On breaking out of his kid-friendly typecast in The Wackness.
Since 2004, Josh Peck has been coming into American homes on television as one half of the title characters in the Nickelodeon show, Drake & Josh. But as any 19-year-old actor who has made his living on kids' programming will tell you, there comes a time when you have to break that family-friendly mode. And break it Peck does in this weekend's The Wackness, an indie dramedy by writer/director Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) in which he plays a troubled teenager who pays for his therapist in pot.
"Coming off something like Drake & Josh -- which I was very proud of, but was for a very select audience -- I mean, you’re in people’s homes everyday on TV and they rerun it all the time. It’s easy for people to only get used to seeing you in only one respect," Peck explains. "I just didn’t want to be typecast. I wanted to have the freedom to do the things I wanted to do. And, to continue to do things that make kids happy and then when I had a chance to do something I felt passionate about, to do that as well."
Winner of the Audience Award for Dramatic Film at this year's Sundance Film Festival, The Wackness is firmly ensconced in 1994 New York -- that is to say, the height of Rudy Giuliani's bittersweet tenure as mayor of New York City. "I remember Giuliani coming in and just cleaning up the city," Peck says. "I remember one day that Times Square was a place my mom wouldn’t take me and the next I was buying Pokemon cards in the height of it."
As much as The Wackness is about its characters, it is also about that era, and earmarks like the slang and the music of the time figure prominently. One might conceivably argue that the setting is a character in and of itself. As a result, both director and cast felt it crucial to do everything they could to recapture the essence of New York at that time. "I would just blast East Coast rap for the two months I was there. It was all Biggie and Jay-Z and KRS-One," Peck tells us. "It was also very much about the language to me. Today where someone would be like, ‘That’s good.’ Or, ‘That’s tight.’ Then it was ‘That’s mad crazy, son.’ There were just different inflections I guess."
Peck got his chance to work with one of his idols in The Wackness, Sir Ben Kingsley, who plays his therapist, Dr. Squires. "Sir Ben has been one of my favorite actors since I was 12-years-old and saw Searching for Bobby Fischer," he gushes. "For me, everything he does has such high stakes. Everything he says is do or die in a movie, I think that might just make the scene better. It’s like a basketball player playing with Michael Jordan. You can’t really ask for anything better."
But perhaps more daunting may have been the sex scenes he had to share with co-star Olivia Thirlby (Juno, Snow Angels). "It was petrifying. I was afraid when the robe dropped, so would the sky. The world would come to end," he says. "It was a funny day. We kind of didn’t talk to each other for the whole first half of the day and then when we had to shoot it I don’t think I had any lunch. I didn’t want to be bloated. I did 50 push ups, dropped the robe and went with God."
The Wackness opens in select theaters this weekend.
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