It's understandable that the thought of a 21 Jump Street movie sounds like the height of Hollywood creative bankruptcy. But stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum made it their mission to produce a Jump Street film that's not just a wan carbon copy of the original '80s cop series that's best known for launching the careers of Johnny Depp and... um, Richard Grieco. Audiences will find out for themselves on Friday whether they succeeded in that endeavor. Prior to the film's release, Hill and Tatum turned up at a New York press conference (clad in their cop uniforms from the movie no less) and talked about the origins of the project, their on-screen chemistry and what other '80s series they'd like to remake.
On How They Got Involved With 21 Jump Street
Jonah Hill: I've been with this movie for five years, from ages 23 to 28. While doing this press [tour], I've realized that most of my 20s have been spent thinking and working on this movie in some capacity. It's the only movie I've been with from the beginning until the end and I'm just really glad I got to work with all these talented people and the movie turned out good. It would have been a big waste of my entire 20s otherwise... except for some other minor successes I've had. I'm so proud to be up here, dressed as a moron. We wouldn't be here if we weren't super-proud of the movie. We're not afraid to show it, which is a great feeling. Sometimes the movie sucks and you don't want to show it to people and try to sneak it by. We're putting it out there because we think it's great.
Channing Tatum: I got a phone call from Jonah when I was in Toronto shooting a movie. I wasn't sure why he was calling me, but he told me about his passion for 21 Jump Street and later sent me the script over e-mail, about 50 pages of it. It seemed like the most fun 50 pages I'd ever read. I just sort of went, "All right man, if you can promise I'll be funny, I'll sign off." And he really did -- he held my hand all the way through it. [The team] created a great stage for you to be safe to fail and not feel bad if you don't know you're way into a joke.
On Why They Turned the Original Series Into a Comedy
Hill: Honestly, it came to me first as a dramatic script and I was really against just making the TV show into a movie. It was really lazy and stupid and eye-rolling and all those things. So when we all talked about making it, [we came up with a] Back to the Future element that we all understood and connected with. The element of re-living your high school years and finding out what's funny about that, what's sad about that, what's difficult and fun etc. What if you think you have all of the answers and then you go back [to high school] and have none of the answers? That to me was a really strong idea for a movie. And then, what if it was a Bad Boys-meets-John Hughes movie? That's what got the train moving. So whether it was called 21 Jump Street or Narcs or Two Cops Go Back to High School, I don't really give a shit. That idea was what captivated me. I had really not cared about incorporating any of the stuff from the original show. I've had friends who have made remakes of things and they spent so much time thinking about "Oh we've gotta put that one little secret thing in from the show!" And then only two people in the audience gave a shit about it. But the directors added in so much fun stuff from the show, it actually got me excited again about the series. Like the church where the Jump Street headquarters are -- when you walked in there, it really felt like you were walking into the show.
Tatum: The show was actually pretty funny. I was a fan and I watched it every single Friday. It came on right before this other weird show that I liked called Friday the 13th about haunted antiques. I don't really think that you have to call this movie 21 Jump Street, but I'm happy that we did because I like the show.
On Playing With Guns and Other Weapons
Tatum: I'm pretty comfortable with weapons, but [Jonah] has the worst gun safety that I've been around in my entire life. I'd have to come over and say, "Okay, this one's for real. We actually have bullets in the gun."
Jonah: On set, there's a guy whose job it is to give you a gun -- it's a real gun and it's loaded with blanks. I had not been around guns before so my thing was like, "It had better not be loaded because I don't want anyone on set to die and you're the guy whose job it is to make sure no one dies, okay?" That's a very serious job. So every time he gave me a gun, I pointed it at his genitalia and I pulled the trigger. And [that way] the gun was never loaded once! I think it's crazy that you're on a set with people that don't know how to use guns and you're giving them live weapons. That was the scariest, most weird energy to put on a set. We joked around a lot, but when it came to actually using the weapons, we were very careful.
On the Big-Name Celebrity Who Appears in a Surprise Cameo at the End of the Film
Hill: We don't know what you're talking about.
On How They Bonded Before and During Shooting
Tatum: We went for milkshakes and hung out a lot.
Hill: Everyone asks if we knew each other before and it's funny because we had met once three or four years earlier at a restaurant. But we didn't even really meet -- we just waved at each other from across the restaurant. That was the only experience we had until I called him up on the phone. I gotta say about this guy: every good movie has a moment where you're shocked by something someone does and I think Channing walks away with this movie because you've never seen him do anything like this before. I think he's the funniest part of the entire movie. The second I called him and he was down to do the movie, I saw why I wanted him in it: he's fearless as a person and as an artist and that's why he's great in this movie. He didn't put a wall up -- he said, "Whatever you guys want, just promise me I'll be funny." He's just honest in every scene and that's why we became friends because we're both down to kill ourselves for our movie.
Tatum: Thanks, buddy.
On Which Other '80s Show They'd Remake If They Had the Chance
Tatum: I don't know if I'll be running to make any others after this one, but if I had to pick one show, it would probably be Cheers.
Hill: He'd be Rhea Perlman. When we were casting, we were saying that we needed a really buff Rhea Perlman and that's how we got Channing. [Laughs] I'm never remaking anything again. I don't want that to be something I'm known for. They actually came to me with a bunch of TV shows after this started filming and I was like, "I'm not someone who wants to do this!" But I think if someone was going to remake a show from the '80s, I'd hope they'd remake Small Wonder. I always thought that would make an excellent movie -- a little girl robot who lives in a closet. It should be like a Todd Solondz film. Because it's so dark, this little girl who lives in a closet and her dad made her.
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