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Interview: Josh Peck on the “Red Dawn” remake

chris-hemsworth-red-dawn-poster-trailerHave you read “Nothing to Envy?”

Author Barbara Demick won the 2010 BBC Samuel Johnson prize for her book about closed and secretive North Korea. The elegantly written work tells how schools and hospitals lack basic supplies. To stay alive in a collapsed economy, people learn to cook grass. Those able to defect to China learn that dogs there eat better than people back home. It’s disturbing, riveting stuff.

If you haven’t read the book and plan to, don’t watch the remake of “Red Dawn” right afterward. Otherwise the idea of rugged, technologically superior (and seemingly well-nourished) North Koreans invading out of the blue and bringing America to its knees might seem a little too ridiculous.

“Initially, China was the enemy, ” actor Josh Peck explained during an interview while he was in Atlanta promoting the remake, which is now in theaters. For political and economic reasons, the “Axis of Evil” nation proved a more suitable bad guy. “The filmmakers walked a fine line, ” Peck said.

Known for his role in Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh, ” Peck flexed new muscles, figuratively and literally, for “Red Dawn.”

“It was a crash course in masculinity, ” said Peck, who described rigorous days of training.

The film, as with the 1984 original, is about teens who escape when their town is attacked (by Soviets the first time, the inexplicably hunky North Koreans now), power up and then counterattack from their hidden lair. The remake is far less bleak than the original with bits of levity — and even teen romance. But the redo hews close to key elements, namely how the high school football team mascot becomes the name of the ragtag opposition force and their rallying cry: “Wolverines!”

Josh Peck plays Matt in the "Red Dawn" remake, as Charlie Sheen did in the original.

Josh Peck plays Matt in the "Red Dawn" remake, as Charlie Sheen did in the original.

The new Red Dawners fill iconic shoes, with Chris Hemsworth playing Jed, as Patrick Swayze did the first time. Adrianne Palicki reprises Jennifer Grey’s role as Toni. Peck plays Matt, originally portrayed by Charlie Sheen, but he did not reach out to his predecessor for tips.

“I didn’t want to disrupt Mr. Sheen, ” Peck said, delicately avoiding any mention of Sheen’s antics. “I’m such a fan of his from this film to ‘Platoon’ to ‘Two and a Half Men.’ I think I’m winning!”

He also did not watch the first “Red Dawn, ” a cult classic whose fans watch it ardently and repeatedly. Smyrna entrepreneur Shawn Arnold likely speaks for lots of red-blooded “Red Dawn” fans with his recollections.

“I was 10 years old when the first one came out and the Cold War was raging, ” he said. “Everyone hated the Russians. Every Southern young boy who ever played war in the woods behind their house imagined themselves defending the country from a Russian invasion. Defending your family, living in the woods, shooting guns, messing around with explosives, and taking out a bunch of invading Russians. What’s not to love?”

The original "Red Dawn" starred Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze.

The original "Red Dawn" starred Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze.

Alpharetta attorney Lawrence Cooper is right there with him.

“Growing up, every time someone in school stared out the window, I ducked for cover, ” he said, only half-kidding. “As a kid growing up in the ’80s late Cold War period, it actually felt like that could happen.”

Peck understands the significance of remaking such a beloved movie.

“It’s like if they made a remake of ‘Mighty Ducks, ‘ ” he said, referring to the 1992 movie about a youth hockey team that coincidentally starred Sheen’s brother, Emilio Estevez, and is considered a cult classic by approximately no one. (We think Peck was entirely kidding.)

“I went in fresh, ” Peck said. “I knew there would be a temptation to mimic the original.

“I knew we were on sacred ground.”

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