Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
November 19, 2012
In reality, “Red Dawn” star Josh Peck says, Twitter would be the No. 1 communication tool during a foreign invasion.
“#holy[bleep],” says the actor, best known for Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh” series and films including “The Wackness.” “#OhMyGodWe’reAtWar. #I’mSo[Bleeping]ScaredRightNow. [Laughs.] It would be intense.”
In the remake of the 1984 cult favorite opening Friday, Twitter’s not an option. High school quarterback Matt (Peck), his older brother/Marine Jed (Chris Hemsworth), Robert (Josh Hutcherson) and others have only their courage and loyalty to each other to help them fight an army of North Koreans who fly into Spokane, Wash. The new “Red Dawn” was filmed in 2009 and signifies the rare action movie that emphasizes character and on-the-ground combat over 3-D effects and CGI battles.
Over breakfast at Brunch in River North, the 26-year-old New York native talked about how he’d react in an invasion, bleeding on the set and his desire to remake “The Mighty Ducks.”
The movie presents such an extreme situation. How do you think you would react if this really happened?
I’d be dead. I’m pretty sure. I don’t know if I’m exactly in a position to help protect anything. I hope that they would be able to use me in some sort of USO fashion. [Laughs.] Entertaining the troops, distracting them as they’re fighting and whatnot. I think in pretty much every respect that’s what I would be best at.
They’re like, “The war just started, Josh, stop trying to say you want to do stand-up. They’re in the middle of fighting.”
Exactly. I’d be like, “Listen, they need some sort of entertainment while they’re having their mid-day lunch.”
“If everyone can just cease fire ...”
“Is this thing on? How ’bout that mustard gas, huh? How come mustard has the condiment monopoly on warfare?”
You weren’t hugely into sports growing up. How much training did you have to do to be a high school quarterback for “Red Dawn?”
I got put in football training for a week. This movie was like boyhood fantasy after boyhood fantasy come true between military training and being with Navy SEALs and Marines. Thank God I had this brilliant double who was an arena football [player]. If at all I come across cool it’s because of him … I think there was even a play where I forgot to line up behind the center. I lined up behind some outside lineman. My center was this 340-pound black man, and the lineman I got behind was like 220-pound white dude. They were like, “Um, there might be a clear distinction in who you should be getting the ball from.”
So is it half you and half the double in the movie?
Absolutely … People that are the best seem to be quite at ease, or at least that’s what they project is being super comfortable and ready for anything, and watching quarterbacks on TV and looking at some of the greats I found that they have this ease about them. Because literally they’re the guys when time is ticking down that it falls on their shoulders. I don’t think they can be bugging out at the last moment. So [I tried for] some of that swagger—I don’t know if I accomplished it, but it felt good in the moment.
Did you try to model that after any particular quarterback?
No quarterback in particular because I don’t know, are there any Jew quarterbacks? [Laughs.]
I know, right. Is there like the Sandy Koufax of the NFL?
I’ve thought about that. Same with basketball. We don’t have much representation.
I guess we don’t. There was a couple of guys in the NHL.
And baseball primarily.
Baseball for sure. We got a couple homeboys out there. You never know, they might recruit some kid from Haifa. [Laughs.]
Anything’s possible. You wound up with a scar and some stitches. What were those incidents like, and what was going through your head at the time?
Well I got two stitches here [near his left ear] because there’s a scene where I’m running to go save my girlfriend in the movie, and the gun that I’m holding caught on the end of a seat and wound up knocking me in the head. And there’s blood coming down and I was like, “Let’s go again.” And they were like, “Why don’t you try the hospital first?” So now I’m in the Detroit trauma center and the doctor looks at me he says “What happened?” I said, “For real, doc?” He was like, “Yeah.” I said, “I was running down a school bus with an AK-47 and it hit me in the head.” He’s like, “Oh, third one today. So, are you an extra?” I’m like, “Let me assure you, I’m a pretty big deal, bro.”
As the ego slowly deflates …
Absolutely! I was like, “Should we get a plastic surgeon?” He’s like, “For what? That face?” So he sewed me up real quick and I was right back out there. And I got one [on my left arm], you can’t really see it but it looks kind of like a cigar burn or something, but I put my arm through a board. So I have that one for life.
Have you had any scars or physical injuries on the job before?
Not on the job. Just on the job of life. In my real life I’m pretty clumsy.
What’s the worst thing that happened to you off the job before?
I mean I’ve broken like five bones. I broke this arm twice, this arm once, my right leg twice. Stitches here. Stitches in my legs. I’m not the most graceful of all people. But I got a couple good stories.
It seems like Chris Hemsworth was asked to step up and be the leader when going though the military training. What was it like watching him transform into a guy who was supposed to be a Marine?
He’s a natural leader in that respect. He was 26 when we were shooting the film, and so he and [Adrianne Palicki] were the oldest people in the cast and then there was [Isabel Lucas] and I that were 23 and Josh Hutcherson and [Connor Cruise] that were 14 and 16. In that respect, much like the characters in the movie, they were the maternal and patriarch aspect of the film. And so they ushered us to a lot of things and took care of us in many ways. Especially with Chris he would laugh with me and another actor in the film, this kid Julian [Alcaraz] who played Greg, we were kind of the young kids always giving him a hard time. [Chris] was like, “Come here, my little cubs.” He would like call us his little cubs. We’d be sitting at the lunch table in the middle of the day. He’d be like, “Oy, little cubs hungry.” That’s like my awful Australian accent.
That was an accent?
Yeah. I don’t even know what just happened. I’m not proud of it. I’ve done “oy” before and I feel like I got something going on. A little touch of the Outback. Cheers.
Did anyone ever accidentally call him “dad”?
Me. I have him under “Dad” in my cell phone. “Daddy” actually. He’s an awesome dude. There’s a natural way about him that’s really endearing, and we became really good friends.
What other ‘80s movies do you hope get remade?
I think they might be remaking “Taps.” That was a pretty big movie in my upbringing. I’m already into the ‘90s bro. I hope they remake “The Mighty Ducks” because I’d be all over that. Or “Heavyweights”? Oh, God.
You want that?
What, a remake of “Mighty Ducks”? Oh my God. Listen, that movie’s on sacred ground for me. If there would be any chance for Joshua Jackson to bless me with the role of Charlie Conway, I’d be in in a big way.
Do you think you can still play a high school kid?
I’ll figure it out. We’ll update it. We’ll make it college. We’ll make it the community college “Mighty Ducks.”
There was “D3” … oh that was still high school.
They were in boarding school, bro. [Laughs.]
That movie makes no sense.
Oh, I love it.
The third one too?
They’re all good!
The third one they spend all their time competing against their own school!
Against varsity. They're tough. Oh man.
You clearly know that series pretty well.
I really do. And then Julie the cat takes over for Goldberg in net. It’s good times.
Which is your favorite of those?
Number two [“D2: The Mighty Ducks”] is the best one. The line where they finally win in the end against team Iceland, and then the line where coach says to Gunnar Stahl (attempts an Iceland accent), “You lost it for me, Gunnar,” and Gunnar looks at him and goes (Iceland accent), “You lost it for yourself.” I don’t know, is that Scottish? I'm bad at impressions. [Laughs.]
I don’t know how to do an Icelandic accent.
Come on, get on that!
I thought you were going to do, “Good work, Captain Duck.”
That’s a great one too!
Is it a weight off your shoulders and a push forward in your career now that “Red Dawn” is finally coming out?
It’s great to have closure on something that you’ve thought about over years. Inevitably as working actors you’re only as good as your last job, so it’s like sales in that respect. So you want stuff to come out that you’re proud of so that you can go on and keep working and find the next thing. I’m excited for a number of reasons. For everyone involved to have a little closure on this. I think it’s a perfect weekend to come out. It was kind of divinely perfect with the timing because Chris hadn’t had “Thor” come out yet when we shot the film and Josh hadn’t done “Hunger Games” and now that their star power can hopefully help the movie be more visible only helps everyone involved. It’s kind of great. Then I get to ask Josh about Liam [Hemsworth] and Jennifer Lawrence all day. [Laughs.]
Do you feel any sense of mild instinctive competitiveness about the fact that now Chris and Josh have had those successes, as far as you wanting to have a franchise to latch onto?
I don’t know. That’s never been a huge goal of mine. It would be an amazing thing to be a part of if it turned out that way, but it’s never been the first thing that came to mind as far as what I wanted, something I was really dying to do. I think they were both perfect for exactly the movies that they did, so it’s cool that we all became friends before that and now I get to watch them and be a fan of my friends. But doing movies like “The Wackness” before this and whatnot. I would just love to do another really great character driven piece, hopefully in New York. Whether I’m selling pot or not is up to the filmmaker. [Laughs.]
I watched an interview recently where you mentioned frequently committing a lot of faux pas with women. I was curious why you said that and what comes to mind.
I don’t know if I come across as the smoothest of all operators.
Why not? If people mistake you for a young John Travolta …
I get Travolta sometimes. Or Sly Stallone. Which is cool in itself. I’m a fan. I’ve never been the coolest guy when it comes to that stuff. But I’m getting better. I remember once I was sitting with this girl, it was at this party and I guess there was some chemistry there that I was unaware of because when we were talking, I said, “So, what are you up to tomorrow?” She’s like, “Why, are you asking me out?” I said, “No, I’m just asking you what you’re doing tomorrow. Are you busy?”
“Here’s the signal. Here’s the signal. Oh, you don’t want it?”
I was like, “No, no no, do you have hobbies?” And then later in the car I was bashing my head, like, “I’m an idiot!”
You’ve been on screen for such a big part of your life. When you look back, what do you remember as the most surreal aspect of living part of your childhood and growing up into an adult in the public eye?
Being on “Drake and Josh,” the TV show on Nickelodeon I did for so many years ... It was from 14 to 19, which was your high school years in many ways. I didn’t really understand the scope of that show when doing it and how many lives the show affected and how many kids really grew up with it. So now years later, especially the fact that it’s on in reruns, and seeing the way that families love that show and the ability to make kids laugh has been this gift. I think now with enough perspective and years removed to see the effect that show had and knowing that I got to be a part of it’s pretty cool. And I don’t know if I realized that as much in the moment.
Does it almost feel like a different person when you look back and watch yourself?
Oh yeah. For sure. I had a bit of a transformation, but that would be natural for most people just looking back at their high school years and going, “Who was that person?” I’m sure at 35 I’ll be like, “Who’s that jerk eating eggs Benedict with salmon during an interview? Who am I?”
What we ordered (if anyone cares):
Pais: Omelet with Egg Beaters (Peck had never heard of them), grilled chicken, carmelized onions, spinach, cheddar
Peck: Smoked salmon eggs Benedict
On Chicago: “I’ve only been here two days in my life … I really like it. It’s a beautiful city. [With unlimited time here] I’d eat ridiculous amounts of deep dish pizza. Take in a baseball game. I don’t know. I would just hang out and enjoy the city. It’s like living in L.A., there’s a part of that city life that’s lost on me now. I grew up in New York but L.A. has a way of beating that out of you in some respects. [You tell yourself], ‘You don’t need it! Don’t worry, you love driving in traffic! You’re having the best time of your life!’ And then you get to this urban metropolis and you’re like, ‘I feel comfortable here.’”
What he’d want to talk about with Charlie Sheen, who played Matt in the original “Red Dawn”: “So many things. He lives in the valley and so do I so already there’s so much common ground. I think I would start at ‘Platoon’ and go from there. I would pretty much just ask him every random movie cinephile geek question I could get out … And once I got to ‘Two and a Half Men’ we’d be here all night. I’d be like, ‘Come on, tell me about that Cryer magic.’”
How he plans to celebrate his 26th birthday (which was Nov. 10): “I’m always apprehensive about doing anything, and then my mom is great in that respect in that she always wants to take over and be the one who’s like, ‘This is what we should be doing.’ I’m like, ‘Mom, you’re 68, I’m not exactly sure if you know what me and my boys want to be doing.’ Usually it’s a real chill dinner with my friends and enjoy just getting to be with them. I try not to think about it too much; if I over-think it then I inevitability wind up being disappointed.”
He’s also going to see Barbra Streisand the following day with his mom: “That’s like her early birthday gift, which is in June. I’ve been to way too many Barbra Streisand concerts that any young man should be. But now I’ve grown to appreciate it and it makes my mom happy … [I’ve been to] three, four in the last decade. I’ve been rolling. Now I’m going to see her at the Hollywood Bowl.”
His culinary splurges: “I like Asian food a lot. I’ll go, sushi’s pretty healthy but the way we’ve Americanized it where we deep-fry rolls and [bleep] can be a little bit fattening. I like dessert and stuff. All the normal boring fat dude things I enjoy. “
Guilty pleasure movie: “I like random fighting movies. Like ‘Fighting’ with Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard. Terrence Howard’s really good in that movie. And his shirt’s off so I’m in. And stuff like ‘Never Back Down’ and what not … And then ‘MacGruber’ is awesome … I love it. I think it’s so damn funny. For me where movies lose me is where they try to be something that they’re not. If it’s a comedy and it tries to be really high conceptual and whatnot. I love a good stupid comedy that doesn’t try to be anything more than that. And just is ridiculous and mainstream. It’s the ones that try to be the hybrid that I’m like, ‘No thanks, I want no part of that.’”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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