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25 Years After Playing Young Tom Hanks in 'Big,' David Moscow Looks Back on Child Stardom, Penny Marshall's Direction, and The Making of a Classic

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! December 19, 2013 at 12:58PM

The second audition of David Moscow's career involved Penny Marshall, Robert De Niro, and a script about a 12-year-old Jersey boy who wishes "to be big."
Moscow in 2003's "Honey"
Moscow in 2003's "Honey"

If the generation brought up on "Big" sometimes bungles the details, Moscow's memory of the production is remarkably vivid. He quickly learned how Marshall ("Awakenings," "A League of Their Own") gained her reputation as an actor's director.

"Tom came by the set one day just to see how everything was going and I think he could tell that I was a little bit nervous," Moscow said. "And he came over and he was like, 'No, no, Penny just likes to have everything she can possibly have in the editing room, to make sure it's all there." And then he said that he'd done like 37 takes the day before. But that's what Penny likes to do. She wants to give you time to play."

Appropriately enough, for a film about the tension between childlike wonder and adult responsibility, "play" proved central to the experience. While Moscow rode the carnival rides from the film's opening sequence and stayed up all night for the first time ("I ate so much cotton candy," he said), Marshall made a decision that explains the naturalistic ease of Hanks' rangy performance.

"When we were rehearsing, Penny would send an AD [assistant director] out with a camera with me and my friends and we would sort of playact some of the scenes so Tom could study the tape of how kids interacted with each other," Moscow recalled. "So there are a couple moments in the movie where he is... mimicking things that my friends did, used to do. Watching it, you're like, 'My God, that's crazy!'"

Moscow caught the film's moving denouement on cable recently, and marveled at his teenage self.

"It seems like a completely different person, that child, back then," he said. "I had green contacts in, my hair was dyed black, I had lost two teeth during shooting... When you're looking at that kid you're like, 'Oh, he looks sort of like me, but he's also very strange right now.'"

Despite this distance, however, Moscow, who celebrated his 39th birthday in November, understands why "Big" continues to resonate with viewers young and old.

"Everybody goes through that," he said. "Everyone at some point in their life wishes that they had more power, that they were taller, that they were older, that they were stronger, and so everyone can kind of connect."

"Big" is now available in a 25th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD Combo Edition from Twentieth Century Fox.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews, Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, Genres, comedy, Classics, DVD / Blu-Ray

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.