By definition the term ‘war dogs’ refers to “bottom feeders who make money off war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield.”
In the new film War Dogs Jonah Hill plays Efraim Diveroli, a true to life 20-something arms dealer who fits that description to a tee.
“You try to understand why someone would end up like that,” Hill says when asked how he got inside the head of the fast-talking character. “It might be a combination of wiring, lack of empathy, ego and insecurity and obsessiveness. I don’t know. I try to approach it from a therapeutic point of view. Get into the psychology of why people behave the way they do. Probably most actors do that.”
He wasn’t able to meet the real-life Diveroli but he was able to piece together the character without a face-to-face. “I would always prefer to meet the person but if someone was playing me in a movie I would give them the best version of myself. A lot of times when you meet the person you end up having to be a really good editor, choosing what to include, but always I found meeting the people around them ends up being more helpful to me because they are giving you a warts-and-all portrayal of the person at that time.”
Hill found that version of Diveroli from many sources. “I had a lot of help,” he says. “I got to meet David, who Miles (Teller) plays, and a few people who knew Efraim at that time. The biggest key was that they are from Miami and Miami culture is very specific. There is a very big sense of the American dream there, in a positive and negative way. There’s a big immigrant culture. People from Cuba and Haiti end up in America for the first time through Miami. Efraim is a corruption of that (American) dream.”
In the film Efraim is a self- described “Ugly American,” a borderline sociopath for whom belligerence is a default setting. The unhinged nature of the character and Hill’s venal glee in playing up the worst in human nature keeps War Dogs interesting but some audience members see it differently.
Recently a crew of South African arms dealers approached Hill in a restaurant after seeing a trailer for War Dogs.
They were impressed and wanted to high five the actor. He says the same thing happened after he made Wolf of Wall Street, another film where he played a morally ambiguous character who struck a chord with the very people it was satirizing. “A lot of times Wall Street bros will come up to me as if the movie is their Goodfellas or Scarface. People see what they want to see. It is a little scary sometimes when people misinterpret.”