An exclusive interview with Jonah Hill about his Adidas collaboration

Jonah directs Yara Shahidi, BLACKPINK, Jackson Wang, Tyshawn Jones, Jenn Soto and more in the new Change Is A Team Sport campaign film.

by Frankie Dunn
29 January 2020, 4:01pm

Jonah Hill is no stranger to the world of fashion. An Instagram account dedicated solely to cataloguing the many looks of the actor, writer and director -- @jonahfits -- has over 20,000 followers. Even more have watched on lovingly as his style, always authentically individualistic, with strong ties to skate culture, has evolved. But it’s Jonah's trainer game that has always garnered the most attention. It made a whole lot of sense, then, when a few weeks ago he announced a collaboration with Adidas.

“Thank you Adidas for trusting me and believing in my ideas and pushing them to become even better,” he said on Instagram. “This is a dream for me to start the journey of creating with a team I respect and love.” And so the speculations began. Did this mean a directorial project? A campaign appearance? Maybe even a design collab?! Well, yes… all of the above actually.

Celebrating 50 years of the iconic Superstar shoe, Adidas Originals called on Jonah to direct the Change Is A Team Sport film. He also stars in and narrates it, appearing alongside some of 2020’s biggest talents -- including BLACKPINK, Yara Shahidi, Nigo, Jenn Soto, Pharrell, Kerwin Frost, Blondey McCoy and i-D coverstar Tyshawn Jones -- wearing the shell-toed sneakers and three-stripe tracksuits. It’s the ultimate crossover episode.

The campaign film, which debuted last weekend at the Grammys, gathers the game-changers in an aesthetically-pleasing academy of awesome (Jonah’s School for Gifted Youngsters?) in celebration of the fact that teamwork does indeed make the dream work. “We can all do amazing things on our own, but together we can do so much more,” Jonah proclaims over the facility loudspeaker. “We can make things better than they were before, by being a teacher in your craft, and a student in someone else's. Share your strength and receive strength from your teammates. Most importantly, have fun! If you're smiling, you're doing it right.”

Thoroughly impressed, we spoke to Jonah about his work on the film as well as cutting Hebrew school to skate in his first pair of Superstars, finally getting to a place where he feels confident enough to be himself, and the advice he has for aspiring directors…

Hi Jonah! What's Change Is A Team Sport all about then?
Change Is a Team Sport celebrates Superstar’s legacy at the forefront of culture, bringing together game-changers from across the worlds of music, fashion, sport, and art. It also shows that change doesn’t happen alone. When we come together, I feel like that creates the atomic charge for great art and great creativity.

And what a team...
I think Adidas assembled the crew they wanted to represent and celebrate the new and the past. I think we hopefully are a team of people that represents a crew you’d want to be a part of.

Totally. How was it working with them?
The entire team was incredible and it was a genuinely collaborative experience. There are so many people that go into making a film: actors, crew, athletes, performers in this case, and everyone was game and excited to come together.

Can you tell us what inspired the film?
I immediately imagined a facility where all different kinds of artists could exist in the same space; somewhere to show up to every day where they could learn the crafts of other artists, and teach theirs to those interested. And then our brilliant production designer, Ruth DeJong, came on board. I’ve been wanting to work with her forever, and she helped to bring these wild spaces to life.

Do you remember your first pair of Superstars?
Of course. 4th grade. Cut Hebrew School and skated in them after replacing the laces with fat laces.

When do you feel most confident?
Confidence is something that comes from within, and for me, it took a long time -- honestly, until right now -- for me to become the person that actually represents who I am as a person as opposed to me trying to be something else that I’m not. I’m really happy at this point in my life, being able to have artistic freedom and collaborate with other artists is how I feel true to myself and that confidence shows. And I feel very lucky for that.

How important has finding good mentors been to your directing career?
Before stepping behind the camera, I was privileged to have an almost 20-year film schooling from some of my favourite directors who have taught me about the craft: Martin Scorsese, Bennett Miller and Spike Jonze to name a few. I think everything from every experience informs the next experience. I have gotten to learn from amazing people. And so I like to study, and then if I have anything to offer on the other side of that, then I'm happy to give that to anyone who's interested.

What do you know now that you wish you had known before your first directing gig?
Be patient and true to yourself. It’s okay to have your own voice and your own opinion. I watched all of these amazing filmmakers have their own voice and it taught me that I was going to get nowhere by just biding by other people’s rules and that I had to have my own voice as a filmmaker. That’s why I waited until I was 34, which seems young, but I’ve been doing this since I was 18, so I had a lot of opportunities beforehand and I waited until I had something that I wanted to say, that was true to me.

adidasOriginals_SS20_SUPERSTAR_CREW jonah hill

What qualities do you look for in creative collaborators or teammates?
I love working with all kinds of collaborators and have been lucky throughout my career to find a group of likeminded creatives. But really I am looking for teammates who share a collective vision and bring their ideas to the table as well.

What advice would you pass on to somebody wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Ask a lot of questions. Read what you can. Watch everything. Study.

So there are sneaker collaborations to come, huh?
I can’t talk about the specifics QUITE yet but I can say it’s going to be very cool!

Finally, what change do you hope to make in 2020?
I hope to walk the walk. Quietly lead with my actions. Be humble and learn from all I encounter.

Jonah Hill