Playing Flawed Characters

jonah hill as efraim diveroli and miles teller as david packouz in the drama/comedy war dogs
Oscar nominee Jonah Hill plays an arms dealer and Miles Teller is his business partner in War Dogs.

Jonah Hill: Fortunately, I’ve played a good amount of characters now with some pretty deep flaws [laughs]. I would say it wasn’t that fun a lot of the time to play, although it might seem like it. I remember we were in Romania and I was just really bummed out and I told Todd, “I’m just sad playing this guy.” And he was like, “But he’s such a great character” [laughs]. I guess it’s hard to play someone who is hurting a lot of people and deceiving people who trust them, not to bring some of that home with you. I definitely felt that when I was doing it, but, for me, it's just a great character and a great challenge.

Miles Teller: With David, when the movie starts, he’s completely unaware of what this business model is. The audience is beginning to understand the infrastructure of what these guys are gonna do. David starts out kind of aimless and directionless, and that’s not all that long ago [for me]. I was just really interested in the dynamic between [the two], and what that friendship was.

The Shoot Around The World

Filming in Jordan, with Mansour Badri as Jordinian fixer, Mosa Omari as Jordinian boy, Mohammed Omari as Jordinian fixer, Miles Teller as David and Jonah Hill as Efraim.
Filming in Jordan, with Mansour Badri as Jordinian fixer, Mosa Omari as Jordinian boy, Mohammed Omari as Jordinian fixer, Miles Teller and Jonah Hill.

Todd Phillips: We shoot as much as possible in real locations, in real countries and cities. I always think what it brings is a sense of chaos because you’re landing in Morocco and you’re shooting the next day, and half the crew’s jet-lagged and there’s a real chaotic sensibility to that which always finds itself into the movie. I think that’s really invaluable and hard to [create] on a soundstage in L.A. We were in Jordan, we were in Morocco, we were in Romania, Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, so that bouncing around creates this chaos. For me, the best place was Morocco, we shot in Casablanca and Rabat. I just love going to these countries and filming on the ground.

Jonah Hill: I think [Miles and I] really started to bond when we started making the movie because we started in Romania and it was really like just the three of us and it’s not really an English speaking country, so you really do get to kind of know each other really quickly.

Miles Teller: Usually with a movie you get a week or two weeks to rehearse and get to know the other person, but I was wrapped up [in another movie]. So, yeah, you do bond when you’re waking up at 2 a.m. in a different country and you don’t know anybody.

The Laugh

jonah hill as efraim diveroli lets out the outrageous laugh he created in the drama/comedy war dogs
Jonah Hill gives co-star Miles Teller an earful of the outrageous laugh he created in the drama/comedy War Dogs.

Jonah Hill: The great fun of being in this movie—aside from working with everyone involved—is that my character is so outlandish, colorful, deceitful and manipulative, but everyone described him as very charming. I worked with Todd and our costume designer Michael Kaplan in building this character, from the hair and the tan to all the gold jewelry. But there was one thing missing as we got close [to filming]. So I thought of people that you’ve only met once or twice but you kind of remember for the rest of your life and I was thinking why that is, and a lot of times it’s because they had a really distinct laugh. I wanted to not only create a distinct laugh but one that this person would have. I showed it to Todd and he blessed it and we just did it.

Todd Phillips: I always think it’s interesting how certain actors find their character through the wardrobe or the hair or the way a character walks. Jonah came to me a couple of days before shooting and said, “I think I figured out this guy’s laugh,” and he did the laugh for me and I thought it was dead-on. We’re making a movie about two real people, but nobody really knows who they are. We’re not making Lincoln where everybody knows what he looks like, so we took a lot of liberties with these characters.

Lessons Learned

Bradley Cooper, pictured on the War Dogs set with director Todd Phillips, appears in the film but also co-produced War Dogs with Phillips and Mark Gordon.
Bradley Cooper, pictured on the War Dogs set with director Todd Phillips, appears in the film but also co-produced it with Phillips and Mark Gordon.  

Jonah Hill: I mostly watch documentaries [because] I think that things that happen in real life are endlessly fascinating to me. With Moneyball or Wolf of Wall Street or [War Dogs], they all feature people finding an angle or a loophole or some unseen avenue to get into something or make something important. In Moneyball, it’s a positive thing. In Wolf of Wall Street, it’s a very negative thing. In this movie, it’s kind of a very ambiguous thing. If the government says it’s legal, is it okay to do? And that’s for everyone individually to decide. That’s what I really found interesting about it.

Guy Lawson: It’s a strange experience watching your work emerge on the screen. I was surprised and pleased by how much journalism is in the movie. How much Todd and the team bring to it. I wanted it to be a documentary because I’m a journalist, but there’s a lot of important issues being brought to the world about America’s role in proliferating weapons, about the lack of responsibility among those in authority in this country. It’s ridiculous, there’s never any consequences, there’s never any lessons learned. There’s no movie like this out there right now, so I think for journalism this is a bright moment. It’s not a documentary, but it takes on serious issues in a serious way.

War Dogs storms into theaters this Friday. Advance tickets are on sale now!

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