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Jonah Hill

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Long part of the famed 'Jew Tang Clan' – the new breed of comedy stars that includes pals Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and a host of others (for a full list see 2013's This Is The End or the forthcoming R rated animated comedy Sausage Party) – Jonah Hill is following dual paths.

In one he's the schlubby funny guy in movies like The Sitter and the 21 Jump St films. In the other, he skirts dangerously close to Oscar territory in movies like Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Today the 32 year old has the luxury and the clout to do both in equal measure. He appeared for no less than the Coen Brothers in Hail, Cesar! around the same time as the 21 Jump St sequel, 22 Jump St.

Todd (The Hangover) Phillips' new film War Dogs might be the first time we've seen Hill do both. A true story, Hill plays arms dealer Efraim Deveroli, a young man in Miami who exploits a lucrative loophole in the US arms supply industry to become multimillionaires with partner and friend David Packhouz (Miles Teller).

The trailer's full of frathouse comedy gags worthy of Hill's most outrageous work, but the theme – of the American Dream veering off the rails – is far more serious. He tells GQ about finding the chemistry with co-star Teller, playing a real guy and where he got that laugh.

What was your response to the final product when you saw it?

I'm really proud of it. I'm really excited for Todd [Phillips]. I think he did a really great job with it. It's a hard move to make I think.

Did you see your relevant characters as heroes or villains?

I had to understand that Efraim saw himself as a hero but I don't see Efraim as a hero, personally.

Efraim had a very distinctive laugh.

The first day we were in Romania and we were in the car and it was a scene where we first get to Albania, it was our first day of shooting. I was like 'there's just one piece missing from this character'. We have the look, obviously he looks very insane or very idiosyncratic, and he behaves in this very interesting way. I just felt there was something missing.

Then we were shooting this scene where I was trying to kiss up to the driver and I just started doing this weird laugh. I've had that on a couple of other movies where something happens the first day and you stick with it and commit to it. It's nice to hear that it wasn't distracting or annoying.

Talk about finding the chemistry between you.

I like the way he smells. No, Miles is a fantastic actor in my estimation. I was a fan before I got to work with him. I think "Whiplash" had come out as we were figuring who was going to play David. I don't need to tell you he's wonderful in the movie. I think any friendship or chemistry that comes in a movie has to come from a respect for the other person you're acting with and their talent. I walked into the movie with that and walked away with it about Miles.

Was it a burden or did you have to keep reminding yourself these were real guys while shooting?

No, this would be my maybe fourth or fifth person that exists in the world. By the time you start you have to just understand that you're playing a character and you have to service the director in the movie the best you can. It's exciting to think that things actually happened that you're doing and it helps you to really try and focus on being authentic, for me at least. Other than that, by the time you're in it you're just playing this character that you read in the script and the directors talk to you about …

The movie talks about a pretty serious subject in guns trafficking. Despite the comedy it's a pretty political movie.

To these characters it didn't matter that it was guns, it really could have been any way to make a lot of money very quickly and within a loophole, like Miles said.

It's almost more about capitalism than just guns.

Yeah. It's exciting to hear foreign journalists see the movie. I think there must be a lot of fun to laugh at Americans. I understand that too. I think that's really a great thing to … Especially for a filmmaker like Todd, to explore and really see the humor and the sadness in the way we all behave sometimes within the laws that we have. I think that's really interesting.

You took in a lot of locations.

Todd likes the international elements of shooting in different countries. I don't want to speak for him but he expressed that it was fun for him as a director, instead of just on a sound stage somewhere.

Was there a lot of improv? You're used to that from other movies.

Sometimes, but the script was really good. That was the main reason I wanted to do the film because Todd and Jason, who wrote it, spent so long making it right. The script and the director is really how you choose, as an actor, whose hands you want to be in.

I would say there was less improvisation on this film for me than almost any other I've done. Still some, there's some lines that I like that just were from that moment. I would say Todd was pretty down to shoot what he and Jason wrote. The script was … I was really into the script that they wrote.

Did you get any gun training?

Yeah, I had done some before. It wasn't foreign. Channing [Tatum] and I had done all this police training for those movies. Oddly I had some experience already, which is bizarre even to me that I would have experience with guns. I'm not someone who shoots guns a lot in his personal life.

You don't feel like this movie glamourises guns?

I don't think so. I would hope it doesn't because I don't think it's cool to glamorize guns. That character was very comfortable around guns. His uncle had worked as an arms dealer and I think Efraim used guns in a way, especially in the drug dealer scene, to show that he was an alpha male or that he was confident or something. The scene is really effective to introduce him as a character because Efraim is a crazy character.

I think it shows how insane it is that this guy's trying to buy some weed and then all the sudden he's pulling out a machine gun in a dangerous neighborhood in Miami. It's really just showing how extreme of a person he is. He's a very extreme person.

The spirit of Scarface is all over the film. What did that film mean to you?

Yeah, it's interesting. I just saw the De Palma documentary, it's really great. I'm just such a big film fan that anything by De Palma, Scorsese, any of those guys, I've just seen a million times. Scarface became this big thing through hip hop culture also later on. It was just important for this movie because these guys wanted to be in Scarface, they wanted to live their lives like they were in Scarface, which was a big thing in hip hop.

I looked at Efraim a lot like Rick Ross or one of these big Miami hip hop dudes, that was the people that I was using a lot for this guy. Hip hop culture … Did you watch any episode of Cribs from the early 2000's? There's a Scarface poster in every rapper's house that you go into. I think the movie just became this representation of the American dream done through a criminal lens.

The movie's also in some way about the morality of lying.

Yeah, I think Efraim was probably way more comfortable with lying. I think the movie's morality comes from David wrestling with that, as a viewer I noticed that.

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