The star of this New York City period piece talks about the film, working with Ben Kingsley and more
Josh Peck has certainly had an interesting career so far. After getting his start in such young-adult fare as The Amanda Show and Max Keeble's Big Move, he appeared in some indie film fare such as Spun, his great turn in the outstanding Mean Creek and Special (which was released this year but hit the festival circuit back in 2006), then back to the young adult scene in the popular Drake & Josh and his voice work in Ice Age: The Meltdown. He returns to the indie scene with his starring performance in The Wackness, which hit the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray today, January 6, and I had the chance to talk to the young actor over the phone. Here's what he had to say.
So how did you first hear about this or did they come to you for this? How did that all work out?
Josh Peck: Not even, man. I had to battle it out with all the usual suspects and whatnot and go to the callback. I was lucky that (writer-director) John (Levine) and I were sort of these two white-boy hip-hop-heads from New York. I think that alone got me in the door. We just started rapping and I think it was just sort of less about the audition and more about just, I don't know, him telling me what the character was and if I could step into this cat's shoes, his Adidas Superstar's, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.
I read that your favorite actor was Ben Kingsley, so was he attached to the film when you were reading for it?
Josh Peck: He was, he was attached. I mean, I think he's what got the movie made (Laughs).
So what kind of relationship did you have with him on the set and what kinds of things did you pick up from him?
Josh Peck: We're like best friends now. We're Facebook buddies. His MySpace page is ridiculous, he's got Lil' Wayne and T-Pain on there... no, I'm kidding. You know, he's just a really good guy and, as an actor, he's just a dream to work with. You're going into sort of scary territory when you're going to work with your hero because either they won't live up to your expectations or sometimes they just fall short. With him, he completely just was exactly what I'd hoped for and more. As far as our relationship in the movie, he really sort of let me... he wanted me to take the lead in the scenes only because that's our relationship in the movie. With his foresight and his character as a human being, he was able to take that approach because he was so secure in what he was doing. I just got to learn from him and just try to suck up any pearls of wisdom that maybe he would discard throughout the process. The nice part is he's very approachable and just a good guy. We would laugh and make jokes and it was just a dream, man.
Since you grew up in New York, was it pretty easy to get back into that 1994 New York mindset? What kinds of things did you do to get back into that mindframe?
Josh Peck: I mean, the great thing about being an actor is you can investigate parts of your brain that might have otherwise gone dormant. I kind of thought about things that adults were talking about in '94. I mean, I was 8, so I was rocking Spice Girls, lollipops, Bugle Boys and Reebok Pumps. I remember my moms talking about Guiliani and adults were talking about Pulp Fiction. There's all these small wardrobe points or slang words I don't use anymore but were definitely ubiquitous then. You sort of infuse that into your character so you can bring that in and work your way inside out.
Aside from working with Ben Kingsley, you have a pretty diverse cast with Famke Jansen, Aaron Yoo, Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man and Talia Balsam. What did you take away from working with these talented actors?
Josh Peck: Method Man, for him to offer me the spot as the first Jewish member of the Wu Tang Clan, you know, was an honor.
Josh Peck: Just to be part of a process where you hit no professional speed bumps and you're just sort of going on and on. I'm surrounded by these people that are all so collaborative and all bring things of their own to the process. For them to be alive in the scenes so you don't have to worry. Sometimes, you run into trouble as an actor when you're not working with someone who is collaborative or doesn't bring themselves to the piece, and you sort of have to start worrying about yourself and protecting what works for you in the scene. I never had to do that in this movie because it was sort of this trapeze act. Every time you sort of let go of the bar, you knew someone was there to catch you, and vice versa. And, I mean, come on. It's Method Man. It's been a dream to meet him forever.
Yeah, absolutely. I actually met him in Vegas last summer. It was quite amazing.
Josh Peck: He was down at the House of Blues with Redman like a month ago and it was like, even though I got to work with him, everyone was like, 'Oh, you should've went backstage and tried to say what's up.' I just wanted to be in a movie with him and that's it.
You were younger when this film took place, but is there anything about when you were that age that you brought to the character?
Josh Peck: I don't think it's very difficult to bring a virginal, angst-ridden, hip-hop grunting white boy to the screen. Not that I have any experience with that. I don't know man. I understood where his head was at, because he was this 18-year-old cat that thought he was a man, but didn't really know what it meant to be a man. Is it relationships? Is it experience? Is it your emotional growth? He was sort of stuck in this arrested developement where his parents were lying to him and, inevitably, my character and Kingsley's character is like a child meeting a child and yet, they come out on the other side and maybe Kingsley's character learns what it could mean to live your life deciding that you're not going to be unhappy. I love the phrase, 'Somebody's going to have a good day today, so it might as well be me.' I feel like you bring everything to the character, I hope.
You've had some very interesting roles in your career. I thought you were great in Mean Creek.
Josh Peck: Thanks.
With all the Drake & Josh stuff and the other young-adult stuff, do you prefer the more adult side of the business or the young-adult side, or are you just going to keep trying to do both?
Josh Peck: It's dope that I got to do Drake & Josh for so long and I've made a lot of kids happy. But it's just like with The Wackness, it's just work I've always kind of wanted to do. I don't know. It's the kind of movie I'd like to go see, so if I can kind of continue to live in that vein and do rewarding pictures like this and just be able to be able to pay for my apartment in the valley, I'll be a happy person.
I saw you directed an episode of Drake & Josh and I heard you're going to be directing an episode of iCarly as well. Are there any feature directing plans that you're looking into?
Josh Peck: I would love to, man, I just think I need to gain a lot more experience. I think so much of being a director, other than the technical aspect and the artistry of it, is the confidence that you are, I think in many ways, you're the captain of the ship. The director really sets the tone for a set so I'd like to gain as much experience and knowledge as I can so that, hopefully one day if I get the privelege to direct a feature film, I'll be ready and it won't suck.
Is there a favorite moment or scene you shot when you were on the set of The Wackness?
Josh Peck: I don't know, being able to work with Meth was pretty damn cool, but even that day, John, the director, gave me one of the best notes I've ever had. I walked into the scene just completely excited. I just couldn't believe I was going to work with Meth. You could see it in the scene, I was rushed and the character was just more of Josh Peck excited kid to be acting with one of his heroes. So John came up to me and said, 'Look, man. I want you to be more entrenched in The Wackness right now. I need you to be in Luke right now.' As soon as he said it, I knew what he meant and it made the scene so much better because it got me out of my head. The best notes are action-based and less, I don't know, heady, theoretical, because, as actors, we're too much in our heads anyway.
So is there anything you can tell us about What Goes Up?
Josh Peck:What Goes Up, we already made it. Olivia Thirlby is in it too, so it's like we got to work together again, and Hillary Duff and Steve Coogan. It was great. It was a great privelege to work with cool people, like Coogan is really a funny guy and Hillary is really sweet and Molly Shannon is in it, who's a great talent. I just loved getting the chance to work with Olivia again, but I don't really know what's going on with it, to be honest. I guess we'll just have to see.
So is there anything else you're working on or developing right now?
I'm not really, honestly, I'm not really working on anything. I've got Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs coming out in July and I'm reprising my role as Queen Latifah's little brother, the part I was born to play, so it's a really cool thing to be a part of. It's a complete blessing that The Wackness was so good, and yet it makes it so difficult to find something that really complements that movie. If I can just continue to do cool work or something like Mean Creek. It's interesting that the director/writer of Mean Creek, Jacob Estes, and Jonathan Levine were both AFI students. They're good friends know and Jacob saw The Wackness early on and sort of gave some of his notes and whatnot. That being said, I hope to be able to do something that really complements The Wackness and keep it real.
So, finally, The Wackness comes out on DVD today and, for those who didn't catch it in the theaters, what would you like to say to entice them to pick this up on DVD?
Josh Peck: Pick up the movie. It's got ill '94 hip-hop. Tribe Called Quest and Biggie, Method Man, R. Kelly. All the beats that you came to love. If you like smoking weed, you'll love this movie and yeah. I don't know any other way to sell it, I guess, and I'm not particularly horrible in it (Laughs).
Great. Well, that's about all I have for you, Josh. Thanks so much for your time, and best of luck.
Josh Peck: Thanks, man.
You can see Josh Peck and the rest of this ensemble cast when The Wackness hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on January 6.