Jonah Hill on downside of ‘overnight’ fame in his early 20s: ‘I was a kid’

Jonah Hill is reflecting on experiencing "overnight" stardom in his early twenties — and how it stunted his personal development.

The 37-year-old actor discussed his early career making raunchy, coming-of-age comedies with GQ Style — and how he's evolved since then, both with his work and as a person.

"It was very overnight for me," Hill said of his fame. His Superbad co-star "Michael Cera and I talk about it all the time. We just had this really rare experience: One day life was one way, and then one day life was a different way," taking a writing job on Brüno with Sacha Baron Cohen and hosting Saturday Night Live at 23.

"I was a kid," he continued. "I had probably too much power for a young person, and too much autonomy, and not enough life skills. I dropped out of college, and I used to not get why people would go to college. Because if you’re ambitious, why would you spend four years just idling? And then I didn’t realize until I turned 30 that what those four years gave all my friends was this wobbling period of how to be a person. I was really advanced professionally but really behind personally. All my 20s, I wasn’t really looking inward. I was just running toward success. Or trying to find success."

Cast members Michael Cera (L) and Jonah Hill pose at the premiere of
Jonah Hill with Michael Cera at the Hollywood premiere of Superbad on August 13, 2007. (Photo: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Despite his professional success, the Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street star decided at 30 that if he didn't "get off this train now," he would never realize his true passion: directing. So he "hit pause" and took "three or four years to reshape things," including writing 2018's Mid90s, which became his directorial debut. He said that experience helped him "evolve as a person."

The feature delves into the evolution of Hill after he "dropped out a little bit" and adopted a "very quiet lifestyle," versus partying with Leonardo DiCaprio on yachts and such. He speaks a lot about therapy — he's making a documentary about his well-known therapist, Phil Stutz — as well as his living a more positive lifestyle than he did in his early days of fame. He works, but also makes time to surf once or twice a day, hang with his dog and nephews.

Hill recently added a "body love" tattoo, which he shared on Instagram — and he spoke about growing up "an insecure, overweight kid." He said Mid90s "is straight-up about self-abuse." He said in his younger days, in comedy, "I would be brutal to myself, or allow brutality to me, because I felt like that was my seat at the table. And what making Mid90s did for me personally was make me understand that I can just be a good person and have value and sit at the table. I don’t need some supernatural thing to offer that is beyond just being a good dude."

Hill admitted he loves work and being creative, noting "work s*** comes easy to me," but, "I want to be happy. I literally want to be happy. That is the mission of my life, that I work hard at." That's why he has two vision boards — one for gratitude and another for positive actions — reminding him to surf, meditate, pray, take time for therapy and the like — on the walls of the Malibu beach house he calls home.

And to generally block negativity from wherever it may seep in.

"I think it’s ultimately about knowing yourself," he said. "I can’t let too much negative s*** in, or I get negative." He added he can't even " binge-watch Succession," despite it being his favorite show, "because it’s letting too much negative s*** into my brain. It seeps in too deep."

That includes social media. Hill, a cigarette smoker, calls Instagram "the cigarettes of this time. It is the biggest killer" and "death." Though he also admits, "I fully participate in it, like I smoke cigarettes. Again, it’s a spectrum of what you find healthy. I have to have really limited interaction with it."

Though, he's just trying to do his best.

"I’m not dissing anybody. I’ll post a selfie on Instagram," he said. "I don’t give a f***. I’m just as hypocritical as everybody else. So the point being is it’s all maybe a work in progress to get towards happiness."

He added,"So I’m all of it, dude. I’m all of it. I’m not perfect. I’m not a monster. I’m all of it, dude. But I’m out here trying.