Jonah Hill has created and provided the voice for a new animated show on Fox. Or we should say, about half of Jonah Hill has done that. After his impressive weight loss, the new Hill met with the Television Critics Association to discuss his new show, Allen Gregory.
Allen Gregory is a seven-year-old who wears a suit and claims to have written novels. He has two fathers and has to go to elementary school, where the kids, and even the adults, are not as smart as he thinks he is. Allen Gregory premiers Sunday night at 8:30 on Fox.
Q: You must be even busier than I am and I struggle with how to find time to make my own food and exercise. How do you make sure the right food is around wherever you go for work?
Jonah Hill: I just bring stuff with me, make sure I bring stuff with me.
Q: What prompted you to lose so much weight and how did you do it?
JH: I just decided that it was time to be healthier, went to go see a nutritionist and started running. It’s pretty simple. I run and do a lot of push-ups and eat healthy.
Q: How much did you lose?
JH: I don’t know. I don’t think about stuff like that.
Q: What have you done with all your old clothes?
JH: I gave them away to, like, Red Cross.
Q: So how did Allen get so smart and cultured?
JH: Well, you kind of don't know whether he's smart or not or he's just full of it. We keep it very ambiguous whether his accomplishments in boasting are real or not or if it actually happened. So it's kind of going to unfold, almost in a Lost‑type situation, throughout the next 12 years of whether he actually did it. [Joking] But yeah, so it's kind of ambiguous, I would say. I've learned through experience of playing different characters, some of them whom are jerks or whatever, that when you play a character who is pretentious or obnoxious in any way, it's important to knock them down a peg. Right when you can't take it anymore, their rudeness or something, to make sure they are really knocked down a peg emotionally, and you see the insecurity that causes that kind of behavior. I think the younger and cuter he was, the more effective it would be comedically to hear him say the things that he is saying. That was my opinion.
Q: Were you a little Allen Gregory when you were his age?
JH: No, I don't think I was like Allen Gregory at all. Now, since I've played the character and we write him so much, I like to do it as a joke, and then I realize I've probably looked ridiculous at times, but no. When I was growing up, my parents asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to live in Springfield. And so they were like, "Well, that's not how it works. Basically, there's an actor who plays Homer and then someone who writes what Homer says." And so I was like, "Well, I want to write what Homer says." So that was, like, a weird job for a little seven‑year‑old to want to be a staff writer in an animated sitcom instead of, like, a fireman or an astronaut or something. Honestly, the fact that we are going on after The Simpsons is the most beautiful, monumental, crazy, beyond‑childhood fantasy for me ever. So that's what I was like when I was seven. I wanted to write for The Simpsons.
Q: How did you come up with this idea and develop your own animated show?
JH: Well, we knew we wanted him to be a pretentious, delusional character. We thought that the most interesting way to do that would be to make him an adorable little kid. That’s how we started, and then we went from there. FOX had asked me to be the voice of a pilot, and I figured since I'm a lifelong Simpsons fanatic and such a massive fan of that show, that I wanted to create my own animated show one day. I figured if I was on another one of their shows as a voice actor, they wouldn't want another show that I created. So I politely said no thanks and then went over to Jarrad [Paul]'s apartment. He and Andy [Mogel] were writing and I said the three of us should create an animated show together. We knew we wanted the character to be delusional and pretentious, and we figured the only way to do that as a main character without the audience hating him was to make him the most adorable 7‑year‑old ever. So there's that. And that was the ember that kind of sparked the fire.
Q: As a fan of the show, how many episodes of The Simpsons have you seen? I haven’t missed one in 22 years.
JH: I think the last three years or so, because of all the traveling I do for work, I haven’t been able to but growing up, I never missed an episode. I can probably recite every line from every episode, from when it started until when I was probably 18.
Q: Do you subscribe to the idea that there was a Golden Age and they went through a rough patch?
JH: I don’t call it a rough patch at all. I will never disrespect something that has given me so much, but I think there are years that are literally the best writing of any show, ever.
Q: No, as a fan myself, I acknowledge there was a golden age, but I also think they’ve had a renaissance and gone into a post-modern period.
JH: Right, it’s a mind-blowingly incredible, perfect show. I wouldn’t be sitting here today, if it wasn’t for The Simpsons.
Q: Did you model Allen Gregory to fit in on Fox Sunday night?
JH: It was important, because our show is going to be on between The Simpson and Family Guy, that it really be differentiated visually than the other FOX shows and have its own style. The New Yorker was a big thing. We were saying like, "Allen Gregory's world, when he's in his loft with his family, it should look like a page out of The New Yorker. Then when he goes to the school, he's like an alien.” It's such a fish‑out‑of‑water thing. He's an alien in this really bland environment that looks like he should be in The New Yorker. We should mention Bento Box, which is our animation company, who do incredible work. They are really insanely talented. And our character designer James [McDermott], and Mark McJimsey, and Andy. Everyone there has been so great. And James, who designed our characters, did such a great job. Off the bat, we just kind of tell him what we wanted. Our production designer now is amazing too, Asana. Basically, we were looking for a little bit of a '60s vibe, Mad Men style with the suits and kind of colorful kind of suits. Then the New Yorker, as we talked about earlier, was something that was really interesting to us. We didn't want to look like some different creative style. We thought it would be more different and cool to make it look more like a person, and Allen Gregory was actually the most difficult. It was the last character we had done because it took so long to figure out, to get him right. We couldn't get him adorable enough. We literally would send pictures of all of our nephews and kids, like little babies, and we were just like on Google, looking at cute seven‑year‑old boys and feeling very uncomfortable about that. My Google was like off the charts weird if you had checked my history, but it took quite a while actually.
Q: Would Allen Gregory and Stewie Griffin get along?
JH: Stewie wants to kill his mom and end the world, and Allen Gregory just thinks he's great.
Q: Is this show for the whole family or more adult?
JH: I see it for men and women ages zero to a hundred. That's sort of where I feel like our core audience will lie, somewhere in range. Zero to 100 years old, yeah. Like one day old to 100 years old. Anything over 100, I don't think they are going to get the humor. I think it's going to be, like, a little too edgy for them, and anyon under one day old, is not alive, able to watch TV. I'd say if you were, like, 11, 12, to I don't know, when do people stop laughing? If you still like comedy, I think it's a comedic, funny show.
Q: You come from the Judd Apatow school of improvising. Now that you’re the writer and creator of a show, do you insist that everyone sticks to the script?
JH: No, if anyone has a good joke, it’s welcome in our scripts. We do a lot of improvisation, but it's so solidly written. Don't want to mess with it. No, we do improvise a lot. And all our wonderful cast is great, and everyone brings so much to their characters that. The way I came up through film and stuff was when you work with a lot of great actors, you want to hear what they have to bring to their character as well. So we try and let everyone have fun. But again, it's so well‑written.
Q: Which other guest voices will be coming on the show?
JH: Yeah, Elizabeth Banks and Jeff Goldblum, and we’re working on something for Ed Norton right now.
Q: How about your Cyrus costars?
JH: I would love John [C. Reilly] and Marisa [Tomei] to come on. That would be great.
Q: Would you ask Brad Pitt to do a voice?
JH: I don’t know. When I see him in Toronto [for the premiere of Moneyball], I’ll ask him.
Q: What funny trouble is Allen Gregory going to get into?
JH: There's an episode where we meet Allen Gregory's mom, who is a surrogate. She's a surrogate played by Elizabeth Banks and Allen Gregory tracks her down because [one of his fathers] Richard initially convinces Allen Gregory that he gave birth to him, and then he realizes that's impossible. He doesn't know what a surrogate is so he tracks her down and tries to get Richard and her back together, even though they never were together because she's a surrogate and he's homosexual. So Richard, being the enabling, "do anything for his son" type of father, despite his sexual preference and the fact that he's in a relationship with someone else, does get “back together” with this woman for the first time, and hilarity ensues. A lot of stories are about marriage and family and things other than school if you don't want to watch a show about just, like, kids in elementary school, which I know I don't all the time. So there's really great stories about the parents' relationship and the parenting and family and everyone's relationships with people in the outside world that are really interesting as well.
Q: What can you say about 21 Jump Street and the experience of making that?
JH: 21 Jump Street is great. It’s a movie I just made, I produced and was a writer on it. It’s starring myself and Channing Tatum, and maybe some surprise guests.
Q: You know we’re hoping for one specific actor from the original cast.
JH: You’ll have to watch to find out.
Q: Dustin Nguyen?
JH: Dustin is not in it.
Q: Johnny Depp has always said he’s willing to do it. Were you able to work it out for even one day of shooting?
JH: You’re going to have to see the movie because I’m not going to tell you anything. I’ll just say that it’s a pretty amazing movie.