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Jonah Hill's character in Todd Phillips' War Dogs, Efraim Diveroli, is an incredibly strange human being. In addition to being crazy impulsive, changing emotions at the drop of a hat, he is also a skilled liar who can essentially transform himself into anyone a person wants him to be, so that he can get his way. It certainly must have been a challenge for Hill to wrap his mind around such an odd person, but according to his director the actor discovered an access point through one notable affectation that wound up being key to his performance: Efraim's high-pitched, strangely creepy laugh.
With War Dogs arriving in theaters this Friday, I had the pleasure of recently talking with Todd Phillips about the making of his new film -- and one subject I touched on was Jonah Hill's very odd laugh in the movie. The trait stood out to me in the performance in such a way that I was compelled to ask about its origins, and Phillips explained that it was a character element that Hill brought to the table himself, and really brought Efraim to life. Said the filmmaker,
I remember Jonah came to me one day when we were rehearsing, and he said, 'You know, I came up with this thing. I kind of figured out the way this guy laughs, and I think it would be really interesting.' I said, 'Great, what is it?' And he did that laugh for me, and it just sort of illustrated everything about the character. I said, 'That's it! You've got to do that.' It's just one of those moments when an actor has what seems like a little thing, but actually really informs the character in a big way.
As excited as Todd Phillips was about Jonah Hill's discovery, it also presented him a particular challenge in putting the movie together: specifically, he had to make sure that this key affectation didn't entirely dominate the performance. As a result, a portion of the post-production process for War Dogs was spent charting Hill's use of the laugh and when it felt needed or arbitrary:
That's a really good point too, because believe me, he did it a lot and it was really up to us in the editing room about when to use it and when not. And some might say we use it too much. Some might say we need more of it! But I mean, Jonah feels like it's a perfect balance of the amount of times we used it, but yeah, it is weird to sort of figure that out.
In this writer's opinion, the movie does ultimately strike a perfect balance with it. Jonah Hill certainly does do a lot of laughing, but it's really only used to highlight Efraim's particularly sociopathic moments -- and that's exactly where it's needed.
You'll be able to see Jonah Hill's fantastic performance this weekend, as War Dogs will be in theaters this Friday, August 19th. While you count down the days, be sure to stay tuned for more from my interview with Todd Phillips!