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Interview: Josh Peck (The Wackness)

Many people will soon be asking, “Who is that cute kid?” when they open the latest issue of Radar Magazine, in which an older and much slimmer Josh Peck directs a puppy-dog gaze at the camera. The former kids’ TV star, who was ½ of the Nickelodeon mega-hit show Drake & Josh, is breaking out of his shell big-time in the upcoming pic, The Wackness.

Many people will soon be asking, “Who is that cute kid?” when they open the latest issue of Radar Magazine, in which an older and much slimmer Josh Peck directs a puppy-dog gaze at the camera.  The former kids’ TV star, who was ½ of the Nickelodeon mega-hit show Drake & Josh, is breaking out of his shell big-time in the upcoming pic, The Wackness. Peck carries the lead role with an ease, humor and sincerity that will definitely secure him a long and successful career to come.

Peck plays Luke Shapiro, a lonesome and sensitive recent high school graduate and an avid hip-hop fan who makes money selling weed to a multitude of interesting characters through New York City (including a dreadlocked Mary-Kate Olsen) to try and prevent his family from being evicted. Luke pines after pretty-girl Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), the daughter of Luke’s therapist Dr. Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), who Luke pays in eighths. As the summer of 1994 progresses, Luke is surprised when Stephanie returns his affection. His friendship with Dr. Squires also expands as they both search for love and happiness.

I sat down with Peck last Thursday to talk about The Wackness.

Josh Peck

Josh Peck The Wackness

Sarah Mitchell: What interested you in doing The Wackness?
Josh Peck: Man, its a movie that I would like to see and that’s just all you can hope for. You’re only as good as your material and I knew there was something special about the words on the page. And I felt like I could bring a lot of truth and honesty to who this kid Luke was. He was just beginning a tie in his life that I was at the tail end of, me being 20 and he being 18. New York is a location for so many movies, but its so rare that its a character. And I feel like it was very alive and had a pulse in the movie. So that along with Sir Ben was a home-run.

SM: Was there something about the character Luke that drew you to the film?
JP: There’s something about him. I dig that he’s so true to the way he is. He loves hip hop music. And he is okay with what he does and he doesn’t have any qualms about it…the way he carries himself. He just doesn’t like the situation that he’s been sort of thrust into. He doesn’t want to conform to the waves…he says in the movie, “Who says its all got to be so fucking sad like that?”  Why does it all have to be one big dreary kind of outlook? Why can’t it be like the way I thought about life a year ago, you know?

SM: So you and Sir Ben Kingsley worked really extensively together.  What was it like working with such a prestigious actor playing a old, lonely and kind of pathetic character?
JP: Yeah, he’s a little bit of a loser, you’re right. It’s interesting. Our characters in the movie, we’re like these odd, kindred spirits. He’s sort of regressing in the way that I’m progressing. It’s interesting that he has come to this juxtaposition in his life where he no longer can live the way that he’s been living. And he’s taking a moral inventory as to what’s left in my life. Where as Luke is taking this inventory of what happens when I become an adult and I lose any semblance of what I hold so dear now. Because the only people in Luke’s life are these adults who aren’t people who he wants to be. I think you can sometimes find solace in the people that are underachieving and sometimes they help you- they’re the catalyst.  Make you better than you thought you could be.

SM: Were you a fan of that era of hip hop before the movie?
JP: Yeah, I love hip hop music. I think it’s ingrained in you. And it’s music of my generation. It’s poetry set to a beat. It used to be Sugar Hill Gang and Run DMC. And all of a sudden Biggie came around and ’94 was like this introduction of music that was really talking about the everyday struggle and people that were just trying to get out of the ghetto and make some money. And talking about real shit. Now I don’t really get into the generic rap music, talking about pimps and hos and bling and what not. But, I feel like if you don’t like old school hip hop, you’re not a hip hop fan to me.

**** Spolier Ahead****

SM: So…how was it filming those “special scenes” with Olivia?
JP: It was petrifying. I was like freaking the fuck out. Olivia and I didn’t really talk at all the first half of that day because we shot the scene at like 5:00 as the sun was setting, to get that beautiful, magic hour glow. I didn’t eat any lunch because I didn’t want to be bloated. And I did a bunch of push-ups in my room. And dropped the robe…and went with God, man. Just hoped for the best. Olivia wasn’t like a pro yet. It was her first time as well, on camera. She was as covered up as she could be.  But for all intents and purposes, it was more than most co-workers will ever see of each other.

SM: How did you prepare to emerge yourself in 1994, being that you were seven at the time?
JP: I think there’s a universal thread of the movie, which is sort of existence as a teenager and how much there is to life and death. In those situations, things seem so huge at that time in your life and its so easy to be emotional. Oh god, your first break-up, man. I didn’t know whether I was going to live or die.  And I’d eat Rice Krispie treats…slept on my mom’s couch. So I think that’s universal. It’ll’ll withstand the test of time. 

Josh Peck The Wackness

SM: How was your high school experience?
JP:  I mean, I was really ostracized in high school, which sucks, because I was home schooled.
SM: (laughs)
JP: I mean, he (Luke) sums it up best, “I was the most popular of the unpopular.” I went to Performing Arts High School right here on 48th Street. This part to me was like a tribute to the every-man. The cat that wasn’t a nerd or a geek in high school, or at least I didn’t think so, but didn’t peak and wasn’t cool in high school either. There was so much more left to being an adult and the maturation process after high school. And you’re trying on so many looks in high school and just trying to deal and get through things.  And you’re thrusted into these situations that can be degrading. So I feel that anyone who gets through high school with their shirt on their back has done great things.
SM:  How has Nickelodeon been handling your career move?
JP:  I gotta be honest. They’ve been very, very supportive of my choices as an actor. I grew up with Nickelodeon and I’m forever in their debt. The audience has made me the actor and the person that I am today. And they’re the reason why I’m able to get in the room and audition whereas under other circumstances perhaps I wouldn’t have the privilege. I appreciate it. And I’m granted one of the greatest gifts which is to be able to make kids laugh like on a daily basis and clog up your Tivos. So, they’ve been really supportive. I was 15 when I did Drake & Josh. This isn’t a movie for kids. As I said, when I was 15, the audience was 12, 13, and now I’m 21 and they’re 18. So I think this is right in their alley. If they are too young I think it’s up to their parents’ discretion and they’ll see it in a couple of years on DVD, hopefully. Or rip it off the Internet illegally.

SM: So what motivated this physical transformation in yourself?
JP:  Crystal meth. (laughs)  You know, it took me about two years. I was 17 at the time. I’d done a movie called Mean Creek, which part of I was very proud of and very much in the same right as The Wackness. It was not your sterotypical heavy-set character, you know. It was someone that had a lot of validity and emotional depth and had a journey over the movie in a huge arc nd then inevitably perished.  I did that.  And my love and my passion was always to do deep, good work that I was proud of. And I felt like I was always subject to being the funny fat best friend. And I didn’t want to have to wait ten years for that next part. So I really just wanted to get healthy because I knew it would make me happy. I got a lot of friends that are just big guys and rock it well and don’t mind having some extra weight. For me, I just, I found it necessary to get in shape and it put me in a better head space. I knew, as soon as I lose the weight, I’m gonna be booking everything. The truth of the matter was when I was heavy I wasn’t even in the ballpark. Now I’m in the park and I’m at bat but now I’ve got to hit a home run.

SM: Can you talk about any projects you have coming up?
JP: I did another movie with Olivia called Safety Glass, which is about the 1986 Challenger crash. And Steve Coogan is in it and Hilary Duff. And it’s in the same vein of The Wackness in the sense that it’s something that is a departure from Drake & Josh. And just trying to continue to break out of any sort of stereotype and figure out what I’m comfortable doing. I just want to be able to be a chameleon and figure out what I like doing. I think it’s going to be a good movie. I haven’t seen it yet, it could suck. But, I think it’s good. I hope so. And I’m reprising my role as Eddie the oppossum, Queen Latifah’s little brother in Ice Age 3. The part I was born to play. So, that’s dope.

SM: What would be your ideal project?
JP: I really want to write a movie and play Beethoven- not the lovable dog, the composer. I just feel like his life has already been written. Gary Oldman played him in Immortal Beloved, but there hasn’t been a new take on it. I just think there’s a brilliant character there and it’d be cool to take advantage of. I think it’d be cool to do a movie about Bobby Fischer, but I don’t know how hard that would be with the rights and what not. But something that just continues to challenge me. I’m into playing a low-life, too.  I wouldn’t mind playing somebody that you really hate, you know?  Just a bad dude. That would be kinda cool too.

Sony Pictures Classics opens The Wackness in New York and Los Angeles on July 3rd.

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