LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Josh Peck has spent much of his teenage and young adult life in front of television cameras portraying the chubby, goofy character Josh in the Nickelodeon cable TV series “Drake & Josh.”
But a slimmed-down Peck, 21, is now starring in art house drama “The Wackness” as a New York City high school dope dealer, Luke Shapiro, who trades marijuana for counseling with his psychologist, portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley.
The role in the adult-oriented film, in which Luke falls in love for the first time, is a major departure from Peck’s TV show aimed at young teenagers. Peck, who grew up in Manhattan, talked to Reuters about the movie and his career.
Q: You started at age 9 doing stand-up comedy and then went on to acting, what interested you from the start?
A: “It gave me a lot of confidence, and I felt accepted in this arena, and I would see a lot of kids’ performances and think I could really do that. I didn’t see why I couldn‘t.”
Q: With “Wackness,” did you think you needed to take a role that was opposite of straight-arrow Josh in “Drake & Josh” in order to change your image as an actor.
A: “The (”Drake & Josh“) audience has supported me over the past several years -- have made me who I am -- and for that I‘m forever in their debt. But this is its own genre. Doing ”The Wackness“ was an oddly selfish endeavor because I was only thinking of myself. I read the material and felt like I could portray this character in an honest way. I identified with some of his attributes and a lot of his weaknesses.”
Q: Like what?
A: “The universal themes of his vulnerability and his sort of disillusionment and cynicism at that time in his life. I felt like I definitely went through a stage where I thought: ‘If this was adulthood, I don’t want any part of it.”’
Q: Do you think some of your “Drake & Josh” fans will be surprised that Josh has become the dope-dealing Luke.
A: “I guess I‘m hoping they can take a leap of faith with me, that although they haven’t seen me in this type of forum before, they can accept me in the direction and chances I want to take. Also, for me, I was 15 when I started doing the show, and a lot of the audience was 12, and now I‘m 21 and they’re 18, which I think might be a perfect age to see the movie.”
Q: How have you changed in those years, as an actor?
A: “Every role, I think, can be extremely therapeutic. It’s not therapy exactly. For that I pay a professional. (laughs)”
Q: But do you sell dope to that professional?
A: “I’d never tell. (laughs again) But there’s something very cathartic about being able to take past experiences and infuse them into this kind of character. It’s nice to bring some legitimacy to heartbreak that I’ve experienced in my real life and thought I’d never recover from.”
Q: That begs the question, has your heart been broken?
A: “Shattered, my friend. Shattered! But that makes life -- if you’re able to persevere through the difficulty -- that much sweeter. It’s necessary, but when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t know if you’re going to live or die and you’re plastered to your mom’s couch eating Rice Krispie treats.”
Q: In “Wackness,” you worked with an Oscar winner and master actor in Sir Ben Kingsley, what did you learn?
A: “How to conduct myself as a professional on set. When I did ask for advice, he was less interested in me as a actor and more interested in me as a person. ... You’re only an actor a part of time, but you’re a human being all of the time.”
Q: You were a chubby kid, but you took it on yourself to lose a lot of weight. Why was that important?
A: “For me, getting healthy was about myself. A lot of guys can be bigger and are comfortable with it. For me, I wasn’t really comfortable. From a health perspective, I just knew that if there were ever a time to get healthy it was this age. If I can also inspire kids to get healthy -- I know how tough it was growing up as a chubby kid. For them to know there was someone out there who got healthy, that’s pretty cool.”