There was a mutual admiration society meeting going on in New York last week, and both members of the exclusive two-man group showed up. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill sat down in a small hotel room, where the plan was to chat about their new film, 22 Jump Street, the follow-up to their 2012 mega-hit 21 Jump Street. In that film they played youngish-looking undercover cops who infiltrate a high school drug ring. This time around, theyve graduated to going undercover in college. Oddly, and enjoyably, they ended up talking more about each other than the film.
Youd never worked together before. Did you realize right from the start that there was some on-screen chemistry happening?
Tatum: Jonah called me up for the first movie.
Hill: The casting process was like a phone call and me saying, Will you please do this movie? and then him going, Sure, yeah. That was the process.
Tatum: I said, 21 Jump Street? You mean that show from the 80s? And he said, Yeah, I know, its a terrible idea. But I said, OK, Im in. After that, Jonah came over and we hung out, and hes very much like the kids I grew up with and that are still my friends. I think we were fast friends from the start.
Jonah, what prompted you to call Channing in the first place?
Hill: Well, I wanted the other person in the movie to be someone who could actually be in an action movie. The whole thing, when we first started, was like Bad Boys meets a John Hughes movie. At that time I had never been in anything even close to an action film, so we needed someone you could see in the movie and you would say, Right, its an action movie and a comedy together.
Theres a lot of stunt work in the film, a lot of which adds to the humor. Did you do many of your own stunts?
Hill: I thought right away that it would be funny if I did the worst version of every stunt, ever. But Chan actually had to learn how to do every single thing that we wrote in the movie. I literally had never been around a helicopter till this movie, and suddenly we were in Puerto Rico and we were holding guns and there were helicopters flying above us. It felt like it was a joke, like we really were in Bad Boys.
So, Channing, you were doing some stunts?
Tatum: We were really holding on to the helicopter, but they wouldnt let us drop from it. Generally everything in the movie is pretty much us, except for things that you could get hurt doing.
Hill: In the scene where an 18-wheeler was going down the highway at 60 miles an hour, thats actually Chan. Thats not me hanging over the side of it I had a stuntman but it is Chan, and thats pretty exciting.
You worked again with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who directed 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie. Do you have the same senses of humor as them?
Hill: My sense of humor within this film is really based on character: who these people are, why they do the things they do, psychologically. Channing pointed out that in the films Phil and Chris have done, every joke in them has three different layers to it. Theres that level that I bring to stuff, which is base, human behavior. Then they do what the smartest, most meta comedian would find funny. And then what a 4-year-old would find funny. They do it with all three layers in the same bit. Like the Benny Hill joke in this one, where theres a big sign that says the Benjamin Hill School of Cinema Studies. I dont know how many people are gonna pick up on that one. But thats why their movies are so interesting.
What have you two learned from each other so far in these films?
Tatum: I enjoy watching Jonah because he physically finds the truth in just about anything, whether its a comedic scene or a dramatic scene, and hell just sort of go right at it. I dont look at him as a comedic actor or a dramatic actor, just a really great actor.
Hill: Thank you, buddy. As far as Chans acting abilities, before 21 Jump Street, Id only seen him in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Obviously hes not funny in it, because its a heavy movie, and he jumps right off the screen in that film. Theres no falseness. I dont care how flashy an actor is. I can see if they believe in what theyre saying and doing, and I think Chan is brilliant in it.