One of the most buzzed about movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival is Jonathan Levine's The Wackness, a coming of age story set in '90s New York City starring Josh Peck as Luke Shapiro, who spends the summer after high school selling pot and trying to get laid with the help of his client and shrink Dr. Jeffrey Squires, as played by Sir Ben Kingsley.
Josh Peck is one of those names and faces that looks familiar, possibly from his time on Nickelodeon, first as a regular on Amanda Bynes' "The Amanda Show" and then with his own show "Drake and Josh" (which is rumored to have its own movie very soon), but indie film fans should also remember Josh from his role in "Mean Creek" a few years back. There's little question that Peck has grown up and The Wackness will certainly get him a lot more attention, both from older girls and producers looking for the next hot thing.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk to Josh during the Sundance Film Festival, as well as sitting down with his co-star Ben Kingsley, an interview you can read here.
ComingSoon.net: I think a lot people who see this movie don't realize that you're the "fat kid" from "Mean Creek."
Josh Peck: Yeah, I could definitely see people saying that, but it's sort of nice that I could add to "Mean Creek" something that I'm really proud of. I think this is in the same vein of a really ballsy movie that's honest and truthful and something I could really sink my teeth into and feel a part of.
CS: Do you see this movie as being another step forward as an actor?
Peck: I think in any case it was a step up as a human being to be surrounded with such unbelievable talent, I mean, Sir Ben has been my favorite actor my whole life since I can remember loving acting and appreciating the craft and he's just been my favorite just getting to have this experience at Sundance with everyone in the movie, it's been such a great life experience.
CS: Did Jonathan already have Sir Ben cast in the role of Dr. Squires? What about some of the others?
Peck: I think Sir Ben was really the biggest draw in addition to the script. I remember in preparation for the movie, I was working with my acting teacher and she just said, "When you do this movie, you have nothing to worry about because Sir Ben doesn't need to do a movie with a blasé director or a so-so script." When you're at that level, it's picking fine material, so just to be a part of it was a complete honor.
CS: So you were around eight or nine when this movie takes place?
Peck: I was around eight rockin' Bugle Boy jeans and watching "Power Rangers".
CS: So were these references that you knew about already or did you just learn about what was going on after you signed on to do the movie?
Peck: There were definitely things that I wasn't as aware of, because I was a bit young during that time period, but nonetheless the beautiful thing about being an actor is that you get to revisit these parts of you that would otherwise go dormant. I revisited so much of the things that I loved during '94 and just what I would pick up from older people hearing in conversation and what not and I found a lot of good things to work with.
CS: The resemblance between you and Jonathan is quite eerie. Is that something you two worked out beforehand so that you could look even more similar for the premiere?
Peck: I don't know. It was kind of like this unsaid type thing. We're oddly kind of cut from the same cloth and we have much different stories, but at the heart we're sort of like these Jewish kids that grew up in New York City just trying to hustle and make it in life. His mother is so lovely and seems to have had a really big impact on his life, and my mom has been my everything. I think as people, a lot of our fundamentals were similar and from there, we both have an utter appreciation for hip hop music and culture. I think it was just about collaborating and I just wanted to make him proud. I felt like he took a real chance on me to let me be seen in a different light and I just wanted to try to give back to him what he's given to me.
CS: Do you know any guys like Luke from your time in high school or just after high school?
Peck: It's kind of eerie, because I feel a lot comparisons to Luke myself, only because I find that I identify so much in the weakness of the character and any complexes or self-consciousness or weird habits. I can identify with something and then immediately attach to it and that can be my jumping off point for the character. I know so many kids that grew up kind of affluent kids who didn't really have to work that hard to get where they are in life, so I think I understood the headspace that he was in.
CS: I read that you did stand-up comedy when you were 8-years-old. Did you do that in clubs and everything or just for family and friends?
Peck: Like nine. No, I did all the big clubs in New York: Standup New York, Caroline's Comedy Club, Catch a Rising Star when it was around, and Gotham. It was sort of my jumping off point and it set a tone in my life of carving out a niche for myself because whether it be acting or school, or whatever I've never really fit in, and I've kind of had to make things work for myself. I've been lucky enough that people have dug it. My mom and I were reading "Backstage Magazine," I was nine years old and there was an advertisement for Sid Gold and Gold Star Entertainment and I went and met with him and he was sort of the quintessential agent, orpheum circuit type gypsy guy and he's like, "Look I need kid comedians, so if you could be funny, I'll put you onstage." I just thought of what I knew as a human, as a kid, my mom, I'd make fun of my mom to people at school.
CS: Of course, when you're that young, no one would dare boo or heckle you.
Peck: Also, I knew that I was nine and I knew that I wouldn't be able to improv or vamp because you have to be so aware of what's going on in the world and the culture and what not and identifying with the human condition. I just had a couple jokes that I knew worked and that's what I stuck with.
CS: Do you have a new Nickelodeon movie in the works?
Peck: Maybe, it's not really slated next, but I've sort of written a treatment for the next movie and I'd really love to write it.
CS: Did you get to write for the TV show too?
Peck: I got to direct and I always tried to be in the room just to throw in a couple jokes that I thought was funny. If one joke or adlib got in an episode a week, I was proud of that.
CS: Are you in the Writer's Guild yourself?
Peck: No, I'm not in the Writer's Guild officially. There's been so much opinion on it and actors talking that I almost feel like my opinion doesn't matter. It's a really tough situation and I just hope that they could come to an understanding that makes both parties happy, but I think sometimes that's easier said then done.
CS: What else would you like to work on?
Peck: I'd like to do movies that compliment this part. It was sort of the part of a lifetime and I'd just like to do things that I could continually grow with. I'm going to go back to L.A. to start "Ice Age 3," doing a voice in that movie, I was lucky enough to be in the second one and I've just been anticipating these past few days. I haven't really been able to focus on anything new yet and Olivia and I just did another movie, it's called, "Safety Glass."
CS: What is your relationship like in that one?
Peck: Much different, but cool nonetheless.
CS: Maybe you two can form some sort of actors' scene of 20-year-old New Yorkers, but you'd have to come up with a name like "The Rat Pack" or "The Brat Pack."
Peck: Yeah, maybe. It would be cool if we got to be like the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks type deal, you know, where we could come together and make a good movie.
CS: In twenty years, you can come back and make a sequel to this one.
Peck: Yeah, right, or we could do the "You've Got Mail" sequel.
The Wackness hasn't yet been picked up for distribution but considering the audience of adoring young fans the movie has found at Sundance, there's little doubt that should change soon. (And sure enough, it has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. Read more here.)