Published Aug 18, 2016When Academy Award-nominated actor (and hip-hop head) Jonah Hill approaches a new role, he creates a playlist to suit the mood of the film and his character. For Efraim Diveroli — the megalomaniacal, manipulative Miami gunrunner he plays in War Dogs (out now in theatres nationwide) — he found inspiration in one of Florida's favourite sons.
"I listened to a lot of… Rick Ross, because Efraim had to have so much swagger," he tells Exclaim! at a press junket in Toronto. "I love Rick Ross' music, so please God don't put it as an insult to Rick Ross… but it is very materialistic, I would say, and that's something Efraim would aspire to."
It's hard to imagine the Teflon Don being offended. War Dogs tells the real-life story (originally written by Canadian journalist Guy Lawson in the pages of Rolling Stone and a subsequent book) of two twenty-something bros who aspire for something greater and become unlikely arms dealers during the Iraq War.
Directed by The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips and co-starring Miles Teller, it is a truly modern American tale — much like the music of Ross — filled with greed, excess, cocaine, guns and plenty of ammunition. It's impossible not to root for the pair as they try and swindle the American government.
"It's just such an insane story, I couldn't believe it actually happened," Hill says. "And then the character is just so out there — I was immediately attracted to it."
So much so that Hill, who has been producing films for almost a decade, initially tried to option the story before discovering Phillips was already in the process of bringing its rights to the silver screen.
Still, his vision for his character found its way into the movie. In addition to Ross, it also had another inspirational figure from Miami lore.
"If you watched any MTV Cribs around this time and they go to any rapper's house they're either watching — or have a framed poster of — Scarface," he says. "That's more what I drew from it, that Efraim would just be obsessed with it, and he would emulate Tony Montana, but more emulate the rappers who would kind of have a framed poster, and he does."
Posters of Al Pacino in the 1983 film can be seen throughout the film, from the characters' early days in a one-room office, to their company's expansion to classier digs.
Hill, an obsessive movie fan who cites another gangster film, Goodfellas, as his favourite movie, says he re-watched the Brian De Palma classic before making War Dogs, wanting the cultural impact of the character to seep through.
"Instead of just watching the movie over and over, it was the idea of someone who watched the movie over and over and what draws them to that."
War Dogs is in theatres across Canada now.