I’m seeing your career at a kind of crossroads from your role in Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh” to more adult-orientated films. Do you feel that’s where you are at right now?
I don’t know if I’m that conscious of it. I think I’m just at a more exciting time in my life. I’m just proud to be a part of something like [“The Wackness”]. I think it’s rare in life when you find something that you are truly, truly passionate about and people sort of validate those feelings. I’m just enjoying being swept up in the whirlwind.
Do you think a lot about the journey you’ve taken from a kid’s show like “Drake & Josh” to “The Wackness?”
Sure, I mean, I’ve been doing “Drake & Josh” for five years and before that I did “The Amanda Show,” so I really grew up with Nickelodeon and they have been very supportive. I’m really indebted to them because everything I am is because of them. But with something like “The Wackness” and years ago with “Mean Creek,” these are definitely films that are a big leap from a kid’s world. I just think I’m really lucky to do something like “The Wackness,” which is something that really speaks to my soul and something I can balance with “Drake & Josh.” I mean, I’m going to do a “Drake & Josh” TV-movie in August. There is a good balance there. But films like “The Wackness” turn me on because they really speak truth and honesty.
Yeah, you were great in “Mean Creek.” It was heartbreaking when your character was killed at the end but think halfway through the movie I wanted to kill you, too.
(Laughs) Aw, thanks man.
I’m sure that’s what you wanted to convey playing this innocent albeit annoying kid.
The reverence all goes to the director [and screenwriter] Jacob [Aaron] Estes and the way he structured the script and the character. It was truly an inside to a character like that who’s got this fierce defense mechanism of inevitably pushing everyone away and doing it so vehemently and being so ridiculously vulnerable. This kid George [Tooney] had to pile on these defensive spikes that stung everyone around him so he was left very much alone. It was a balance of him lashing out and showing the true side of himself, which was this gently and eventually defective young man. It was an important balance to have viewers hate him and love him.
When “Mean Creek” came out and now “The Wackness,” do Nickelodeon executives want to sit down with you and your agent and talk about this or are your TV-show career and your film career completely separate?
Nah, they are totally supportive. I think they are much more interested in how I conduct myself in my daily, normal life than when I’m portraying a character in a movie. I think with being on a kid’s show and being this sort of bohemian role model it’s much more important that you are conducting yourself well with morals and values that are in line with their thinking. It’s less about jumping in to play a character because you are given free range because it is art. Maybe you can hide behind the art, I don’t know. But I like the freedom to play these characters and let out any, maybe, subconscious debauchery in the acting and less in my real life.
“The Wackness,” of course, is set in 1994. You were only eight years old then, so what do you remember about that specific year?
Um, Bugle Boy jeans, Power Rangers and those Spice Girl lollipops. Yeah, I was only eight years old so it was kind of a time of a lot of exploration in my life, mostly in the sandbox. I had to sort of reinvestigate parts of my life that might have become dormant and think about what adults were talking about in ’94, whether it was “Pulp Fiction” or Bill Clinton or Giuliani. I really wanted to draw what they were exposed to because Luke [his character] is really a young adult in the movie. For the most part it was about me getting used to the essence of who this kid was and picking parts of ’94 whether it was a speech pattern or hairstyle or something that I could really hinge the performance on.
I’ve read that you feel falling in love is all about timing. Isn’t that a scary thought, to think that the right girl is in front of you but it’s not going to work out because she’s coming into your life at an inopportune time?
I think that’s a fear of my even before I get into a relationship. I’m just worried about being rejected, man. Unfortunately, relationships and putting yourself out there and being vulnerable it’s just life, otherwise you’re not living. It’s that pain that reminds you that you are alive but it also is a pain that makes you want to be not as alive. When a movie like this comes along – one that you almost need a prerequisite to have a certain amount of heartbreak in your past or something relative to draw from – you almost think you have some experience point even though at the time it is going on you’re not really sure if you are going to live or die. I think we all put a lot of walls up and want to be careful of getting hurt. I don’t know. I don’t want to sound all sappy but [love] is kind of all we have in life.
Yeah, I had heard that you were going through some heartbreak yourself coming into this movie. Can you tell me about that and how you used those emotions to your advantage?
I just kind of was out of my first relationship and a lot of those emotions were fresh and very deep-seeded. So, to have a person that I could use to personalize the “Stephanie” character was such a gift. When I first met Olivia [Thirlby] I just took one look at her and thought, “Well, I know who you are.”
Now, I’ve never been to New Jersey, so you have to fill me in. Why is it such a horrible place?
Aw, man. I talk too much shit, man. I really gotta close my mouth. It’s a beautiful state. I can’t really hate on it that much. Maybe I have just more of a beef with some people I know that live there.
Does Ben Kingsley go crazy if you forget to call him Sir?
(Laughs) No, not at all. We never spoke about it. I heard it was something he liked to be called so we all called him that. We all have some kind of preface to or a penname or a surname that we like – Sir Ben Kingsley, Method Man, the Commodore Josh Peck.