Photography by Michael Muller

Few actors can hopscotch between raunch comedy and award material as deftly as JONAH HILL. His latest role, in Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, already has the Academy buzzing. But whether or not his efforts yield Oscar gold, he already feels as if he’s hit the jackpot.

The first time Jonah Hill felt like the luckiest guy in the world, his mother, confused and delayed by the spring season’s time change, was an hour late picking him up from a mall in Los Angeles’ Century City neighborhood. Waiting curbside for his ride, the preteen Hill caught sight of another victim of daylight saving time, Saturday Night Live alum and Billy Madison star Adam Sandler, whose girlfriend also had forgotten to spring forward her clock, leaving him similarly stranded. Sandler, it just so happened, was Hill’s idol at the time.

“He was so completely cool to me. We just sat there for an hour and talked, waiting for our rides,” Hill says, eyes still wide while recalling the good fortune. “I mean, he was, like, my hero, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m the luckiest guy who’s ever lived.’ ”

Almost two decades later, in a gag required of his role as a hedonistic financial wizard-cum-criminal in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street, Hill had a goldfish relieve itself in his mouth. And the Oscar-nominated, 29-year-old actor was thinking the same thing: “I am so lucky. Like, beyond-belief lucky.”

If Hill was ready to endure such a scatological nightmare for Scorsese, it’s probably because the legendary helmer is the young actor’s favorite director and his crackling gangster yarn Goodfellas is Hill’s favorite film. “I was completely honored to even meet Martin Scorsese, let alone work with him,” Hill says. “I can easily say Wolf of Wall Street was the most gratifying experience of my life. I don’t know if anything will ever top it. It was weird when it ended. I was in this place for a while where I was, like, ‘Nothing’s ever going to be this cool in my life ever again.’ ”

For Hill, Wolf — a fever dream of big money, wild excess and very bad behavior — is another quantum leap, careerwise, after establishing himself as a lovable loser in a run of edgy comedies like Superbad, The Sitter and last summer’s box-office hit This Is The End, and revealing his dramatic chops, as he did in 2011’s Moneyball. His multifaceted nature confounded some pundits and fans at first but, in the long run, has proven exhilarating for those closely following Hill’s career.

Dressed casually and quick to laugh, Hill attempts to explain his career track over iced coffee at a Los Angeles café. “I just try and do things that interest me,” he says. “When I got into the position of being able to choose the movies I made instead of just taking whatever job was being offered to me, I tried to make sure it was a movie I’d want to go see on a Friday night. That’s my whole career strategy right there. For now, I get to make choices about the work I do, and I hope I make good ones. That’s the place I’m in — for the next 10 minutes. Then I’ll be completely kicked out of the business.”