Todd Phillips' War Dogs is the Hollywood dictionary definition of "two-hander" -- everything in the movie essentially driven by the actions of its dual leads. In the movie, this duo is played by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill -- but the film actually almost starred Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf. Why? Because Hill initially turned the project down.
I had the pleasure of digging deep into the development of War Dogs when I spoke with Todd Phillips on the phone earlier this month. Knowing that initial reports had said that Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were originally attached to the film, I asked how the roles changed when the actors did. In his response, the director explained exactly what happened with the casting, and why Jonah Hill was always his top choice to play Efraim Diveroli. Said Phillips,
Just to speak to that first part, [Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf] were attached for a moment, and then we ended up pushing the movie an entire year and both guys became unavailable. And to speak to that further, and they both know this, we wrote the script for Jonah. When I first went to Jonah, before we pushed the movie, Jonah actually turned it down. I then cast it with [Eisenberg and LaBeouf], then we pushed the movie a year for production reasons and that's when they became unavailable.
War Dogs, which was originally going to be titled Arms and the Dudes, has actually been in development for a while now -- with Todd Phillips' production company purchasing the rights to the story back in summer 2011. It was in December 2014 - three and a half years later - that the news came out about Jonah Hill and Miles Teller signing on, with the film going into production a few months later.
It's definitely a good thing that War Dogs wound up being pushed back, as Jonah Hill is easily one of the best things in the movie. In recent years, Hill has demonstrated numerous times just how talented a performer he is -- earning two Oscar nominations from his work in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street - and Todd Phillips' film is yet another brilliant piece of work from the actor. He's magnetic on screen, and brings a very particular madness to the role of Efraim Diveroli that it's hard to imagine coming from anyone else.
You'll be able to see Jonah Hill's work very soon, as War Dogs will be arriving in theaters this Friday. And when you see it, imagine just how different the whole thing would have been with Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf in the lead roles.