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IMAGE: Jonah Hill
Carlo Allegri  /  AP
"Moneyball" star Jonah Hill channeled his thwarted childhood desire to live with The Simpsons into acting and writing for TV and movies.
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updated 9/16/2011 10:16:37 AM ET 2011-09-16T14:16:37

At around age 7, Jonah Hill had a simple ambition: to live in Springfield, hometown of "The Simpsons."

That's what Hill told his parents back then when they asked him what he wanted to do with his life. Once they explained to their little boy about the impracticalities of living in a cartoon town alongside Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa Simpson, Hill revised his goal.

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"They said, 'You can't live there. It's not a real place. There are people that write what Homer says, and there's a guy that is Homer's voice, and there are people that animate all those characters,'" Hill said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where his latest film, "Moneyball," premiered.

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"And I said, 'I want to write what Homer says.' So that says a lot that a 7-year-old, my ambition as a 7-year-old was to be a writer on a prime-time animated series. Most kids that age, they say they want to be a fireman or whatever."

The 27-year-old star of "Superbad," "Get Him to the Greek" and next year's big-screen update of "21 Jump Street" eventually got to hang out in Springfield as a guest voice star on "The Simpsons." Hill also has achieved his aim of writing for a TV cartoon show as creator and voice star of the animated show "Allen Gregory," about a precocious 7-year-old boy.

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Opening Sept. 23, "Moneyball" continues Hill's move from comedic roles into more serious parts that began with last year's "Cyrus," in which he played a mama's boy trying to sabotage the relationship of his mother (Marisa Tomei) and her new boyfriend (John C. Reilly).

Adapted from the book by Michael Lewis, "Moneyball" chronicles the efforts of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, Hill's voice co-star in last fall's animated comedy "Megamind") to build a winning team on a meager budget and compete with franchises that have three times as much money to spend on players.

Hill plays Beane's new aide, Peter Brand, an Ivy League-schooled economist who uses his statistical genius to crunch numbers to identify under-appreciated players that can be signed for peanuts compared to baseball's superstars.

Slideshow: September movies (on this page)

Unlike the film's real-life characters, Brand is a composite of a number of economic analysts Beane hired, "with a little Jonah sprinkled on top," Pitt joked.

Also a producer on "Moneyball," Pitt said Hill is part of a wave of comedic actors, including Danny McBride and Russell Brand, who are "pushing the irreverence, but there's a truth to it. It's all grounded in some kind of personal pain or need or pathos."

"I love him and love what he does," Pitt said. "But upon meeting him, you meet a guy, I've been marveling at him, he's just incredibly open. He's not cagey, he's not protective in any way. Really, really genuine in his exuberance for the people around him and for life. If we were populated by Jonah Hills, it would be a really nice place."

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True to his early goal of putting words in Homer Simpson's mouth, Hill started writing in college, trying his hand at short stage scenarios.

The move into acting began with an attempt to improve his lines of communication.

Slideshow: Brad Pitt (on this page)

"I really found that I couldn't talk to actors. I didn't know how to express what I wanted them to do," Hill said. "So I took an acting class to become a better writer and director and learn how to talk to actors, and from that, I fell in love with acting. That was the impetus for all of this. From that moment on, I was like, oh, there isn't that crazy separation between the three. That's why a lot of the people I love can do all of that, because it's really about your voice."

One of Hill's idols was Dustin Hoffman, whose children happened to be college classmates of his in New York City. Hoffman helped Hill land his first screen role in 2004's "I (Heart) Huckabees."

A year later, Hill hooked up with the Judd Apatow comedy gang for a scene-stealing bit as an eBay outlet browser desperate to buy a pair of gaudy boots. He's been an Apatow regular ever since, as leading man in "Superbad" and "Get Him to the Greek" and supporting player in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Funny People."

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Hill also was a voice co-star in "How to Train Your Dragon" and stars as the world's worst babysitter in "The Sitter," due in theaters this December.

"21 Jump Street," a new take on the show that made Johnny Depp a star in the late 1980s, casts Hill and Channing Tatum as cops who go undercover as high schoolers to investigate youth crime. Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay, had not been a fan of the show but was struck by the action and comedy possibilities as he watched the old episodes on DVD.

"I realized this is just a great idea, the idea of young-looking cops going back to high school, once we cracked the idea of, they think they've moved on and grown up and matured," Hill said. "But once they go back, they immediately revert to the same insecurities from when they were 16 years old."

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Hill's "Moneyball" character reveals plenty of social insecurities himself. Economist Peter is short, nerdy and nervous, out of his element among athletes and coaches.

He could have made a fortune using his statistical talents in the business world, Hill reasoned, yet Peter sticks around the front office running the numbers on pitchers, batters and infielders.

"A big key for me is I realized he just loved baseball," Hill said. "He couldn't do anything else. It's like I couldn't do anything else but movies. I got lucky and won the lottery, but I just couldn't do anything else."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Watch the 'Moneyball' trailer

Photos: September movies

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    Think there wasn't an "Apollo 18" lunar mission? Think again. Decades-old found footage from the supposed secret expedition reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon. Hint: Didja see "Alien"? (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'The Debt'

    Stars: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and Tom Wilkinson

    Director: John Madden

    Scheduled release date: Sept. 2

    "The Debt" begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (Mirren) and Stefan (Wilkinson) about their former colleague David. The group supposedly tracked down a Nazi war criminal in 1966 -- or did they? (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Shark Night 3D'

    Stars: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan and Alyssa Diaz

    Director: David R. Ellis

    Scheduled release date: Sept. 2

    The title, "Sharl Night 3D," says it all. But sharks in a freshwater lake? Hollywood will do anything to get the blood, bikinis and severed limbs flying in 3-D. (Relativity Media) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'A Good Old Fashioned Orgy'

    Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb and Tyler Labine

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    Scheduled release date: Sept. 2

    In "A Good Old Fashioned Orgy," Jason Sudeikis and pals have partied for years at his dad's beach house. But when dad (Don Johnson) announces he's selling the place, his son decides it's time for the ultimate party. (Samuel Goldwyn Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'Contagion'

    Stars: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law

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    Scheduled release date: Sept. 9

    Have your face masks ready -- you'll want one after seeing "Contagion." The action thriller follows people trying to survive a lethal virus. Big stars abound, and it sure looks like from promos that things don't go well for Gwyneth Paltrow. (Warner Bros) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star'

    Stars: Nick Swardson, Don Johnson and Christina Ricci

    Director: Tom Brady

    Scheduled release date: Sept. 9

    "Bucky Larson" is a kid from the Midwest who moves out to Hollywood in order to follow in his parents footsteps -- which for him, means becoming a porn star. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Warrior'

    Stars: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton

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    In "Warrior," two estranged brothers face the fight of a lifetime. Nick Nolte plays their alcoholic dad, who trains one to eventually land in the ring against the other in a mixed martial-arts tournament. (Chuck Zlotnick) Back to slideshow navigation
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    "I Don't Know How She Does It" is a comedy centered on the life of Kate Reddy (Parker), a finance executive who is the breadwinner for her husband and two kids. Based on the best-selling novel. (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston

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    Stars: Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill

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    Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A's manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball," based on Michael Lewis' book. The focus is on Beane's attempt to create a competitive team despite Oakland's unfavorable financial situation. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 'Abduction'

    Stars: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins and Alfred Molina

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    Scheduled release date: Sept. 23

    In "Abduction," Taylor Lautner plays a young man who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'Dolphin Tale'

    Stars: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr.

    Director: Charles Martin Smith

    Scheduled release date: Sept. 23

    IThe 3-D film "Dolphin Tale" is is inspired by the true story of a bottlenose dolphin named Winter who lost her tail in a crab trap. Her human friends work frantically to create a prosthetic so she can still swim. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 'Dream House'

    Stars: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts

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    The beautiful home in "Dream House" is more of a nightmare. Soon after moving in, a family learns that a mother and her children were brutally murdered there. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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  16. 'Killer Elite'

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    Action film "Killer Elite" focuses on a retired member of Britain's Elite Special Air Service (Jason Statham) who is forced into action when his mentor (Robert De Niro) is taken hostage. His mission: kill three assassins dispatched by their cunning leader (Clive Owen). (Open Road Films) Back to slideshow navigation
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