Who's That: Former Teen Star Josh Peck Mans UpNickelodeon’s boy wonder Josh Peck returns to his New York roots in one of this summer’s biggest indie films.
Photo: Robin Holland/Sony Pictures Classics
In The Wackness, Josh Peck plays Luke Shapiro, a hip hop–loving white kid who hangs out in downtown NYC, sells marijuana out of an Italian ice cart and pays his therapist (Ben Kingsley) in joints. The movie, which is set in 1994 and opens Thursday, has generated serious buzz thanks to co-star Mary-Kate Olsen (and her hard-to-imagine make-out scene with Sir Ben). But 21-year-old Josh—best known for the squeaky-clean Nickelodeon sitcom Drake & Josh—is the real star. The Hell’s Kitchen native “battled it out among the usual suspects” for the role (he declines to name names) and won the part, he says, because his NYC background so closely mirrors his character’s. Josh, who is Jewish, was raised by a single mother and “loves Mos Def, Talib Kweli and KRS-One.” He plays chess in Washington Square Park and eats soup dumplings in Chinatown. He tosses out urban phrases like “cool cats” and “that’s tight” and cracks self-deprecating jokes (he lost quite a bit of weight recently, and laughs that he might not be able to stand New York winters “now that I lack insulation”). So how does the actor justify playing a pot-pusher when he has a devoted youth following? “Well, in some ways this was a selfish endeavor, but I hope my fans will take a leap of faith with me,” says Josh. “And if they’re too young to do that, they can watch the movie on DVD in a few years.”