Jonah Hill calls it his most challenging role to date. Indeed, when you are playing a perverted pill-popping, money laundering degenerate in Martin Scorsese’s latest irreverent big screen work The Wolf of Wall Street such a statement is no mere hyperbole. For the Oscar-nominated Hill, his true challenge was finding any source of redeeming quality from his over-the-top character Donnie Azoff, who rides shotgun with Leo DiCaprio’s equally outrageous, real life Wall Street pirate Jordan Belfort. VIBE caught up with the busy actor to discuss his experience working with legendary director Scorsese, how he pushed himself to embrace the brazenly amoral Azoff, and why Quaaludes is a hell of a drug.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
VIBE: For every actor worth his or her thespian chops working with Martin Scorsese is one of those banner career achievements. What went through your mind when you found out you were going to be in your first Scorsese film?
You have to understand that Scorsese is my hero…my actual, creative hero. No one compares to him in my mind. When I found out they were even interested in meeting with me and possibly getting the part I was like this is a dream…I can’t believe this is real. I didn’t believe that I was actually going to get it.
But there had to be some level of confidence considering you were nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for 2011’s Money Ball, right?
Yeah, but this is different. Scorsese is my hero, and then to play this part opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in a Scorsese movie? That’s stuff you can’t even allow yourself to ever think is a reality because it’s usually not. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The whole thing was like a dream.
Like most of the characters in The Wolf of Wall Street Donnie Azoff is a pretty despicable person. What shocked you most about Donnie and was there anything in the script that made you say, “Holy shit, you want me to do what???”
I’ve played flawed characters before, but at the end of the day I thought they all had a good heart. And this is the first time I played someone who I didn’t think had a good heart and wasn’t a good person. And that was challenging to do because Donnie didn’t treat people right. He treated people horribly. I would feel fine during the day because I was so focused on the scene, but on the drive home every night I would feel really guilty about what I had to do that day.
And one of those scenes that everyone is talking about is of you and Leo taking an obscene amount of Quaaludes, which leads to some hilarious yet disturbing acts. Can you talk about how crazy it was to film that scene?
It was really physical and really exhausting. And because we were on these really strong Quaaludes, we had a drug expert and I would ask a lot of questions about what the drug felt like. The way she expressed it about being on that many Quaaludes is that your finger feels like it weighs 10 pounds. So I imagined that there was a tiny version of myself actually in my body having to move around dead weight. So it was physically exhausting; it took a week to shoot. And Leo beat the crap out of me. I can tell you that I have never been so proud of a performance in a movie.
That’s an understatement. When Leo was beating you on your chest to bring you back to consciousness were you thinking, “Okay, anything for the scene?”
Yeah…I was down for anything. I left everything on the floor.
During an interview Scorsese really made it a point to say that the only difference between a street gangster like Goodfellas’ Henry Hill and a Wall Street crook like Jordan Belfort is that Jordan’s criminal behavior looked a lot more respectable because he thrived within the corruption of the financial world. Do you share that view?
I look at Henry Hill and the characters in Goodfellas and I see people that were at least up front about what they were doing. They were putting a gun in someone’s face and stealing a truck. I think what’s less respectful is what Donnie and Jordan did, which is selling people a dream and selling them something that’s not real that you know is going to hurt them. They’re both not right, but one is even more gross.
Even though The Wolf of Wall Street is being billed as a comedy, there is some cringe-worthy shit going on, right?
Right. But Martin Scorsese also called Goodfellas as comedy [laughs]. And it is…it’s the funniest movie ever made. I truly believe that. There’s ugly stuff happening, but it is funny because it’s so outlandish and casual. People are doing these horrible things so casually and that’s what’s funny about Wolf of Wall Street. If you were to call this a comedy I would definitely say it’s the darkest comedy of all time. The things you are laughing it are despicable.
I mean you guys are playing a game of midget tossing, which actually happened in real life, right?
Yeah. That really happened. It’s actually from Jordan’s book.
Do you think after all the financial scandals and our last global economic meltdown that Wall Street has learned anything?
I don’t know. The Wall Street guys we shadowed and met with they let us in their lives and on the surface seemed like respectable people. For me, it’s about my love for making movies. That’s what I wanted to dedicate my life to. And if you make money as a bi-product of that then that’s incredible and you are lucky. If I wasn’t making money off of this I would still be passionate about it. But Wall Street inherently is you are doing this job to become excessively wealthy. And anytime you are doing something just to become excessively wealthy I think things get corrupted a little bit. You want to win at all cost. That’s a quality that we all share and hopefully can limit. But Donnie is 100 percent that quality [laughs].