Fox's Sunday night Animation Domination lineup is about to get some new blood with Allen Gregory, which airs its pilot episode on Sunday, October 30 at 8:30 PM ET. Series star, co-creator, and executive producer Jonah Hill recently held a conference call to discuss the new animated series as they prepare to launch Season 1. Here's what he had to say below.
So just taking into account the nation's current economic problems, what kind of challenges can we see Allen going through now that he has to make this big adjustment of entering public school for the first time?
Jonah Hill: I don't think it correlates to the current economic crisis at all. It's a really funny cartoon show.
Okay, not taking that into account at all then, what can we see him go through? What's his act going to be?
Jonah Hill: He's a fish out of water. He's going to public school for the first time with normal kids. He's a really pretentious outsider and he's just trying to fit in.
Can you talk a little bit about what inspired the Allen Gregory character. And then it also sounds like from having watched the pilot, it sounds like there's going to be a little bit of financial difficulty in the family. How is that going to play itself out?
Jonah Hill: Well, Allen Gregory came about because we're doing animation and (co-creator) Andy (Mogel) and I were saying it would be cool to play a seven year old because I couldn't play that in real life. Yes, his parents are going through financial troubles because they spent all their money. They were like heiresses and they spent all their money. So you deal with them having to get jobs and having to earn a living for the first time, a bunch of spoiled rich people figuring out how to make their way in the world for the first time.
I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about the prospect of, as opposed to a movie where you get to play a character for a finite amount of time, during a TV show, you could play him indefinitely. Can you talk about how that prospect is for you?
Jonah Hill: It's exciting. With a film, it's over with and that character is done with. And with a show, it's cool to see them grow and change and what happens to them over time.
It's still early on, but how do you see Allen possibly changing?
Jonah Hill: I don't know. I don't think I'm able to say that yet. We have to see what the stories are and where we feel things naturally go. We don't have an idea of that yet until we explore where we want to go.
It seems like virtually anything can happen in the world around Gregory, especially having a crush on the principal and it's hilarious. Do you have any rules about the universe of the show, or is there anywhere that you absolutely don't want to touch or is any taboo?
Jonah Hill: Well, taboo wise, no. We don't shy away from anything on the show, but as far as a reality level, even though it's animated, we don't describe it a little bit like a spaceship could land there. Like it's all reality based. Like if it couldn't happen in real life, then it wouldn't. That being said, I've never heard of a seven year old boy having a relationship with a 70 something year old disgusting woman. Different strokes for different folks.
I'm just wondering about your transition behind the camera as creator and executive producer. I know that you're also executive producer of 21 Jump Street. Can you talk a little bit about what you get from that experience and is that a place that you feel in some ways more comfortable than in front of the camera?
Jonah Hill: The only time I've been a producer on something that I wasn't in was the movie Bruno. But Allen Gregory and 21 Jump Street I'm the star and the producer of those, so they kind of fuel each other.
Jonah Hill: Because you know you're working on something that you're actually going to act in as well, so you have to be cognizant of that and when do put on your actor hat and when to put on your producer or writer hat.
Does that give you more confidence in the direction of the series and where it's going?
Jonah Hill: I have control over it, you know, not that I want complete control, but our opinion as the creators of the show we get to decide where we want to take it.
How did you relate to Allen as a mature first grader?
Jonah Hill: I don't relate to him at all. I couldn't be more different than him as a person.
What do you enjoy most about voice work as opposed to live action?
Jonah Hill: I just like animation, I just like how it's a different art form. I just try to do different things and worrying about different styles. I like that challenge.
What are some of your favorite cartoons growing up and what are some of your favorites currently?
Given the chance, who would you want to guest star on the show, because you've worked with a lot of cool people like Brad Pitt. If you could have anybody, who would you want on the show?
Are there qualities about Allen Gregory that viewers will be able to warm up to, something that's likable about him or is he all condescending and just difficult?
Jonah Hill: I think the thing that they'll love about him is he has all this false bravado and condescension and arrogance and everything that's all covering up the fact that he's just insecure and wants to be accepted by these people. I think that's my favorite kind of character to watch is someone who acts like they don't care about anything, but really cares more than anybody else.
In terms of creative vision for the show and in particularly given the fact that Sundays on Fox for so many years have belonged to The Simpsons, as well as Family Guy, obviously the shows are compatible with those tend to have the best chance of succeeding. So when you approached this creatively, was there any attention, efforts subconscious or active, too, to make sure that there was some crossover appeal? And then whether you did that or not, do you think that the human tone will click with those who like The Simpsons or Family Guy?
Jonah Hill: I think we paid absolutely no attention to that. We want to do our own thing and being unique and different than those was really important as opposed to trying to fit in with them. That being said, I think people will connect to it, if you like The Simpsons and Family Guy, you would like our show because it's irreverent and different and is original as those two shows were and are. I don't think you'd want more of the same. I think you want something different, but that's why those shows are so successful, because when they came out, they were so different.
I was just wondering how much of the show you actually get to improv, because you're known to be a great improv comedian and how much is just purely scripted?
Jonah Hill: We improvise a lot, but I also wrote it, so writing it is just improvising that you write down.
Were you just literally in the studio, you're like putting down the lines?
Jonah Hill: Yes, we improvised. That's what fun. You like to keep it fresh.
I was just wondering about the look of the character. Where did you get this idea behind how Allen looks?
Jonah Hill: Well, we wanted the whole show to feel like it was ripped from like the New Yorker and we showed the animators like Capote and Wes Anderson movies to have that feel with the animation. And Allen Gregory, we just wanted it juxtaposed with his awful attitude to have it be juxtaposed by the more adorable looking kid aesthetically
What do you think it is about the show that it's going to resonate with viewers?
Jonah Hill: It's funny. It's different. There's not really much more to it. It's really funny and really strange and unique and cool and unlike anything else on TV and I'm proud of that.
I just want to know how did you find Joy Osmanski? Why did you choose her to be on your show and how is she doing and what does she add to your show?
Jonah Hill: She is great. She came in and that character, Julie, my sister, was the most underwritten character. We didn't know what she really was going to be and Joy came in and just killed it and we hired her immediately because she just created this character and really helped us to define who she was going to be.
How do you describe how the character? How she helped and what is the character going to be?
Jonah Hill: I would say it's sort of like she's someone who is often overlooked and treated poorly. We kind of picked up a little on Jennifer Grey's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the jilted, older sister who received a lot of attention.
I think I heard you say before that the idea of the show was one of the fact that you and the other creators were going to work on a movie together and then that didn't happen and so you guys live in the same apartment building maybe.
Jonah Hill: Yes, Drew and I used to live in the same apartment building.
So is it fair to say that the show is borne out of guilt or and what happened to that movie?
Jonah Hill: It was a mix of guilt and respect and admiration. No, we just wanted to write something together.
How far along has that movie gotten and might we see that later in the future?
Jonah Hill: If the show is a big success, maybe we'll make it.
Allen's situation is unique. Will the audience get his back story?
Jonah Hill: What's great about Gregory is we tried to make it really questionable whether the things he's said he's done have actually happened or not. We like that ambiguity.
You seem so very involved in the show down to how Allen is dressed, your writing, your executive producing. Can you talk about your day-to-day involvement on the show and maybe some of things that might surprise people that you had control over?
Jonah Hill: Everything from how a lamp looks to what color someone's tie should be up to the jokes and Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel and myself and David Goodman who ran Family Guy for a long time, we write the episode and we have a staff and we oversee the animation, the animation company, Bento Box. And it's such a wonderful process and when I'm off shooting a movie, I'll write and read scripts at night and give notes and watch cuts and give notes and rewrite and do all that stuff from set.
I just wanted to ask this is your first time really being on the other side of animation comedy as well and being so involved in the creative process, what were the challenges that you may have come across or were there any things that you really didn't take into account prior this and then realized that there were a lot of things you had to overcome or anything?
Jonah Hill: Challenges are making a creative product within a big corporation that has so much money and time involved in this and fighting to keep your show exactly how you pictured it and so long as that creates a lot of arguments and fighting, but the truth is our partners at FOX have been so great and it's scary for them to push the envelope like it would be for anyone that's investing money in something. But for me it was it's going to be like this or we're just not going to do it. I'd rather not do it than have it suck.