"I was really against it. I really did not want to make a TV show into a movie. I thought it was really lazy and stupid and eye-rolling," Hill -- who was about 4 in 1987 when the show about baby-faced cops who go undercover to fight crime at high schools debuted -- admitted to reporters in New York recently.
"But, really, the idea of the 'Back to the Future' element that everyone [involved] talked about and understood and connected with [is why I did it,]" added the 28-year-old Los Angeles native. "The 'Back to the Future' element of reliving your high-school years and what is that like? And what is funny about that? And what is sad about that? … What if you think you have all the answers and you go back and have none of the answers? That, to me, is a really strong idea for a movie and a really fun idea for a movie. And what if that was in a 'Bad Boys'-meets-John Hughes movie? That's what got the train moving. So, whether it was called '21 Jump Street' or it was called 'Narcs' or it was called 'Two Cops Go Back to High School,' I didn't care. Honestly, that idea was what captivated me."
The critically acclaimed film, which opened at No. 1 this weekend, stars Hill and Channing Tatum as recent police-academy graduates who pretend to be teens to find and stop whoever is distributing a powerful new designer drug.
The pair intends to infiltrate the same social groups they occupied as real high-school students just a few years before, but they are forced to re-evaluate their strategy when they discover the smart, tolerant, environmentally conscious students rule the school, while the bullies and rebels once known as the cool kids are now shunned. The change in the popularity structure is great for Hill's bright, but awkward character Schmidt, who is instantly embraced by the nouveau hip clique, but Tatum's handsome former jock/prom king Jenko is left reeling when he sees the popular set wants nothing to do with him. The cast also includes Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Brie Larson and Dave Franco.
Johnny Depp and his co-stars from the original "Jump Street" -- Holly Robinson Peete and Peter DeLuise -- have cameos in the picture, which was helmed by "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
Hill credits Lord and Miller with adding in fun details fans of the original show will appreciate, such as the chapel where the undercover cops check in with their captain and the names their characters go by when they enroll in high school.
"I had really not cared about any of that stuff," Hill emphasized. "I have friends who have remade things and they spent so much time thinking about, 'Oh, we have to put that one little secret thing in it from the show.' And two people in the audience gave a damn about it. The rest of the audience is like, 'I just want to see a good movie.' So, for me, I didn't care, but the directors added so much fun stuff from the show that it actually got me excited again about the show."
The Oscar-nominated star of the baseball drama "Moneyball," who also acted in "Get Him to the Greek" and "Superbad," said about five years passed from the time he and his writing partner Michael Bacall were approached to write the screenplay for "21 Jump Street" to the film's actual release date.
"I've been working on this movie for five years from the age of 23 to the age of 28," Hill said.
"Doing this press junket, I realized most of my 20s was spent thinking about and working on this movie. It's the only movie I've been with from the beginning to the end and I'm just really glad I got to work with really talented people and the movie's good because it would have been a really big waste of five years of my life. A waste of my entire 20s, aside from other minor successes I've had. I'm just so proud to be up here [on the stage at the press conference.] The movie's awesome. We wouldn't all be here if we weren't super-proud of it. … We're not scared of showing it. That's the best feeling. Sometimes you have a movie and you don't want to show it and you try to sneak it by. But we want to put this out there because we're like, 'This thing is great.'"
Hill said he had a blast upending teen and buddy cop movie cliches, but was briefly concerned the show's creator, Stephen J. Cannell might not like the idea.
"I was nervous that he wouldn't be psyched about a movie being made," Hill said about Cannell, who also was the mastermind behind TV's "The Rockford Files," "Greatest American Hero," "The A-Team," "Hunter" and "Hardcastle & McCormick." "But not only was he excited about our movie being made, one of the times we were hanging out with him, he was trying to get me to make a movie based on another one of his shows. He was just like down for his legacy to live on and he wanted to get it into the zeitgeist again."
Lord and Miller said they were thrilled to meet Cannell before he died in 2010 at age 69.
"I think he was excited that his show was going to be reinterpreted," said Lord. "That was the thing that was most refreshing about him. He was psyched to see it grow and turn into something new."
"It's a shame he never got to see the finished product," said Miller.
"Stephen was awesome," Hill said. "He was a really nice guy. He was also like the King of Pasadena. He was like the most popular guy in Pasadena. Good guy. He's missed, very much."