Josh Peck pretty much looks and acts the opposite of what you’d except from a kid who grew up on his own Nickelodeon show. He talks in a modified version of street slang, throwing in “respect” and “yo” once in a while, and is cheery in a completely un-fake way—miles away from what you’d expect from most child stars. But Peck isn’t a child anymore—he’s 21, his show Drake and Josh has ended its run, and he’s branching out in the most adult of roles in The Wackness. Yes, he’s playing a high school kid, but how many child actors branch out in their first big adult role as a drug dealer who also has a nude scene?
What are the similarities between Luke and Josh?
It was one of these divine gifts that I was granted, that I feel so many similarities with Luke. He’s going through a time that I’m just at the tail end of. It’s very difficult at 18 years old to figure out what constitutes a man. For all intents and purposes you are a man. you can vote and go to war, but it’s experience, it’s relationships. You’re trying on everything. Luke describes it best—we were the most popular of the unpopular. This is my tribute to the mensches. It’s the cats who weren’t exactly nerds in the school, but they didn’t peak. They grow up to be interesting adults that are continuing the maturation process well after high school.
You’ve pretty much grown up on TV. I reckon that experience is a little different. Did you go to a regular high school?
Like Luke, I did get ostracized a lot in high school. I went to Performing Arts School, right here on 48th street, and I finished up in home school. It is a different upbringing, but nevertheless some things are universal. Heartbreak is universal, even if you do have your own Nickelodeon show. There’s no good way around it.
How much did Jonathan let you go with the character? Did Luke evolve after you took the role?
I think so. When you’re an actor or any kind of artist you use your life as something to draw from in every experience. It was very fresh to me, my first heartbreak, and a girl I was really in love with. Your first heartbreak is tough, man. You don’t know whether you’re going to live, if you’re going to breathe. I just ate a lot of Rice Krispies treats, slept on my mom’s couch. In that way, acting’s not therapy, but it’s therapeutic.
Was it tough to be so vulnerable as Luke, in his scenes with Stephanie, or did it feel natural enough? He tells her he loves her after only a few weeks!
I think I told my girlfriend I was in love with her after three weeks! And don’t trust a guy in a post-coital moment. But it’s so true—real shit comes out. I’m guilty of that. What can I say? Guys my age, a lot of us were a generation raised by females. I was raised by a single mother. I’m very in touch, man. My femininity is bursting out of me. I can’t help. I’m falling in love with you guys as we speak! [Everyone in the room blushes]
What are your memories of the time period in New York? New York is like another character in the film.
I was 8 in 1994, so I was still watching Power Rangers, rocking shoes with lights in them, Bugle Boy jeans, flannel shirts… respect. I got to reinvestigate parts of my brain that might have otherwise gone dormant. I tried to think about things that adults were talking about in 1994. My mom was talking about Pulp Fiction and the Clinton administration, and Giuliani’s anti-fun laws. And then there’s a vernacular, where we say things now like “What’s good” or “That’s tight.” Back then we’d say ridiculous things like “Yo, that’s mad crazy son!” or “What’s the dilly-yo?” There are these small peccadilloes you can pick from, and they can really be beautiful things you hinge your character on. Inevitably you just want things that are going to revert you back to the truth and honesty of that time.
Tell us about Sir Ben.
Sir Ben. He had a tough time getting used to calling me Commodore Peck, but I insist on a preface. I mean, what do you say? What do you say when you’re a basketball player and Michael Jordan says ‘Nice jump shot’? It was a gift and a privilege. He’s my favorite actor. I’ve peaked! It’s downhill from here. I think the thing about him is that, in his acting, the stakes are so very high no matter what. Whether it’s a line that would normally be discarded, he makes it life or death. I just was in awe of being around him, and I tried to grab any pearls of wisdom that he might have discarded.. The first day of shooting he said to me ‘This part shows you,’ and he gave me a hug. He knew there needed to be that sense of vulnerability between us, otherwise it would have been disingenuous.
Did you ask him for advice in any way?
I did. The last day, I said ‘I’ll never have this chance again.’ Though during the movie he let me quote his lines from Searching for Bobby Fischer, which is a rarity. Most actors don’t ever allow that. But the advice—he was more interested in giving me advice on who I was as a human being, and as an actor, and how I carry myself.
How was it working with Olivia on the set?
I’m in love with her! She’s dreamy, man!
And you guys are doing another movie together, right?
Yes. We did a movie in Vancouver called Safety Glass, about the 1986 space shuttle Challenger crash, with Steve Coogan and Hilary Duff. In that movie we kind of play kindred spirits, though we hate each other. I think we have one line together in the whole movie. Then we got offered to play twin brother and sister in a movie, that we’re not doing. But it definitely would have brought the professional relationship full circle.
How was the movie affected by you, Olivia and Jon all being from New York? The story is about the development of New York City too.
It was a gift that we were all from the city, and it played such a role in the movie. It was one less thing we had to worry about. It was a movie shot in 28 days, on a small budget, so we wanted to focus on making it look right and making sure the performances were the best they could be. It’s also a story of the loss of innocence. When you see that scene with the [Twin] Towers—that day was a real loss of innocence for this city. Giuliani has done a lot of positive things for the city, and I can’t hate on him that much. But there’s also a lot of flavor that’s been lost. It’s real tough for people my age, or I’m sure any age, to live in this city anymore. It’s rather expensive, and it’s too bad, because I feel like people like us are the ones that are the soul of the city, and maybe not the suit and ties. I hope that it reverts back to its old ways. Hopefully it changes into some beautiful bohemian, everyone driving hybrid type city.
How does what you learned about acting from your Nickelodeon career translate into something like The Wackness?
I think Drake and Josh is something that spoke to me when I was 15, and now I’m 21. My tastes have matured. It was never really a conscious decision. I’m forever in debt to Nickelodeon. It made me who I am today. Inevitably, this isn’t exactly a movie for kids. I was 15 when the show started, and the people that were watching it were 12. now I’m 21, and they’re 18. Hopefully they can see [The Wackness}. I think it’s right in their wheelhouse. And the kids that are too young, and don’t want to see my naked ass onscreen, I hope they check it out on DVD in a couple of years. It is a leap of faith, though, that I’m taking in my audience, and I hope they take with me. It is uncharted territory, and I don’t know what the trajectory is going to be.
What’s next for you?
Drake and Josh Christmas movie. This way I don’t have to be a waiter, you know what I’m saying? I’m trying to look for cool projects, but this movie is so good, it’s tough.