Words by Mr Freddie Campion
"New York forces you to cultivate a certain air about yourself," says 25-year-old actor and native Manhattanite Mr Josh Peck. "You witness things a lot of people are sheltered from until they get older... I remember seeing prostitutes on their way home as I was walking to school in the morning."
For Mr Peck, who now lives in Hollywood, after growing up in Hell's Kitchen in the mid-1990s, these kinds of experiences culminated in a distinct precociousness, one that meant he thought nothing of boldly embarking on a career in stand-up comedy at the unfathomably young age of eight.
"I always led with trying to be funny," he says. "It was probably bred out of trying to please people."
Although also dabbling in acting, he pursued stand-up for the next few years, crafting a five-minute set that included jokes about school and impressions of his mother, and even playing reputable New York clubs including Catch a Rising Star and Carolines.
By his early teens he'd enrolled in a well-known performing arts high school, but he soon relocated to LA after his feel for comedy saw him cast in The Amanda Show - a children's live-action sketch show on Nickelodeon. A dream come true for any child actor, but Mr Peck says he was hesitant at first.
"I'd been to California before and I thought the people there were phony," he reveals. "I said to my mum 'I want to be a New York actor', and she said, 'All you're doing is shitty stand-up comedy clubs at midnight... We're going.'"
I said to my mum I want to be a New York actor. She said, 'All you're doing is shitty stand-up comedy... We're going to LA'
Within a year Nickelodeon had offered him his own show, Drake & Josh: a sitcom also starring fellow Amanda cast member Mr Drake Bell in which Mr Peck was cast as a chubby misanthrope, delivering the lion's share of zany one-liners and frenetic slapstick. It made him an instant star among the show's tween demographic, but he never lost sight of his goal to one day make it as a serious actor. So, at the same time Drake & Josh was cleaning up at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, he was enrolling in acting classes - some with the then relatively unknown Ms Evan Rachel Wood - in order to turn his craft into more than just showboating.
"Acting classes taught me how to act," he says, matter-of-factly. "Everyone has a character in their life who is just larger than life, and who people say should act, but without proper training they won't be able to summon it when they need to."
The hard work paid off and it wasn't long before he landed his first starring role - a misunderstood middle schooler in Mr Jacob Aaron Estes' 2004 indie drama Mean Creek.
"It was the first movie I'd seen where being heavy didn't mean you had to play the funny best friend or the bully," says Mr Peck.
When Drake & Josh came to an end in 2007, however ("We got a little bit too old"), the 20-year-old Mr Peck was forced to confront one of the most difficult challenges a young actor will ever face: a smooth transition into adulthood.
Mr Peck arrives at the world premiere of Red Dawn at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, September 2012
Mr Peck starring alongside Ms Olivia Thirlby in acclaimed coming-of-age drama The Wackness, 2008
Mr Peck performing the voice of Freddie the possum for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, 2009
The first step was dramatic weight loss - although he had been much thinner before moving to LA, a mixture of "pre-teen awkwardness and too much contact with craft services" had led him to balloon. He then found the adolescent role of a lifetime as Luke Shapiro, the weed-slinging high-school graduate fumbling his way through New York during the summer of 1994 in Mr Jonathan Levine's The Wackness. Beyond winning universal praise for his portrayal (the film itself won the Audience Award for Dramatic Film at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival) it gave Mr Peck the chance to relive the romanticised portrait of late-20th century New York he'd relished since childhood, and which is visible in two of his favourite films, Basquiat and Searching For Bobby Fischer. It seemed like the perfect role to herald acting maturity.
Today he strikes a very different figure altogether. He's kept the weight off and says he'd be happy to never talk about it ever again. "Lots of people have awkward stages where they're carrying around puppy weight, but for me it's chronicled on TV forever." And far from being typecast as the zany foil, his next role, a remake of classic 1980s movie Red Dawn, also starring Mr Chris Hemsworth and The Hunger Games' Mr Josh Hutcherson, is a full-blown action thriller.
Ironically, it seems as though the further away from comedy he gets the happier he becomes. "Growing up with a single mum, and not knowing my dad meant I would always summon comedy as a way to avert people's eyes from what was really going on with me," he says.
So he won't be returning to stand-up any time soon? "No, it actually makes me uncomfortable," he admits. "Although I did see Andrew Dice Clay at a gas station a couple of days ago."
Red Dawn is out on 21 November in the US.