Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I really flipped for THE WACKNESS when I saw it at Sundance way back in January. As someone who was almost scared off by the premise (wiggery teen sells drugs over a summer in the early ‘90s), I’m telling you that this movie has heart, laughs, sensuality and charisma with charm to spare. I didn’t get to do any interviews for the flick while in Park City, but I was able to lock down a phoner with star Josh Peck and director Jonathan Levine (who also helmed the seemingly never-playing-outside-of-film-festivals horror hit ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE). I met Levine at the SXSW screening of WACKNESS and you’ll see him reference a lunch we had in the interview, in case that just seems to come out of nowhere. Also, I recently spent time with the producer of this film, Keith Calder, while visiting the set of his next movie, which comes up. I think that's all the set-up you need. Here’s that chat. Hope you enjoy it!
Jonathan Levine: What’s up man?
Quint: Hey, what’s going on man?
Jonathan Levine: I was just telling Josh that you were the first person to indicate that INDIANA JONES might suck to me.
Quint: Oh yeah?
Jonathan Levine: I’m thankful, for that.
Quint: I set the bar a little bit lower for you there?
Jonathan Levine: Yeah, although now all of the reviews on the site say it’s good, but I don’t think it’s very good.
Quint: I’m very mixed on it, because there is stuff in there that I like as just an INDY fan. The stuff that I didn’t like in INDY was that it just wasn’t that thought out. None of the Red Scare stuff and INDY being blacklisted ever amounted to anything and it just seemed like really lazy screenwriting.
Jonathan Levine: Yeah, well I think it’s probably a function of combining like 20 different scripts. So, how are you man?
Quint: I’m doing well. How are you guys? You two holding up alright?
Jonathan Levine: We’re good, we are just getting started.
Quint: So, it’s up to me to wear you guys down then?
Josh Peck: Yes, please.
Quint: The first thing that I have to talk about, was I was told to bring up the possibility of a big internet petition of the resurrection of Karaoke Sweat.
Jonathan Levine: Who told you about that?!?
Quint: I don’t know, who could have told me about that?
Jonathan Levine: Was it Mitch?
Quint: It was Keith actually.
Jonathan Levine: Keith Calder?
Jonathan Levine: Josh doesn’t even know about that. I hosted a karaoke night in LA. It was very short lived. It was two summers ago and it was a live band karaoke and it was awesome. Back when I was single and carefree, we would play a game with the audience called “What pills did I just take?” where a member of the audience would hand me an unidentified pill and I would take it no questions asked and then based on my behavior an hour later the people would judge what I had taken. I can’t do that anymore.
Quint: Yeah, I think that’s probably a good idea that that’s not… although that would be a fun day for the crew. You know how they have like five dollar Fridays and stuff, they should do that at the beginning of every Friday or something on the next movie.
Jonathan Levine: Did you talk to Keith about BUNRAKU?
Quint: I went out to BUNRAKU.
Jonathan Levine: You did?
Quint: I did. I was on the set in Romania.
Jonathan Levine: Man, how was it? Was it cool?
Quint: It’s bizarre. It looks really sweet and everybody involved was cool. I liked what I saw a lot. But I got a really awesome Keith story that I have to share before we get too into this, because it’s just going to be on my mind and I will derail the interview later to make sure I bring it up, so I might as well get it out of the way first. We were sitting on the set and I was sitting there with Keith and Jessica [Wu] and sitting next to Keith was one of the hairdressers on the movie, it was her little boy, maybe six or seven years old sitting there playing his DS, and he just kind of looks over at Keith and his mouth drops open and his eyes go wide and there was another kid sitting next to him and points at Keith and they both look at him like he’s a god, right? I noticed this and was like “this is interesting” and then the kid gently tugs at Keith’s shirt and says “Are you an actor?” and Keith says “No, no I’m not an actor, I’m producing this movie” and he goes “No, you were in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS! You’re an actor.” So, for that entire day we kept hearing “Hey, you are the guy from ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS.” They thought he was David Cross.
Jonathan Levine: He does look like David Cross.
Quint: I had to share. So, how’s the reaction? You said you are just starting. Have you seen the movie with anybody outside of the fest circuit yet?
Jonathan Levine: You know, we have done a couple festivals. We did Seattle and San Francisco, Tribeca, so yeah we’ve been going around man. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for it to play somewhere where people just don’t get it and so far that hasn’t happened. So far people have been really responding to it, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.
Quint: It’s a quality flick, man. You know my feelings on it. We’ve talked about it already, but I’m really glad that they are getting behind it and doing a big push.
Jonathan Levine: Yeah, they are going after it. I’m very happy so far.
Quint: Cool. So I guess since we have both of you guys there together, we should talk about how Josh came to be in the flick and how you found him and how he convinced you that he could do it and how much money exchanged hands or whatever.
Jonathan Levine: Josh, do you want to start?
Josh Peck: Other than bringing a quad of the dankest kush in LA to the audition…
Jonathan Levine: Josh is not exactly lying. (laughs) He had his own prop. That’s all I will say. You just reminded me of that. That was helpful.
Josh Peck: It’s so much like if I was on the phone in the scene or something, that if you had the chance to use a common prop, why not? It literally came down to where John and I, being these two white boy hip hop heads from New York. The scale was in my favor, so we kind of had the same disposition and we vibed right away and I sent him a letter that I probably agonized over for a good week and then I finally hit the send button and I just hoped for the best.
Jonathan Levine: Josh came in briefly early in the process and I had probably seen about twenty people before that and everyone I was seeing… the script was making the rounds and it was well received, so I had the opportunity to see a very high caliber of actors that age. Everyone coming in was very good. When Josh came in, he just felt so right and he was able to capture the humanity and the humor of this character, while at the same time feeling very authentic, so we could get that out of the way right away. We didn’t have to like… He had an authenticity that no one else could bring and so that was the immediate thing that resonated with me and then beyond that, he was just able to access the humanity of this person and then he sent me this letter, which he didn’t need to send, because he had it. I think I probably called him back once, just because you never know. You always want to keep seeing people, just to rule out everything else, but it was always him from the moment he came in and he sent me this letter and then I talked to Jake about this a little bit about him. Jacob (Estes), who had written MEAN CREEK and drinks coffee at my local coffee shop and has been very nice to me to answer all of my stupid questions and he had nothing but amazing things to say and that was it. It was a done deal.
Josh Peck: I remember the first time John and I talked on the phone, my manager’s assistant connected us, so she was listening and we get off the line and she goes like “Yo, why do you guys talk exactly alike?” Maybe it was all sort of oddly meant to be.
Quint: You probably have absolutely zero recollection of it, but I actually interviewed you back during MEAN CREEK.
Josh Peck: We talked about HALO!
Quint: We did. We talked a lot about HALO, yeah.
Josh Peck: It was funny when you wrote in your article that you left that part out, because you thought it was going to bore the shit out of people, so I remember it well.
Quint: Good, so sometimes I’m not super boring, when we can talk about video games and um… So what did you think about HALO 3? No, I’m just kidding…
Josh Peck: (laughs) You know what? I lost interest after HALO 1, that shit just got too complex for me.
Quint: Oh yeah?
Josh Peck: Yeah. I mean I like video games and all, but I don’t know if I’ve got the brain power for that stuff.
Quint: You should try, especially if you are burnt out on INDIANA JONES and what it could have been, you should go for LEGO INDIANA JONES. The LEGO games are surprisingly… They always looked stupid and kiddy to me, but they are really kind of involving and it’s very nostalgic, especially if you grew up with INDY, because you play through all of the first three movies.
Jonathan Levine: Really? I used to be really into… there was this INDIANA JONES AND THE LOST CITY OF ATLANTIS for my PC.
Quint: All of the INDIANA JONES games sucked and they’ve always sucked. For some reason, but I guess the LEGO ones are the exceptions so far, but I heard Lucas Arts is doing a high quality one. You know how like they are doing THE FORCE UNLEASHED now, which is like this super huge budget sweet looking STAR WARS game. They are doing one for INDIANA JONES like that.
Jonathan Levine: That’s good. Maybe that’s where their future should stay.
Quint: In video games? (laughs) Cool and getting back to your movie, at what point did Josh come in? Where you early in the process or late in the process?
Jonathon Levine: He came in kind of early, but then I think he came back kind of midway through and we had started casting before we had Kingsley, so he probably came in once we had Kingsley maybe again. I don’t exactly remember.
Quint: I can imagine an actor like Kingsley is like an actor magnet, where the second you have him in the movie, then everybody wants to be in it.
Jonathan Levine: Yeah, it certainly helped.
Quint: So what did you feel, Josh, when you found that Kingsley was in the movie.
Josh Peck: It was unbelievable. Me and my boy Jed, who is actually a featured extra in the movie, we quote SCHINDLER’S LIST like it ain’t no thing man, like “This list is life.” That’s our shit man and the best part was that Kingsley would let me quote lines from like SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER with him and he would let me quote his lines no less and especially ones like “Know what I want back? I want back what Fischer took from us when he disappeared.” Shit like that and…
Jonathan Levine: He remembered his lines?
Josh Peck: Yeah, like he would finish them for me, like “His successor wasn’t here tonight, he was asleep alone in his bed in your house. Your son creates like Fischer. He sees like him.” I remember we did that scene and he let me quote that when we were shooting the graduation scene and I think it was just like a surreal experience to be quoting that with him and have him on my right eating apple Dutch pancakes. So, Sir Ben Kingsley on the movie, it was the greatest gift I could have ever gotten.
Quint: So, you are working with Sir Ben and you are like “OK” and then you find out “I get to make out with Olivia Thirlby for half of the movie.” It’s a win win situation for you, I’m sure.
Josh Peck: No question. The worst part is we haven’t done it since.
Quint: Maybe you guys will get “Best Kiss” or something at the MTV Movie Awards, then you will have an excuse.
Josh Peck: That would be awesome.
Quint: Let’s talk about nineties nostalgia a little bit, because Josh, how old are you now?
Josh Peck: 21.
Quint: So you probably don’t really remember too much of this era. Of course you would remember a lot the nineties, like I was born in 81, so I remember vividly the late eighties, but was that a hard part for you to grasp going in, the nostalgia kick?
Josh Peck: I remember Joey Lawrence. What else do you need to know from the nineties, right? (laughs) I mean there were certain aspects of it that I kind of had to investigate. The cool thing you’re afforded as an actor is the chance to explore parts of your brain that might have otherwise been dormant. Then I tried to remember a lot of things that my mom was talking about and adults were interested in in the nineties, like PULP FICTION and the Clinton administration and what not. Then there were certain key aspects to anything that you can incorporate into your actor and then they sort of take over, whether it was a couple key speech words or my dope nineties haircut. It was very Brian Austin Green. Well I probably would have looked good with the Ian Ziering.
Quint: Well what about the idea, for you Jonathan, with you wanting to explore the nineties nostalgia, because I know that that is a big draw for the film. It’s not like its solely a nostalgia piece, but I think that that really does kind of help define the world and put the characters in a certain time and place.
Jonathan Levine: Yeah and I think any time you can do that as a film maker… Anytime you can give an audience a better idea of the kind movie they are going to watch, it helps, because it allows them to stop struggling with what type of movie it is and just relax a little and just allows them to empathize and feel for the characters, but beyond that for me it was just a lot of fun just thinking about all of that stuff. I think as a director, it’s just a great opportunity, because no one has done it yet. There are very few things that no one has really done, so you get to sort of play “Name that reference” a lot, whether it be 90210 or Reebok pumps or Phish.
Quint: British Knights baby!
Jonathan Levine: I don’t know man, wasn’t that a little earlier?
Quint: I don’t know… that was like the bridge, the BK’s.
Jonathon Levine: I remember the British Knights commercials were with Kool Moe Dee.
Quint: Oh yeah?
Jonathan Levine: It might be just a little bit earlier, although I’m sure people were still wearing them. They tried to bring them back and it didn’t really work because the sneakers themselves are huge.
Quint: I remember, I had some.
Jonathan Levine: They are just so large. They are not comfortable and… anyways… but yeah man it was just… Gameboy. That, to me, was really a fun one and not to get back to video games, but I remembered playing the TETRIS where you had two game boys and when one person gets a line, the other person gets a line up, like if I were to get a TETRIS, the other person would have four extra things to deal with. So there were all sorts of things that were fun like that. It was really cool to be able to do and also, since a lot of times the story kind of works on a deep emotional level, it’s fun for me to be able to do that kind of goofy stuff too and throw it in there.
Quint: There are a couple of scenes that I would like to talk about specifically. When I saw it at Sundance, when it hit me that I was like “OK, we are in for a movie I’m going to love,” is that first scene with you, Josh, and Sir Ben in his office and what I loved about it was just how… I love it when you combine drama with comedy and that’s where I think the brilliance of casting Sir Ben in that role came from to me, because he is a funny guy, but he is also a brilliant actor, so what was it like working on those scenes specifically? The ones between Josh and Ben?
Jonathan Levine: When we got into the psychiatrist stuff, we were kind of late. I think it was towards the middle or the end of the shoot and we knew that no matter what had come before it, if these scenes didn’t work, you know… that’s where the movie would live or die. We did a bunch of them over the course of two days and it was just… it really turned out beautifully and I just remember it was a very quite environment on the set and it was really just about Josh and Sir Ben doing their thing and it was just very quiet and comfortable. That’s what I remember most about it and of course I had hoped that people were going to recognize that it was something that you could laugh at at the beginning. That’s really important to me, too. It starts out with them talking about very serious stuff, even though all they are talking about is getting laid, they are both talking about it in a very serious way and I can always judge how well the scene’s going to go by how early in the scene people start to laugh.
Quint: Yeah, so the late mark is when he brings the bong to his lips?
Jonathon Levine: Yeah.
Quint: Well, what about you Josh? What are your impressions of doing those more intimate scenes? Was it intimidating to you at all being that it was just you and Sir Ben?
Josh Peck: No question. I mean, I remember that was like… once I finished that week, those scenes were behind me and then the end of the second week is when we shot the love scenes. Between those two, I felt like after that I was on semi easy street, autopilot. What I prepared the most for and yet I wanted to be ready for the organic moments to live during those scenes as well, only because I just wanted to be completely involved. I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions or all of this preparation that would derail me from being alive during the moment and it was a time where it felt like Sir Ben and I were in this beautiful harmony that I’m sure had nothing to do with me and all to do with him and we just spoke and it was just a completely genuine. As actors you would rehearse something and then you would ask if we need to do it again or ask John if he thinks we could just shoot it and then John would say “Great, let’s shoot it” and then it was kind of off to the races. We wanted to let those moments live, while the camera was rolling and just be alive during that time, so it was a trip. Then when we weren’t shooting and they were relighting, we would go downstairs to this holding room and it was literally just Sir Ben and I without any other outside distractions which was completely intimidating in its own right.
Quint: I know that it was an independent film, but was the actual process of shooting it very stressful or was it laid back? Or was it somewhere in between?”
Jonathon Levine: For me, it was stressful. Being an independent film, there were days where we felt very much like a movie that you are shooting on your parent’s credit card and then there were days where I felt like we were SEX AND THE CITY or something, because when you are outside at night or whatever, inevitably you have got to have three or four trucks and it’s a spectacle, you know? Then there were days when we would just sneak around the park filming Josh with a cart, but I am always like a stress case on set. For me, once we get to the production part it’s really just about getting the job done and the kind of intense physical nature of filmmaking and for better or worse, I like to do a lot of different kinds of stuff. I’m not just focusing on the actors, I’m focusing on a hundred different things and so it really takes a lot out of me, so I think regardless of whether it’s independent or whatever the budget level, I’m always going to be stressed and that’s just my own cross to bear, but I do think we had a lot of fun. I can remember a couple of days, especially on the beach and in the beach house where it really just felt like we were living in the movie, in a way.
Quint: Well how stressful can it be, when you have the guy from ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS there?
Jonathan Levine: He really helped with his singing of the Christmas Song for all of us. Wait, who does David Cross play in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS?
Quint: He’s the evil record company owner?
Jonathon Levine: Who is the CHIPMUNKS owner?
Quint: Jason Lee.
Jonathan Levine: What’s his name? Dave?
Quint: Yeah, Dave.
Jonathan Levine: Sorry, that’s your fault man. You mentioned ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS again. (laughs)
Quint: I know, I regretted it the second it came out of my mouth. Cool guys, well I don’t know if I’ve got too much left. Is there anything else that you would like to bring up?
Jonathan Levine: I’d like to know if Josh thought it was stressful or not.
Quint: Me, too.
Josh Peck: It was just hot as hell. I just remember sweating my ass off and I kind of knew that to, but I have an affinity to perspiration, so I was very aware of that and I just thought “Oh these poor wardrobe and/or makeup people that are going to have to keep an eye on me.” It was an indie movie in all of the best ways. We moved on when we had it and we really gave things the time that they needed and we didn’t really waste time. I don’t think there was anything stressful about it from the production sense, it was just self imposed stressed, because I said “If I don’t do a good job in this, then I’m going to be doing Check Cash commercials years over.”
Jonathan Levine: That’s the nice thing about doing an independent movie, though, that everyone is there because they want to be there. No one is there for money. They are just there because they like it and want to be there. That is especially true for the crew, so I think in many ways, we were very lucky, although I can’t imagine a situation in which I would not be stressed out, but we were very lucky. We had a wonderful cast and wonderful crew.
Quint: Alright, cool. I really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk to me, especially after our last semi-interview ended up being just us bullshitting and eating at Salt Lick.
Jonathon Levine: Dude, that was my favorite interview!
Quint: That was great, wasn’t it?
Jonathan Levine: By the way, I went back there twice.
Quint: As you should have. I can’t believe that you went back in short periods though, because you probably would have ruptured something in your stomach.
Jonathon Levine: I think two days later I took my brother and my girlfriend there and they just flipped out, so thank you.
Quint: No, problem man. You guys need to get back to Austin and maybe one of these days I’ll get to actually meet you Josh instead of getting to talk to you over the phone.
Josh Peck: I would love too, man. Thank you so much for your support of the movie and what not.
Quint: It’s real easy on my part. You guys have the hard job.