Jonah Hill says he showed only one movie to his cast to prepare them for 'Mid90s,' his directorial debut

Tobin Yelland/A24‘Mid90s.’
  • Jonah Hill had his “Mid90s” cast of kid actors and non-professionals watch the 2006 indie movie, “This Is England,” before they started production.
  • Hill wanted to show them that even kids can give gripping performances.
  • “This Is England” looks at a teen finding acceptance from a group of skinheads.
  • Hill was also inspired by another English movie, “Fish Tank.”

One of the main highlights from Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “Mid90s” (in select theatres Friday), is the authentic performances he gets out of his cast. Hill uses a mix of kid actors and non-professionals to depict a group of teen skateboarders who befriend a 13-year-old and introduce him into their world of sick skate moves and even sicker jokes they throw at one another.

And though Hill will admit the cast watched mostly skate videos to get in tune with the decade the story is set in, there was one movie he required all of them to watch.

No, it wasn’t Larry Clark’s gritty X-rated classic, “Kids,” which many have compared “Mid90s” to. It’s a movie you probably have never seen, but should seek out: “This Is England.”

Released in 2006 (and not finding much attention outside of the UK), director Shane Meadows’ look at a young boy who becomes friends with a group of skinheads is highlighted by the incredible performance by its lead, Thomas Turgoose.

Turgoose plays Shaun, a 12-year-old outcast who finds acceptance from the group who noticed that he gets constantly picked on at school (but throws a pretty mean punch). We then follow Shaun as he falls deeper in the group, including shaving his head and gaining a close connection with an older skinhead who has just got out of prison, Combo (Stephen Graham).

Though “Mid90s” is a very different story than “This Is England,” Hill was taken by how real all the characters felt.

“Shane Meadows made such a beautiful film and also showing how young kids can give such raw performances,” Hill told Business Insider. “I wanted the kids to see that acting can be like this. That’s the acting I like. That’s the naturalism that I like. So I didn’t show them a lot of movies. The whole thing was to make a reverse skate video. In skate videos growing up it would be all skateboarding and three seconds of these kids causing chaos and really connecting and just hanging out. When I was a kid that’s what I wanted. So this is the reverse. Kids connecting and three seconds of skateboarding. To invert that was really my goal.”

Hill said he was also personally inspired by the 2009 movie, “Fish Tank.”

But the process for Hill to get the performances he wanted didn’t end with them watching ‘This Is England.” Hill said he helped the kids get in their characters through hours of talks with them.

“You have to develop a true trust and connection with kids if you are going to work with them,” Hill said. “Because you’re asking them to be vulnerable and you’re asking them to do things that people don’t want to do, let alone someone who is going through an awkward time in their life. So for me, I was like, ‘I will not let you down.’ I would just have long conversations with each kid about what’s happening underneath and what they’re carrying with them no matter what they are saying. That’s hours and hours and hours of conversations about feelings, about life experiences, about goals. Just talking about who these people are eventually absorbs into you. That’s how I act. That is just hours and hours and hours of thinking and talking.”

The result has led to “Mid90s” finding high acclaim from critics, as the movie is sporting an 88% rating currently on Rotten Tomatoes. And Hill’s cast now has a new life ambition.

“Now they are obsessed with film,” he said. “They want to act.”

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