In this new series “Oscar Spotlight” we take a look at four rising stars who have this year become Oscar nominees for the first time. In a year filled with incredible performances, only one of our chosen actors was a shoo-in. The other three were all (welcome) surprise nominees. Taken from each of the four acting categories, we present …
Jonah Hill Gets Serious
As Melissa McCarthy captures her first Academy Award nomination for a comedic performance, for funny man Jonah Hill it took playing against type to garner his first nomination.
Hill got his big break working with producer/director Judd Apatow in 2005, in a small supporting role in “The 40 Year Old Virgin“. They worked together again in “Knocked Up”, so it was perhaps unsurprising when Apatow upgraded Hill to play the lead opposite Michael Cera in a little movie you may have heard of called “Superbad”. Hill’s ability to mix crass high school humor with a serious coming-of-age friendship won over audiences and critics alike, and Hill began to get his pick of comedic roles, going on to work with Russell Brand in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and the sequel “Get Him to the Greek” and then with Apatow again in 2009’s “Funny People”.
In 2010, Hill worked with John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei in “Cyrus”, a film about a mother and son’s unconventional relationship. Though it garnered mixed critical reception, it was perhaps a bit of foreshadowing that something more serious was in Hill’s repertoire. Even so, Hill flew in the face of all of our expectations by successfully taking on the role of Peter Brand, a genius number cruncher who helps Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) recruit baseball players on a budget for the Oakland A’s in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball”, a film that had been in development hell for years, going through three rewrites and three different directors. It was worth the wait for the filmmakers though: “Moneyball” garnered a total of six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Early buzz suggested it clearly had Oscar written all over it and Pitt was going to be a front-runner for a Best Actor nod, but Hill was the surprise inclusion. It was a role that Hill didn’t even audition for, telling Deadline, “I showed Bennett [Miller] “Cyrus” before it came out and that’s what they cast me from … I was at the bottom of a list of actors who weren’t known for their dramatic work [but Bennett] knew I was eager to break out of whatever box I was in. As a respected filmmaker he wanted to make an unsuspecting choice.”
Miller certainly succeeded in making an unexpected choice, and it’s certainly paid off for both director and star. Up against some of Hollywood’s veteran stars, including Christopher Plummer and Max van Sydow, Hill is admittedly not the experts pick to win the coveted statue, but for Hill, the nomination is the win. Consider that box you were in shredded, Jonah.