Best known as the formerly heftier half of the Nickelodeon comedy team Drake & Josh, Josh Peck has graduated from kid-friendly TV to more mature movie roles, with several films due out in 2008, including Drillbit Taylor, set for release March 21.
You turned 21 in November--how did you celebrate?
Actually, it was kind of a low-key birthday, but one of the best I can remember. A lot of people around me were telling me how momentous the occasion was. I guess that 21 is kind of a big milestone birthday.
Drillbit Taylor is the first of several movies you have coming out.
Yes. It was a chance for me to work with the Apatow camp; Seth Rogan helped co-write the movie. And I’ve been such a fan of Owen [Wilson]; I love Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Judd is so talented and he could almost sneeze out a hit. He’s on such a roll, and to be around that creative energy was really interesting. Owen was totally gracious; no Hollywood front—just a real guy. We had fun together. It was a very blessed experience, and I think it will be very funny.
What’s your role?
I play this kid Ron—Lisa Lampanelli is my mom. She’s pretty hysterical and was busting my chops; we kibitzed all the time. It’s a little bit of a departure I guess from how people would normally see me.
That seems to be true of your other movies too—American Primitive is set in1973.
Yes, in Cape Cod. It’s about this girl who moves to Cape Cod and finds out her dad is gay, and she has to live with this secret. Then the whole town finds out. I play this blue-collar fisherman named Spoke. I support the main character in her secret, and she finds I’ve always known as well but never had a problem with it. My character had some tragedy in his life that opened him up to realizing that it’s better to spend your time on earth accepting people for who they are, because if you don’t, you might not have the chance to tell them that.
You play the love interest?
Your first romantic part—how was that?
Pretty weird—it’s definitely something I have to grow into. You’re always self-conscious about what you’re doing and second-guessing everything. You kind of have to submit to being in the moment, showing that side of you that only someone you’re romantically involved with ever sees. But it’s not that bad. What’s not to enjoy?
What kind of preparation did you do?
I looked at a lot of magazines from the 70’s to find out how people looked during that time. I was playing a fisherman, so I put fish oil under my fingernails in the morning, because fisherman can never get that smell off their hands.
You're about to do Safety Glass with Hilary Duff and Steve Coogan. What’s that about?
The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger crash and the kids at the school where Christa McAuliffe taught, and their relationship with a reporter covering the story. My character has a hapless romance with Hilary’s character. He’s in love with her, but it’s very unrequited.
You’ve clearly moved on from Drake & Josh—were you eager to do that?
We might be doing a movie in the future, but that’s up in the air. It was so much a part of my life for so long that I’m grateful for the experience and the fact that I’m able to make kids laugh every now and then. It’s the singular thing in my life that I have to be proud of. It was like high school for me—I was on the show from 14 to 19 and was kind of wishing to finish and put it behind me. But after I was done, I got pretty nostalgic.
So no regrets about working through your high school years?
No regrets, period. No regret about life in general, hopefully.
What do you think your Nickelodeon fans will think of the new Josh? Do you think some of your roles will surprise them, especially your Jewish pot dealer role in another movie, The Wackness?
I guess it’s a possibility. I hope people can deal with it within its context. My biggest fear was that I would be typecast someday, so I continue to try to do roles that will distinguish me as a real actor. I pick roles that feed my soul and I think I can bring truth to, whether it’s a drug dealer or Josh on Drake & Josh. I just do what interests me.
You’ve avoided becoming a teenage celebrity train wreck. What’s the secret?
Listen to your mom. Mine’s pretty much the go-to for me.
You grew up with her, without a dad in the picture. Did you have any male role models?
I’ve had a Big Brother from the Jewish Big Brothers Foundation, going on 14 years now. He’s been really instrumental in my life, and now he has kids—his daughter was born on my birthday. I’m very close with them. It’s kind of cool that I can be an uncle since I don’t have any blood brothers or sisters. I’m “Uncle Josh.” I have great male friends in my life, and there are things I respect about them and the men that they are. I feel lucky to have them in my life.
What role does being Jewish play in your life?
I feel very inherently Jewish. It’s part of my DNA, and I love the culture and the feeling of family, and I’m a huge fan of any form of potato latke, kreplach, and delis in general. I’m not as observant as I sometimes would like to be, but no matter what, I always feel very Jewish.
Did you have a bar mitzvah or Jewish camp experiences?
I didn’t go to Jewish camp. I went to a normal sleep-away camp, but I got really homesick, and by the third day, I called my mom and she took me home. My bar mitzvah was a big love fest. I was surrounded my family and friends. My mom got halvah from Empire Candy on the Lower East Side [of NYC]. My mom has watched the video from my bar mitzvah on every birthday I have had since then.
You have lost a lot of weight. How hard has it been to take it off and keep it off?
I’ve made a conscious effort to be healthy and become healthier. It’s really not about what you weigh, it’s more about quality of life and being happy with who you are. I just knew I’d be happier if I was healthier and in better shape. It took me about 2 years to lose all the weight—100 lbs—and it’s been almost 2 years now that I’ve kept the weight off. It’s not easy. I miss pizza, and my mom is a great cook and is constantly sabotaging, but I work out a good amount.
Do you make time for dating?
I’m playing it day by day. I’m keeping my nose to the grindstone at the moment.
Is it important for you to date a Jewish girl?
I think a human girl is the only prerequisite!
Do you have any desire to direct or write? Travel?
That’s all so selfish. I’d like to do some philanthropy, do good things for all the good fortune that’s come to me, whether it’s charity or doing something specific to help people. I work with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and I’m figuring out what other charities I connect with. Maybe I will start my own charity.
What goals do you set for yourself?
I’m doing my best to be happy, to do the things that further my happiness for me and for mankind! You can put an exclamation point on that.
JVIBE magazine via jpm