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Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as comedic cops in '22 Jump Street'

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
Columbia Pictures

The comedy film “22 Jump Street” is the sequel to the 2012 hit movie “21 Jump Street,” which was inspired by the drama TV series of the same name about cops who go undercover in schools to catch criminals. Returning for the second “Jump Street” movie are several stars from the first “Jump Street” movie, including Channing Tatum (as undercover cop Greg Jenko), Jonah Hill (as undercover cop Morton Schmidt) and Ice Cube (as Capt. Dickson, the leader of the “Jump Street” program), as well as directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord. For “22 Jump Street,” Tatum and Hill took on the added responsibilities of becoming two of the producers of the movie.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum at the New York City press junket for "22 Jump Street"
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum at the New York City press junket for "22 Jump Street"
Carla Hay

In “22 Jump Street,” Jenko and Schmidt have left their undercover work in high school to go undercover in a local college in their quest to nab drug dealers. While posing as students, Jenko and Schmidt’s unlikely partnership is tested when Jenko starts to develops a bromance with an athletic frat boy named Zook (played by Wyatt Russell) who might be a suspect in the drug ring, while Schmidt (feeling jealous of Zook) begins dating artsy student Maya Dickson (played by Amber Stevens), who happens to be Capt. Dickson’s daughter. Here is what Tatum and Hill said when they did a roundtable interview with me and other journalists at the “22 Jump Street” press junket in New York City.

There’s a funny line in “22 Jump Street” that says that sequels are twice the budget of the original movie. Did “22 Jump Street” have that sequel cliché of being twice the budget of the original movie?

Tatum: I don’t think it was exactly twice the budget, but it was definitely was created in the budget the first time around, which is always really fun. When the movie [“21 Jump Street”] did really well in the first go around, the studio comes around and says, “So, can we have a script in a month?” They’re looking to do a sequel immediately. And we’re like, “OK, well, let’s figure out how to make it a good one.”

And then, we come to them and it’s the first joke we pitch to them. The first one we clowned on ourselves because we thought it was lame to make a TV show into a movie. And then, for the second movie, we were like, “Look, we want to clown ourselves again for doing a sequel, because sequels are always more expensive and sh*ttier than the first movie, by our own admission.” So that’s always a fun pitch to the studio. They’re like, “So, it’s more expensive and sh*ttier?”

Channing, why are you waiting to see “22 Jump Street” at the Los Angeles premiere?

Tatum: I want to see it with my wife. He [Jonah Hill] actually wouldn’t let me see [“21 Jump Street”] until [the movie’s premiere] at South By Southwest. I had never seen myself in a comedy.

Hill: And the audience there is so wild. It’s such a film-going audience in Austin, I wanted him to see it with a really rambunctious group of audience members. It was also the best screening I had ever been to in my life. And also, we moved the [“22 Jump Street”] premiere from Mann’s Chinese to Westwood because the Mann’s Chinese is horrible for comedy, because you can’t hear the laughs in the theater.

Westwood is where I went, growing up, to see movies. It’s a smaller, more intimate theater, so you can hear the laughter really well. I want everyone involved to understand that people are enjoying the movie. The Mann’s Chinese is so big.

You’ve changed people’s perceptions of you as actors in the past few years. Jonah started off doing comedies and has proven he can get Oscar nominations for dramas like “Moneyball” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Channing started off doing dramas and has proven he can star in hit comedies like the “Jump Street” movies. Can you talk about taking these risks in your careers? Did you have to re-learn any skills when you jump from one genre to another?

Hill: I can’t speak for Chan, but I know from being his friend, all the people I’ve come to love and respect from creative work strive to better themselves, strive to challenge themselves. They’re all complex people. I’m not funny all the time. I’m not serious all the time. You have different facets to your personality. And to express that through your work, at least, is important to me, so I try really hard not to stay in one mold and try and be able to be the kind of actor who can express myself in different kinds of films.

Tatum: It’s not really about re-learning. I had to learn how to sort of let go on [“21 Jump Street”], and leave it up to the gods or [directors] Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord]. I had no ego going into it. I generally don’t on any movie, because the best idea in the room wins. You’ve really just got to step up to the plate and swing as hard as you can, and try to keep growing, and try to keep taking parts that challenge you, and do movies that aren’t some derivative version of another movie that you’ve done.

Like Jonah, said, you do want to push yourself. If you keep doing that, you will keep getting better, you will keep doing better work. When I was asked to do [“21 Jump Street”], I said, “Look, I don’t know how to be funny. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t see myself as that.”

And [Jonah Hill] was like, “Look, I just want you to be a good actor and don’t try to be funny. Let me worry about knowing what’s going to be funny in the scene.” And I really did. I left it up to him. Chris and Phil were great, and we kind of started trudging down the field and make a good movie.

What was your favorite scene to film in “22 Jump Street”?

Tatum: [He points to a picture of him driving the car shaped like a football helmet.] Anytime anyone lets me drive something like that …

Hill: The terror based on his driving is not acting.

Tatum: I promised him I would flip the thing before it was all over.

Hill: I loved shooting in Puerto Rico. The spring break stuff was all in Puerto Rico. [He cites a line in the movie] “Puerto Mexico.” I trust you guys to make up a place that doesn’t exist.

Tatum: It’s truly funny to them. They think it’s the funniest thing in the world. I can see someone else making that joke and it not working in the movie. And for some reason, they just make it work.

Who came up with the joke that Jenko confuses the words “carte blanche” with Cate Blanchett?

Hill: That might have been a Rodney Rothman joke. He’s a great writer and friend of ours. He’s one of the writers of the film. He’s been a friend of mine for years and years. And he’s been a friend of Phil and Chris for years and years.

When we were writing, we were like, “Let’s just have Rodney write with us. We can soak up his genius.” Yeah, that joke is funny. That’s my favorite joke in the movie.

Tatum: We actually tried to get Cate Blanchett in the movie, I think.

Hill: For some reason, she didn’t want to be in the movie. It turns out we didn’t have carte blanche to get Cate Blanchett.

Channing, what you can you say about being a dad? [Tatum’s first child, a daughter named Everly, was born in 2013.]

Tatum: Not that it wasn’t interesting and amazing before, but it’s getting really fun now, because she’s starting to recognize you. For the first seven months, the man is just a glorified assistant. It’s like a one-way street of love, and all she wants is the booby machine. And anytime the milk jugs come in, you do not exist.

Now, it’s getting to the point where I’m loving every second of it. It changes you. It changes every decision that you make. Everything that seems important just isn’t anymore. I’m glad I worked really hard before she came into this world, because now I’m going to chill out.

Are you scared for Everly to go to college and get up to the kind of shenanigans that you and Jonah portray in “22 Jump Street”?

Tatum: Not really. Things might change, but I’m going to have to explain to her that I was a stripper at some point in my life, so college is not what I’m worried about.

How much of “22 Jump Street” was improvised?

Tatum: These guys [“22 Jump Street” screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman] are great writers, so it’s not like we had we had to walk in and start improvving. They’re just really, really witty. It’s not just jokes. There’s actually some good character and relationship stuff between Jonah and me and the other characters. They write, we do what’s on the page, and then we do it a bunch of times until we’ve got it. The teacher blows the whistle, and it’s like recess time, and everyone kind of goes crazy.

For “22 Jump Street,” you both took on the roles of producers, which you didn’t do in “21 Jump Street.” What was it like to add those responsibilities to starring in the movie?

Tatum: Jonah was a very early creator on this [franchise]. He was a producer before, and he was nice enough to let me into this world.

Hill: I would never produce a movie unless there was a reason to or I felt some connection to it. This [“21 Jump Street”] was something I had started working on when I was 23, and I’m 30 now. It’s great to be part of something and get to be part of the fabric as an actor for “Foxcatcher” or “Moneyball” or whatever, but you’re really working for that person. You’re really servicing their vision.

And with Phil and Chris, who I think are visionaries as well, you’re doing the same, but with [producing], you’re not just playing your part, you’re also working on the movie being good as a whole. That’s what’s interesting about producing.

When I’m doing “The Wolf of Wall Street,” I’m only focusing on doing that scene at that moment. I don’t have to think about anything else, because [director] Martin Scorsese is thinking about everything. And he’s the best.

But with [producing], it’s cool to think about things, like when we were writing the script, where Channing’s character is coming from. Where is he now, three years later? That’s cool. You get to expand your presence in a movie.

When did you know you wanted to produce movies? Who supported you early on in these decisions? Did you have parents who encouraged you to do whatever you wanted?

Hill: Yes.

Tatum: I still don’t know if I can do it. You just go to work every day. I’ve worked just as hard on other movies that don’t work out. And it’s hard to say.

You just do the things that inspire you and that gets you up in the morning. And hopefully, more works out than doesn’t. I wish I could say that there was something my mom said to me, but there wasn’t. You’ve just got to have to want to — just get up and go at it every day.

When you were making “21 Jump Street,” you must have been thinking about ideas for the sequel. Did any of those ideas make it into the film?

Tatum: I don’t know how you do this comedy stuff. The way you do it sometimes is different. You’ll just take a run at a line in a bunch of different ways. And sometimes, those take a minute, and you’re like, “All right, let’s see if we can make sure we can have this line.” And it’s not generally what you do in drama or whatever. So that was weird.

You don’t have this overwhelming feeling that it’s working — ever. You go, “OK, I think people are laughing at times.” But you’re not sure if it’s going to come together, just because it was a form I didn’t understand that well. I think it felt right to go to college after high school, and it could be crazier than after high school. I don’t know, if we get to make another sequel, I don’t really know what the natural progression of where it would go.

Hill: The [sequels sequence at the end of “22 Jump Street”] is making fun of maybe stretching really hard to figure it out. College felt as funny, if not funnier, to explore as these characters go undercover. You kind of feel like anything else, you kind of roll your eyes and go, “Oh, what are these guys doing?”

Can you talk about your off-screen friendship?

Tatum: I love Jonah. I love my little baby Jonah. He’s my sweetie. He’s taken care of me in a lot of ways. We were really quick friends. He reminds me a lot of the guys I grew up with. We’ll be kicking it for a long time — with or without movies.

Hill: Our friendship is what you feel that on screen. I don’t think you can artificially create that in two movies in the way that you see it in the movie. And that comes with real friendship in the way you butt heads, as well as the way you are besties and have the greatest time ever. That’s why it’s a real friendship. It’s not like, “High five! Hey, buddy, I’ll see you in the next town.” It is a very real, honest friendship. I’m proud to be a part of it.

Channing, what can you say about “Magic Mike” sequel and the Broadway musical based on “Magic Mike”?

Tatum: We’re just keeping on working on it. It’s one of those things where sequels are not easy to do. To do it right takes time.

For more info: "22 Jump Street" website