Recreating a cult classic action film that was the launching pad for several esteemed actors is difficult task for any director, particularly a helmer making his feature film directorial debut. But respected stunt coordinator Dan Bradley, who has coordinated stunts for the ‘Bourne’ series and Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy, effortlessly took over the reins for director John Milius, who helmed the original movie. Actor Josh Peck, who stars as one of the main characters in the new ‘Red Dawn,’ Matt Eckert, is one such person who respects Bradley’s mixture of fight sequences and the disillusion of family structure, in the remake.
‘Red Dawn’ follows Jed Eckert (played by Chris Hemsworth) upon returning home to Spokane, Washington on a leave from the Marines, as he reunites with his younger brother, Matt (portrayed by Peck), and their father, Tom (played by Brett Cullen). Since Matt would rather spend time with his girlfriend, Erica (portrayed by Isabel Lucas), then with Jed, as he still blames his older brother for leaving him after their mother died, Jed reunites with an old childhood friend, Toni (played by Adrianne Palicki). But the group quickly learns to bonds when the U.S. is invaded by North Korea. Without warning, the city finds itself prisoner under enemy occupation.
Jed then takes on the leadership role with Matt, Erica, Toni and several of their other friends, including tech geek Robert (portrayed by Josh Hutcherson); Daryl (played by Connor Cruise), the son of Spokane’s Mayor and Robert’s best friend; and Danny (portrayed by Edwin Hodge), Matt’s best friend and the star receiver of the high school football team. Taking inspiration from their high school mascot, the group calls themselves the Wolverines, and band together to protect each other, liberate their town from its captors and take back their freedom. Along the way, the Wolverines are helped by Col. Andy Tanner (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his men, who are just as determined to save America.
Peck generously took the time to sit down and discuss the filming of ‘Red Dawn’ recently at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Among other things, the actor spoke about his working relationship with Hemsworth, how he trained with Navy SEALS to prepare for the intense stunts featured in the movie and taking over the role that Charlie Sheen created in the original film.
Question (Q): Did you see the original movie before you began shooting?
Josh Peck (JP): I hadn’t seen the original, but as soon as I read the script, it came into my life and entered my dialogue with my friends. I was immediately put on notice, like don’t mess with my movie. (laughs) We were on sacred ground here. I was apprehensive to watch it, because I knew there would be parts that I loved, and would try to imitate or mimic. So I took a fresh approach. As soon as the film was done, I watched it, and really understood quickly what everyone loved about it.
Q: The original had an amazing cast. Were you a fan of its cast from other films the were in?
JP: (Patrick) Swayze from ‘Dirty Dancing’ and ‘Ghost,’ of course. I mean, Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson, for sure.
Q: When you first began shooting, was Chris Hemsworth as famous as he is now? Had he gotten ‘Thor‘ yet while you were shooting?
JP: Actually, we shot the movie three years ago. So he had booked ‘Thor,’ but he hadn’t shot it yet. Also seeing Josh Hutcherson, was later cast in ‘The Hunger Games,’ so we were all, in many ways, kind of new to these big action movies.
It’s great for me, because I’ve gotten to see Josh and Chris do these big films since then. You kind of get to be a fan of your friend. Chris and I still stay in touch, and it’s so nice to see that it’s still the Chris that I made the movie with, even with all this great success. I’m stoked for him.
Q: So you’ve arranged with him to see the next ‘Thor?’
JP: In advance? Yeah, I’m in.
Q: After doing this film, would you be apprehensive going to Korea to do a film?
JP: They haven’t invited me. (laughs) But I would love to go. I know it’s a beautiful country. If they’ll have me, I’d love to go.
Q: Did you learn about Korea and Korean culture as part of preparing for this?
JP: Well, in the initial film, when we shot it, China was the enemy. Then they changed it to North Korea.
But this film was so much about the brother relationship, and the idea of, what if the fight is brought to your front door? How would you react? I think for most of us, those fantastic circumstances are hard to wrap your head around. But if something came and threatened your home and your family, and you were forced to stand up and react, how would you? So I think that was our major focus.
Q: Do you have an older brother?
JP: No, but I have a big brother in the Big Brother foundation. We’re mad close, and I say that, because I feel like he’s my brother.
Q: Have you worked with Chris before? You have chemistry on camera, and you worked well together, like you were brothers.
JP: Thanks. I think any opportunity you have in your preparation to create a relationship, and build it into your memory, it’s one last thing you have to worry about while you’re acting on the day. Like I said, Chris had booked for ‘Thor,’ and was training for it, and I was trying to stay in shape for this movie. So we had a lot of gym days together, bonding over protein shakes. (laughs)
Q: Are you maintaining that?
JP: I’m trying. 9laughs)
Q: What was the training like?
JP: Alone, I did six weeks of training with Navy SEALS, so they butched me up for this film. There were a couple work-outs where I thought I was going to get emotional. There’s a lot work-outs based on CrossFit, Kettlebell training and brute force movements, whether it’s beating up a tire with a sledge hammer or climbing ropes. When a Navy SEAL tells you to drag a tire for a mile, and you ask why, they say, because I’m a Navy SEAL, now keep dragging that tire.
They were so generous with their time, and we did one-week Marine boot camp with the whole cast, to bond us. Then I had a week of football training. So my masculinity was at an all-time high.
Q: Did you do any MMA?
JP: Not yet.
Q: Maybe for the next film?
JP: Sure, maybe a little Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Q: After making several indie films, did you find that the approach to making this film was different than those, like ‘The Wackness’ and ‘Mean Creek?’ How different was it to approach playing the characters in the indies to the archetypal character in ‘Red Dawn?’
JP: Especially with an independent movie, you’re forced to shoot quickly, because you just don’t have the money. Like with ‘Mean Creek,’ we shot in a month in Oregon, and ‘The Wackness’ was about six weeks in New York. I’ve had other experiences with indies where it’s like a sprint, where I just have to get through this next month, and then I can go sleep for two weeks.
With this, and three months of training and four months of training, it was like a marathon. It’s seven months of your life devoted to one thing. Just getting through the process is a big accomplishment.
There’s moments when you’re acting in front of a green screen, and you’re imagining that you’re being shot at, and all you’re looking at behind the camera is a couple of grips eating craft service. You can have a moment where you feel silly. But you have to give over to those moments, and play it as real as possible.
They’re both attractive in different ways. This movie was total fantasy fulfillment. Stuff like ‘Mean Creek’ and ‘The Wackness’ are like actor food.
Q: Were there moments on set where you were referencing your ‘Drake & Josh’ days?
JP: Yeah, people have asked what the dynamic is like in between takes. It’s funny to me how with something that’s very serious in subject matter, conversely, you have to laugh during the middle of scenes. You can’t take yourself seriously, because there was a pretty morbid mood on set.
Sometimes when doing comedy, you’re sort of serious between takes. I feel as though if you’re in on the joke, and you’re kind of turning and winking at the audience, you lose them. So you have to have a good balance. So I’m balancing ‘Drake & Josh’ at all times.
Q: Did you get injured at any time? You were taking those jumps at guys who said, we hate the Wolverines. Did you really jump far?
JP: Oh yeah, I got two stitches in my head. I also put my arm through a board and have a scar on my arm for life. So I definitely have a couple of battle wounds.
Q: What kind of wounds did you get with ‘The Wackness?’ Only psychological ones, right?
JP: Yeah, I burnt my lips from smoking all the weed. (laughs)
Q: What do you think of the legalization of the pot in the two states, Washington and Colorado, having done ‘The Wackness?’
JP: (laughs) I’m not informed enough to give a legitimate answer on that. But it seems as though it’s a cause for good.
Q: Would you prefer to do movies like this again in the future, with a lot of the stunts, or would you prefer to go back to the independent movies, or would you like to balance it out?
JP: I mean, I’ll let the public decide. If they’ll have me in more action films, I would love it. But continuing, I think most actors want to do their best to not to get typecast into one particular area. I think that’s a constant battle for anyone.
But to keep being challenged, and to keep doing the independent stuff, that’s where you can find the really gritty material that appeals to me and the movies I love. Then to do stuff like ‘Red Dawn’ is a great release as well. I’d love to keep doing both.
Q: Are you going to go back in and review some of John Milius? The original ‘Red Dawn’ has an ideological slant that was inherent when he helmed the original ‘Conan the Barbarian.’ Will you watch any of his DVDs?
JP: I love ‘Apocalypse Now’ that he wrote, and I’ve watched the original ‘Red Dawn.’ So not really.
Q: Was the ‘ATM’ you were the hip-hop one?
JP: No, ‘ATM’ was a thriller that came out earlier this year. It was a small containment thriller.
Q: What about ‘Havoc?’
JP: With ‘Havoc,’ I think I was like 16, with Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips. I’m in it for like a minute. (laughs)
Q: Where does TV come into your career? Are you still involved with Nickelodeon?
JP: ‘Drake & Josh’ is still on in re-runs, and we’ve been done since 2006. So I’m forever in debt to that audience and Nickelodeon, because they made a lot of my dreams come true. So I love that that’s constantly on, and we get to make kids laugh. I don’t think there’s anything better than that.
As far as TV, I think some of the best material as of late has really been on television. I’m a big ‘Breaking Bad’ guy, and ‘Californication.’ If afforded the opportunity to do something high concept like that, I would love it.
Q: Do you ever run into your Nickelodeon fans that were that age then that watched ‘Drake & Josh’ that are now the age to see ‘Red Dawn?’
JP: Yeah, all the time, it’s a great, cool turn of events. I started the show when I was 14, and the fans were about 10. Now I’m 26, and they’re 22. So I definitely think that’s the audience.
Q: Do you think that ‘Red Dawn’ has a message that they’re trying to get across?
JP: I’m not sure exactly. I know that people have conflicting opinions on what the film is truly trying to say. But in reading the script, and having been as close to it as I’ve been this whole time, for me the experience has been, how do we make a great throw-back action movie to the ones that I’ve grown up with and loved?
The movie’s not in 3D, it doesn’t really have any green screen, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just kind of real people in this extreme experience, who keep you interested and excited. I think in that respect, it really delivers. So I hope after people OD on tryptophan, and had enough of their family, they go watch the movie and have a little bit of escapism.
Q: What are some of the other action films that you’ve been a fan of?
JP: I like ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Independence Day.’ Our director, Dan Bradley, created all the action sequences for the ‘Bourne’ movies, and I think they’re pretty ground-breaking.
Q: When you think of your character, who do you think of as references in your head?
JP: Well, playing a character that Charlie Sheen originated is intimidating.
Q: Because of his party reputation?
JP: Because of his pure Sheendom. I’m a huge fan of his work, from ‘Platoon’ to ‘Two and a Half Men.’ I don’t want to get that close to Jon Cryer. (laughs) They were big shoes to step into, but I was winning.
Who else did I use? I don’t know, anyone who’s kind of tough. It’s kind of hard to find people who are tougher than me.
Q: You said that you have tried to imagine yourself being in this place, and what if this had happened to you. Did you fantasize what you would do to protect your family?
JP: Oh man, if I was forced to be a fighter, I’d be dead, probably. That’s my guess. (laughs) I think I would attempt to do something heroic and trip on myself. If I could do something like entertaining the troops, that would be best.
Q: Your character doesn’t seem to be a good soldier in the beginning of the film. Can you talk about how you saw this character, and his transition, and what he learned from this stressful time?
JP: I think what my character is guilty of is what a lot of young people are guilty of, or can identify with. I went through a tough time in my late teens, as far as what defines being a man. I think at that age, you feel the need to have this false confidence. It’s like, I can vote, I can go to war, doesn’t that make me a man? It’s sort of like, does it, or does it not?
I understood this experience, and wisdom gained of more years lived. I understood where Matt is in the movie, having that self-focused, self-centered need. Out of the necessity of reacting to everything going on around him, to truly lose all of that, and live in the world that is, instead of the world that he thinks he should be in. So I was lucky in that respect.
I’ve played young men before, like in ‘The Wackness,’ that are having a tough time coming of age. So I felt as though it’s familiar territory.
Q: Does he change when he stops thinking about himself and realizes there’s a whole unit here?
JP: Totally, and I think that’s where the soldier mentality comes in. He works for the group, and taking care of the group, first and foremost, and then takes care of him. He has some unbelievably traumatic things happen to him throughout the film. There are these constant wake-up calls that his way isn’t working anymore, and he was to give over this way of thinking that his brother’s mastered. Otherwise, they don’t have a shot.
Q: Did you have any clashed on the set with the director or one of the producers over a choice you wanted to make as an actor?
JP: I try not to. Hopefully, before you sign onto a film, you’ve done enough vetting where you’re working with people that want the same results, and want the best for the film. So if you’re all in agreement, you know any sort of difference in opinion, and you’re inevitably trying to get to the same place. So we all saw things pretty similarly.
What was great was that our director, Dan Bradley, he’s an icon of the action world. But this was his first time really directing action performances. So I think he wanted to surround himself with actors who were ultra-focused on that part of the job, which is really our only job. He would defer to us, and we would defer to him with anything action-based. We knew that was his specialty. So it was a good medium.
Q: Have there been any discussions about any sequels?
JP: Maybe ‘Red Dusk?’ Who knows. If people love the film, I’m sure people have thought about it, I have. I’d love to reprise this role and get back in. I’d probably need a little tune up on the training.
Q: What were your feelings as the movie went year after year without being released?
JP: Inherently, making a film is anxiety-inducing. Even if everything goes to plan, you still have a year until it comes out. I’ve heard this said before, and it describes it perfectly-you have three movies; you have the movie that’s written, you have the movie that the actors and everyone makes and you have the movie that’s edited. So you truly don’t know what the final product’s going to be.
Even for someone who was as close to it as I am, I was chomping at the bits to see what the final product was that Dan Bradley always imagined in his head. It’s a great ride when you get to be a viewer. Seeing it helped me get through the times where I was nervous it wouldn’t come out, because I knew the final product was great. It just needed to find the right home and time to come out.
But there were a couple of dog days in like April 2011, when I was like, I hope this thing comes out. It was announced once or twice. There were definitely moments where I was nervous about the future.
Q: When did you get to see the film?
JP: Probably the closest to the version that everyone and the public will see is about a month ago. I had seen a pretty polished rough cut in the winter of 2010.
Q: Did it have any changes between 2010 and this year?
JP: It’s had its changes. We did a few days of re-shoots for certain story points and things that needed to be elaborated on. With this kind of movie, if you don’t see everything polished, from the visual effects to the sound, you don’t get the full experience. So it’s changed only for the better, in that respect.
Q: What else have you been doing in between the time you shot ‘Red Dawn’ and now?
JP: Well, I actually have a movie, called ‘Battle of the Year,’ at Sony, it’s a 3D movie. It was supposed to come out in January, and now it’s coming out in September. I don’t make movies that come out within a year-and-a-half of me making them. (laughs) That’s what I decided.
It’s based on a documentary called ‘Planet B-Boy.’ Benson Lee directed both films. This is a live-action version. It’s about some of the best B-Boy crews in the world. They all meet in Montpellier, France every year for something called the Battle of the Year, and 30,000 people attend. So we have some of the best dancers in the world in the film, and I bust out a couple moves, but I’m mostly there for comedic relief.
I also shot something in Romania earlier this year at the top of the Carpathian Mountains. It’s a western.
Q: A western in Romania? No vampires?
JP: No vampires, not that I’m aware of. We’ll see. I haven’t seen it yet. It’s called ‘The Timber.’
Q: Do you have a pistol in that?
JP: I have one, but I don’t know if I shoot it. I fight, for sure, but I don’t do a lot of shooting. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t speak on the future, as far as that goes. But I’ve seen ‘Battle of the Year,’ and it’s a great ride. I love dance movies.
Written by: Karen Benardello