When Jonah Hill started re-envisioning 21 Jump Street as an action comedy film, one of the questions that confronted him was whether or not the younger generation — logically a good chunk of the project’s prospective audience — would even remember the series. “I’ll meet teenagers and I’ll ask them if they know the series — they don’t,” he says. “So I tell them it’s about young-looking cops who go undercover in a high school, and they say, ‘That sounds awesome.’ It’s such a great premise for an action comedy.”
For Hill, the film was inspired by one of those thoughts that nearly everyone has in their 20s or 30s. “It started with asking myself what would it be like to relive the most important time period of your youth … high school,” he explains. “You think you have all the answers that you didn’t have then, but then you get back there and realize those answers are all wrong. You then immediately revert back to the insecurities and problems you had when you were 17.”
Schmidt, the character Hill plays in the film, undergoes a particularly hilarious transformation as a result of his assignment. “It’s one of the more interesting characters I’ve played,” Hill says. “He just wants to be a good cop, but he has insecurities that date all the way back to high school. When he gets sent back to high school, undercover, he gets drunk with power, forgets about police work, forgets about his friendship with Jenko. He likes living this fake high-school life — better than the life he has as a guy in his mid-20s.”
Hill developed the story with Michael Bacall, who wrote the screenplay for 21 Jump Street. In Bacall’s estimation, it’s a story about the way life hands you something you didn’t expect when you think you understand your situation. “At first, nothing goes as planned for the characters,” Bacall says. “These guys treat it like wish fulfillment — ‘Oh, if I only knew then what I know now.’ But all of the information that they have no longer applies. Jenko — who was always the cool kid back then — falls in with the nerds, and Schmidt, the nerdier of the two, falls in with the cool crowd. It’s a total role reversal.”
21 Jump Street is available starting June 26 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
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