In the new film “21 Jump Street,” based on the TV series that ran from 1987 to 1991 on Fox and launched the career of Johnny Depp, two immature, mediocre cops played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are assigned to pose as students in an undercover program to break up a high school drug ring.
Before the movie’s world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, I sat down with the cast and directors to talk about their experiences in high school, adapting a cult TV drama into an action comedy, and the inevitable fan backlash that comes with it.
First up were stars and executive producers Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
Were you fans of 21 Jump Street before doing the movie?
Channing Tatum: I was, yeah. I don’t think Jonah was old enough, but I watched it with my sister all the time.
Jonah Hill: I didn’t watch it the first time, no. I watched it all when I was adapting it.
Are you aware of a somewhat small backlash online that’s calling this “21 Jump Street” in name only, since it’s a comedy?
JH: Yeah, we’ve been crying about it every night. Uh, I find myself unable to work or get up in the morning–
Some of the comments are pretty brutal.
JH: Yeah, ’cause there’s seven nerds who watched the show the first time that, uh, yeah…its pretty hard, you know?
CT: What those guys don’t know is that the actual creator of the show basically gave (Jonah) the blessing. He was ecstatic about (him) coming in and re-doing this thing.
JH: Yeah, Stephen Cannell. We got to know him really well and he was really supportive of the show being turned into a film and having it be interpreted in a different way. There’s maybe 10 people in the world who care about this.
That’s probably a little high.
JH: Yeah, exactly. The movie’s awesome. That’s all we care about.
As you were writing, did you perfect the Stephen J. Cannell Paper throw?
JH: No, in one version of the script we had—he unfortunately passed away, Stephen. He was a great guy. We had him, at one point, doing it. He worked in the police station and we were gonna have him [mimes the paper toss over his head].
CT: Aww, that would have been awesome!
JH: Yeah, that would have been really cool.
Did you suspect there were any undercover cops in your high school?
CT: I don’t know. I actually know there was an undercover, sort of, in my 8th grade school. It was like an undercover sort of, like, gang-type thing.
CT: It was a student-student, not an older person playing a student. They were working in cahoots with the police or whatever. We had a bunch of gang stuff in Florida.
Any plans to keep going with a “Booker” spin-off?
JH: Uh, no.
There are fans of that, too.
CT: I actually didn’t see that one.
JH: I’m feeling like you represent this weird subculture of 12 people who give a shit.
I do have friends that were, surprisingly, yelling at me about this. I have to make sure they’re represented.
JH: Oh, well. You can leave if you want.
Don’t worry, I don’t feel the same way.
JH: Yeah. Oh, great.
I loved the movie.
JH: Yeah, the movie’s great, so…