The new Fox animated series Allen Gregory tells the story of a pretentious 7-year-old who seems himself as an intelligent, sophisticated, worldly, artistic and romantic young man. Although Allen Gregory has allegedly composed operas, written novels and dated Chloë Sevigny, his journey now sees him having to leave the safety of his father’s home-schooling to attend elementary school with children his own age.
Created by actor Jonah Hill (who voices Allen Gregory De Longpre), along with Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, who also all serve as executive producers, the series illustrates how every outsider is just looking to fit in. During a recent interview to promote the October 30th premiere of the show, Hill talked about how they developed the idea for a delusional and pretentious character in the body of an adorable 7-year-old kid, determining the look of the animation, the ambiguity of all of Allen Gregory’s worldly experiences, how the show is for viewers of all ages, and how airing after The Simpsons is a childhood dream-come-true for him. He also talked about his development deal at Fox, returning to voice a role for How to Train Your Dragon 2, and the experience of making 21 Jump Street, which he says will be an amazing movie. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JONAH HILL: Well, Jarrad [Paul], Andy [Mogel], and I created the show together. They had written a movie that I was going to be a part of, and then I bailed on it. Jarrad lived below me, in the same apartment building, so it was very awkward. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know what happened. I’m sure it’s coming together.” I just lost interest, and the movie didn’t end up happening, but we’re friends.
They’re great writers, and I’m a writer as well. I’m a lifelong Simpsons fanatic and such a massive fan of that show, I wanted to create my own animated show, one day. Fox had asked me to be the voice of a pilot, but I figured that, if I was on another one of their shows as a voice actor, they wouldn’t want another show that I created, so I politely said, “No thanks,” and then went over to Jarrad’s apartment, where he and Andy were writing. I said, “The three of us should create an animated show together.” We knew we wanted the character to be delusional and pretentious, and we figured the only way to do that, as a main character, without the audience hating him, was to make him the most adorable 7-year-old ever. That was the ember that sparked the fire.
Was there any classic animation that you used as the building block, foundation or inspiration for this?
HILL: Because our show is going to be on between The Simpsons and Family Guy, it is really important that it be visually differentiated from the other Fox shows and have its own style. We said, “When Allen Gregory is in his loft with his family, it should look like a page out of the New Yorker. Then, when he goes to school, he’s like an alien.” It’s such a fish-out-of-water thing. He’s an alien in this really bland environment, and looks like he should be in the New Yorker.
How did you determine the look of the show and the way the characters would look?
HILL: We should mention Bento Box, which is our animation company that does incredible work. They are really, insanely talented. Everyone there has been so great. The guy who designed our characters did such a great job. Right off the bat, we just told him what we wanted. We were looking for a little bit of a ‘60s vibe, Mad Men style, with the suits. The New Yorker was something that was really interesting to us. Even the characters’ faces, we didn’t want to look like some different, creative style. We thought it would be more different and cool to make them look more like people. Allen Gregory was actually the most difficult. He was the last character we had done because it took so long to get him right. We couldn’t get him adorable enough. We literally would send pictures of all of our nephews and kids, and little babies. We were on Google, looking at cute 7-year-old boys, and feeling very uncomfortable about that. If you had checked my Google history, it would have been off-the-charts weird.
How did Allen Gregory get so smart and cultured?
HILL: Well, you don’t know whether he’s smart, or if he’s just full of it. All of his friends are adults.
If Allen Gregory has written genre-shattering novels, why exactly does he need to go to elementary school?
HILL: We keep it very ambiguous, as to whether his accomplishments are real or not. It’s going to unfold, almost in a Lost-type situation, throughout the next 12 to 25 years, depending on how long we want to do the show. The network signed us to this crazy deal where it’s 25 years guaranteed, and whenever we want to pull out, we just pull out. No. But, it is kind of ambiguous.
Will Allen Gregory triumph more than he fails, or vice versa?
HILL: I’ve learned through experience of playing different characters, some of whom were jerks, that when you play a character who is pretentious or obnoxious, in any way, it’s important to knock them down a peg. Right when you can’t take their rudeness anymore, you have to make sure they are really knocked down a peg emotionally, so you can see the insecurity that causes that kind of behavior.
HILL: No, I don’t think I was like Allen Gregory, at all. When I was growing up, my parents asked me what I wanted to do, and I said that I wanted to live in Springfield. They were like, “Well, that’s not how it works. There is an actor who play Homer, and someone who writes what Homer says.” So, I was like, “Well, I want to write what Homer says.” That was a weird job for a little 7-year-old, to want to be a staff writer in an animated sitcom, instead of a fireman or an astronaut, or something. Honestly, the fact that we are going on after The Simpsons is the most beautiful, monumental, crazy, beyond-childhood fantasy for me, ever.
Do you see this as a family show, or is it more for adults? Will kids dig his vibe?
HILL: I see it for men and women, ages 0 to 100. That’s where I feel our core audience will lie. Anything over 100, and I don’t think they are going to get the humor. It’s going to be a little too edgy for them. And, anything under one day old is not alive and, therefore, not able to watch TV. I don’t know. When do people stop laughing? If you still like comedy, then it’s a comedic, funny show.
As the writer and creator of the show, do you insist that everyone stick to the script?
Are you doing a lot of improvising then?
HILL: We do a lot of improvisation. Our wonderful cast is great, and everyone brings so much to their characters. When you work with a lot of great actors, you want to hear what they have to bring to their character, so we try to let everyone have fun.
What’s the production turn-around on this show? Can you be topical?
HILL: Not really. It takes a year. Five years from now, we are going to have a good Casey Anthony joke that you are going to love.
Will you have any guest voices this season?
HILL: Yeah, Elizabeth Banks and Jeff Goldblum, and we’re working on something for Ed Norton right now. It’s great. I would love John [C. Reilly] and Marisa [Tomei] to come on. That would be great.
Would you ask Brad Pitt to do a voice?
HILL: I don’t know. When I see him in Toronto (for the premiere of Moneyball), I’ll ask him.
As a fan of the show, how many episodes of The Simpsons have you seen?
HILL: I think the last three years or so, because of all the traveling I do for work, I haven’t been as good about it. But growing up, I never missed an episode. I can probably recite every line from every episode, from when it started until I was probably 18.
Do you have thoughts on how the show developed, over time?
HILL: I will never disrespect something that has given me so much, but I think there are years that are literally the best writing of any show, ever. It’s a mind-blowingly incredible, perfect show. I wouldn’t be doing this show, if it wasn’t for The Simpsons.
HILL: I wrote a pilot for them that they bought, and I’m going to get some notes from them soon. I have some really cool stuff, one thing in particular that’s really exciting, that I can’t talk about yet. But, we are putting the majority of our time into Allen Gregory right now.
Are you going to do How to Train Your Dragon 2?
HILL: Yeah, but I haven’t started yet.
What can you say about 21 Jump Street and the experience of making that?
HILL: 21 Jump Street is great. I just made that, and produced it and was a writer on it. It’s starring myself and Channing Tatum, and maybe some surprise guests. You’ll have to watch to find out who. You’re going to have to see the movie because I’m not going to tell you anything, but I will say that it’s a pretty amazing movie.
What prompted you to lose so much weight and how did you do it?
HILL: I just decided that it was time to be healthier, so I went to go see a nutritionist and started running. It’s pretty simple. I run and do a lot of push-ups and eat healthy.