King of the Hill
Actor Jonah Hill steals the show as a flamboyant arms dealer in War Dogs
In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine published an article about two Miami guys in their early 20s who took advantage of a loophole in the laws to bid for Pentagon defence contracts.
Its author Guy Lawson followed up with a book entitled Arms And The Dudes about the pair, Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, who started supplying arms to US troops in Afghanistan and soon got in over their heads.
It wasn't long before the rights were optioned by Hollywood, and the new film War Dogs - which opens here tomorrow - is the result.
Jonah Hill, who makes an art of stealing scenes in whichever movie he's in, plays the flamboyant Diveroli, and his buddy is fellow US actor Miles Teller.
War Dogs is directed by Todd Phillips who did The Hangover trilogy, and is produced by US actor Bradley Cooper, who also has a small part in the movie.
At the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, Hill, 32, is his usual self-effacing but charming self, the flashes of humour never hidden for long.
He says he'd read the Rolling Stone article when it came out, telling M: "I was probably in my mid-20s when it came out. If you read a story that could be a movie and it's the person your age, as an actor you're like, wow! I tried to option the article but Todd had already beat me to the punch."
But when Phillips offered him the role of Diveroli, Hill initially said no. Then he changed his mind. "I thought I would have been jealous watching someone else play Efraim, so I was like, 'I should do this movie', and I'm glad I did."
He rejected the part in the beginning because 2013's The Wolf Of Wall Street had just come out and he thought both his characters were too similar, in similar stories of greed.
But the lure of playing this larger-than-life character won out. (The real Diveroli did not want to be involved in War Dogs, so Hill didn't get a chance to meet him.)
"From everyone I met who knew this character, he was very manipulative and deceptive, but by all accounts, incredibly charismatic and charming, and that's why I wanted to play him. I think the challenge comes from making you like someone who is doing terrible things."
What shocked Hill the most about the story was the system that legally allowed these kinds of trade deals to happen, and he has "no idea" if any changes have been made in the laws.
"All my contacts at the Pentagon haven't called me back in a few years," he says with a laugh. "The movie is very entertaining but there are some cool illuminations about the laws and what goes on in the business of war. It would be cool if people paid attention to that element."
The two-time Oscar nominee's next step on Hollywood is writing and helming his directorial debut Mid '90s, a coming-of-age dramedy set in the mid-1990s against the skateboarding scene in Los Angeles.
He says: "I started off wanting to be a writer and director and then, you know, acting came as a result of taking acting classes to learn how to talk to actors."
He confesses to being nervous about his latest project: "Oh, I'm definitely scared. I would be crazy not to be scared to do something I've never done before. It's also crazy and scary to release a movie like this in the summer that's based on a true story and it's not a superhero film or a sequel."
He seems such an even tempered-guy in real life that we wonder what drives him nuts. The answer is typical.
"Oh, you know when you're flying to a different country and then you land and then you have to fill out that form at the end? That feels like homework to me. I just feel like all of a sudden I have this homework assignment," he says with a laugh.
He was very manipulative and deceptive, but by all accounts, incredibly charismatic and charming, and that's why I wanted to play him. I think the challenge comes from making you like someone who is doing terrible things.
- Jonah Hill on playing arms d ealer Efraim Diveroli in War Dogs
Living the American Dream
In the new war comedy War Dogs, Miles Teller plays pothead massage therapist David Packouz who teams with up his buddy Efraim Diveroli to exploit a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid for US military contracts.
Making an unexpected fortune and living large, they get in over their heads with a US$300 million (S$410 million) contract to arm the Afghan military.
Diveroli ended up serving four years in prison.
Teller, 29, appears for our interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills sporting a new blonde hairdo for Granite Mountain, the film he's now shooting.
"It's really not for me," he says with a laugh, when asked how he likes his lighter look. "The response is mixed."
Though he's been labelled a "d***" from an unfortunate profile in Esquire magazine last year, his swagger has more to do with confidence in his undeniable talent.
Did you get to meet the real David Packouz?
I didn't meet David until we were already filming, and really, it was just more making him feel at ease about the whole thing. If that was me, I would be pretty nervous about someone making a film about my life. So we talked about music. He is a guitar player, he invented this thing for guitar amplification, it's like a beat pedal. So we kind of just talked and hung out and that was the research for the movie.
He has a cameo in the film right?
Yeah, he's the guy playing the guitar in the retirement home. He's playing (Don't Fear) The Reaper (by 70s US rock band Blue Oyster Cult) for a bunch of elderly people, which is Todd's (Phillips) sick sense of humour.
Tell us something interesting about the War Dogs shoot.
Everything happened pretty quickly. I was at the Oscars for (the 2014 film) Whiplash and the next morning on a plane to Romania, and then the next day we were filming. So that will always stick with me. You start a movie just jet-lagged and everyone is waking up at two in the morning, and there is a language barrier and you are not entirely comfortable and you start shooting. And we were shooting AK-47 rounds. Morocco, Romania, Miami, Las Vegas, El Centro, Los Angeles... it was like every 10 days, two weeks, we were in a different city and a different part of the world. I probably did more travelling in this film than I have ever done in my personal life.
Your career has really taken off. Do you feel you're living the American Dream?
Yeah, I feel very fortunate. In the beginning, you are just trying to get cast in a movie and you are really just trying to do anything. I went to NYU (New York University), a really good acting programme, and 99 per cent of the people I went to school with either are still trying or they are not really having much success. I am lucky for certain directors to take a chance on me or think that I can do something they haven't seen before. So yes, that American Dream is in there.
How has your life changed?
My life is pretty much the same. If you can take care of your family, that's wonderful, and that is something that I have been able to do. I just bought a house, I am a home owner. It's in Studio City (Los Angeles), and now I know why my dad was outside all the time, because I am looking at gutters and cleaning them.