I sometimes get asked who, out of all the celebrities I’ve had the chance to interview, is the nicest out there. There’s a few names solidified on that list, like John Travolta (easily the nicest celeb I’ve ever met), Vera Farmiga, and Ernest Borgnine (may he rest in peace). I now have to add Josh Peck. The former television star of DRAKE & JOSH has been making an interesting transition to film with projects like THE WACKNESS and the ICE AGE films. He can now be seen in the remake of RED DAWN, which (in this critic’s opinion at least) is a fun update that plays off the sensibilities of the original while switching things up just enough to keep it interesting. There was a little controversy behind it as the project has reportedly been done and waiting for two year, prompting people to wonder if it was going to be any good or not. I rather enjoyed it, and something tells me the target demographic will feel the same way. Earlier this month Peck came through Dallas to talk to select members of the press, and I had a chance to sit down with him for a bit. You can check out my video interview below, followed by our Gary Murray’s coverage of Josh’s press junket. RED DAWN opens this week.
“This film appeals to every boyhood fantasy I’ve ever had,” said Josh Peck, the young actor who could easily be one of the nicest people one will ever meet. The seasoned performer with the bright smile and dark locks looks right at you when asked a question. This former child star of The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh has gone on to features such as The Wackness.
Recently he was in town for promotion of his newest flick Red Dawn, the remake of the 1984 hit. The movie is about a bunch of high school kids and the invasion of the US by another country. The teens start a covert operation to destroy the enemy, using their high school mascot as a rallying cry — “Wolverines!”
This version of Red Dawn started shooting in September of 2009. The film has been on the shelf for a few seasons and Josh is just happy that it is coming out. “You have high hopes for anything you do” he said of the project. ”It just needed to get into the right hands.” He wasn’t sure that the film would get to audiences. About the roundabout release, he said, “There were some dog days in April of 2011.”
The film originally used the Chinese as the enemy but it was changed to North Koreans. There were a few days of re-shoots that were story based, but most of the film was changed with computer graphics. “They digitally changed the flags,” he said of the switching of enemies.
Much has changed from the 1980’s and re-makes of films from that decade have not been as successful as Hollywood would hope. Of this, Josh said, “Approaching any re-make you have to ask ‘Why do it? Why even touch something that meant a lot to a lot of people?’”
But he believes in the project. “What I loved about Red Dawn, there were these moments that paid homage to the original. If you love the first movie, you are going to be blasted with nostalgia every fifteen minutes. Thirty years later, we are afforded the opportunity to take advantage of new technology and new techniques in capturing the action. I feel as though in this new film, the scope is so much broader, the perspective is huge. The stakes are multiplied. I hope we made people proud,” he said.
Since Red Dawn is a remake, there may be some trepidation with certain audience members to see the film. “I understand the apprehension because I’m guilty of that too. It is kind of easy to have contempt prior to investigation. We are walking a fine line because the original meant so much to so many people. We set out to make the kind of action movies that I grew up with like Lethal Weapon. It is less green screen and more visceral response. This movie has you on the edge of your seat for 90 minutes. I think it really delivers.”
The film is directed by Dan Bradley, a former stunt man. Dan was one of the basic reasons Josh chose to accept the project. Josh knew that this rough and tumble man would take them to the edge in terms of stunts. “Dan is tough,” said Josh. “In a lot of respects (that’s good). They wouldn’t be able to reassure as much as Dan was able to. He would say, ‘I promise you you’re safe but you’re close. So, you are going to have a real reaction and give over to that.’ You trusted him because he’s made a hundred other films and that he’s got this spotless record. When you are standing there with this explosion and the concussion heat wave, you are like ‘I’m in it.’”
Josh did most of his own stunts in Red Dawn and he has the scars to prove it, with two stitches in his head from the filming. He laughed and said, “Red Dawn is with me forever.”
The actor did six weeks of training with Navy Seals in order to get ready for this role which he readily admits was intense. “When Navy Seals tell you to drag a tire for a mile and you ask ‘Why?’ They say ‘Because we are Navy Seals and we told you to do something.’”
There were moments when he thought it was too much and he couldn’t handle all the physical work, but he made it through. The cast endured a week of boot camp with Marines and a week of football training camp. “I’m as butch as I’m ever going to be,” said Josh. “I don’t get more masculine than this. It was intense.”
“It is kind of a marathon process,” Josh said of making this movie. “In an independent film it is four weeks and one can just sprint through it, but Red Dawn was three months of training and four months of shooting. Just getting through the process was an accomplishment.” He also had to brave the elements in winter in Detroit. “I just have to power through this,” he thought of the entire experience.
Josh would love to work behind the camera if he could find a great project. “If I could find the right material that I could breathe some truth to, I would love the opportunity.” Then he added, “I don’t underestimate it. We shoot a movie for four months and Dan has worked it for two years, pre and post production. For a director, it is your life for years. I would just want to be ready.” Years earlier, he directed an episode of Drake & Josh. “They were my friends and they were very forgiving,” he said of the process. “I’d love to keep doing stuff and hopefully graduate.
Being in the business since he was very young, Josh understands much more about the creative process. “The best part about seeing (the completed work) is to truly see what the filmmaker had in mind throughout the experience. A movie makes three transformations. It is the movie that is written, the movie the actors acts and it’s the movie that is edited. That final product is hopefully exactly what the filmmaker had in his mind. If I find myself as just being a viewer, I’m excited.”
Josh also sees a greater dynamic in Red Dawn than a simple action film. “With Dan Bradley involved in (Red Dawn), the action would be second to none. But, I loved that there was this through line about this brother relationship, so it afforded me the opportunity to get to do some real acting as well. That part I understand, wrapping my head around the idea of dealing with life or death situations. Having to react in this way requires a little bit more imagination, but fighting with your brother and relationships between family and friends, that I got. I love that the movie had a balance.”
Making Red Dawn made the cast question how they would react to a similar situation. “Sometimes we would look at what we are doing and the environment and imagine if we could be this ballsy in that situation. Everybody could identify with that. What if the fight was brought to your front door in some extreme circumstance was placed in front of you that you had to deal with? We can all agree that I would be of no help. I have made my peace that unless I’m utilized in some kind of USO fashion, like making the troop laugh. Maybe if the troops needed craft services,” he joked.
Even though he is breaking into the world of feature films, Josh does not close the door to television. “What is really cool about television, especially what is on HBO, is you do 13 episodes a year and that is 13 hours of playing a character. You get to investigate a certain role much more than you would in a regular two hour film. For the right thing, if the material were great, I’d love it,” he said. “It all comes down to writing and the show runner.”
He wouldn’t mind taking on the challenge of doing Dancing with the Stars. “This body ain’t just built for sitting,” he joked. His next project is a dance movie to be released sometime in 2013.
Red Dawn comes out the day before Thanksgiving. Josh said, “So once you’ve OD-ed on tryptophan and family, hit the movies and have fun for a few hours. He finished his thought by saying, “I want them to just have fun. I hope that they really enjoy the film and get their money’s worth. If you are tired of Daniel Craig, I’m your second.”