But it doesn’t bother you to feel that way? You’re just like, “Yeah, that’s being 19.”
Yeah, it just makes me kind of understand.
What do you think brought you the most confidence in your life?
A lot of things. I’ve been pretty lucky in my life. I feel lucky getting to do what I want to do for a living. As you get older, you realize how rare that is, how small of a percentage of the world gets to do something they like. It’s such a crazy gift. I mean I don’t know if that gives me confidence.
It gives me happiness. I think you can be confident if you feel good about your life. A lot of people’s lack of confidence comes from circumstances and forces that are out of their control. It’s a very fortunate way to live where you can more or less control your circumstances and your rhythm of work, who you want to work with, and what you want to do.
That’s so right.
I’ve learned a lot from my relationship. Being in a long-term relationship, you go through a lot and you learn about yourself. You grow that way. The feeling that people really know you and love you, that makes you feel confident. Feeling really loved helps you love yourself, I think.
If for some reason Nadine and my relationship ended some day, I still think I would take away all those feelings from it. Even though it would obviously be very hard and bad.
No matter what, the fact that she loves you and helped you grow as a person, that is definitely a vote of confidence.
It goes both ways. Getting in a relationship where you feel the person sees you and knows you, it helps you to accept yourself in weird ways. Maybe that’s kind of cliché.
I don’t think it is at all. I think that’s really profound.
I hadn’t experienced it before. We’ve gone through a lot together, and I give her the same thing. Sometimes you’re not the best version of yourself. But you can’t take it out in the relationship because that’s where you live. At the end of the day, we’re always kind of owning our behavior. Like I’ll say to Nadine, “I’m sorry I’m acting weird today and thanks for being so sweet and patient” and she’ll say, “Well, you’re patient when I’m weird.”
I do think the love that you and Nadine have built and what you’re describing is a very good thing and message — the idea that someone loving you unconditionally and going through shit with you is a good way to know that they love even that snapshot of you that you want to hide from the rest of the world.
Yeah exactly. I hesitated to give that as my answer because I don’t think you need to have a relationship to make yourself whole, but I have learned a lot from this relationship that I will always value.
So just on a serious note, you know Nadine and I are together, right?
Right, and that will take some getting used to and some digesting on my part.
Mikey, I am so proud of the person you are. I’m so proud to be your friend and I love you and thank you for such a beautiful conversation.
Love you, man. I wish we could have talked more about how proud I am of you and Mid90s and watching you in your life. Next time let’s do that.