David Moscow on his childhood role in 'BIg,' his teenaged date with Drew Barrymore and what he learned from his experience as a young actor

David Moscow, who starred in Big as young Josh Baskin, looks back on his childhood acting career. Moscow talks about meeting Tom Hanks, going on a teenaged date with Drew Barrymore, and what he has learned from his acting career. He also talks about his food travel show, From Scratch, which is currently in its second season.

Video transcript

- The fifth grade play. It was a very small part, but I got a big laugh on stage and, you know, once you get a big laugh on stage, that's the end. There's only one path after that.

Make my wish. Right. I wish I were big.

So I got started in school plays. I did a school play in fifth and sixth grade. My first audition was for "Kate and Allie," which was a CBS sitcom at the time. And I was going to play the lead kid's best friend, and I got that. Going from this small school, home to six AM calls, it felt serious, which was neat. I felt like as a 12-year-old, or kids, you know, you always feel sort of like, I can't do stuff. And this felt like, OK I'm doing stuff.

The audition process for "Big" was unique, because at the time Robert De Niro was the lead. And so I don't look anything like De Niro. So I was auditioning for the best friend, Billy. Basically, we showed up in like a community center auditorium it's like, downstairs, kind of in a basement, I think.

And Penny Marshall was sitting there. There was a bunch of kids from the Bronx. Penny's from the Bronx. And Penny would be like, you, what's your name? What do you like to do? Who's your favorite baseball team? And then, so I did it. You know, and then I left.

Months passed I did some other work, and then my agents called and were like, hey, you went out for this thing. They don't want you for the friend. they hired Tom Hanks, and you look like Tom Hanks, and I guess Penny, when they hired Hanks, she was like, remember that kid from the Bronx?

So Tom is a big actor. He'd done "Splash" and a number of other movies. And I had no idea who he was, because we didn't really watch TV. My parents brought down this old little teeny black-and-white television from the attic for an hour a week and that was kind of it. And also, he's very sort of like, low-key, and he doesn't put on airs or anything.

And then Penny, she wanted Tom and I and some of my friends to go out. So they gave him a old video camera and he took us to Central Park and he was like, all right. He gave-- I remember they gave us, this is a very cool moment. They gave us a ball. There's a scene where old Josh gets in a fight with one of his coworkers at a handball court. They're fighting, they're tussling, trying to get the ball from one another.

So they did that, and my best friend Ernest at the time, Ernest did this thing where he like used his head to keep me away and then would switch the ball from arm to arm. He had very long arms. And that's in the movie. It wasn't only me that he was interpreting. That's the talent is to take it and to make it yours and make it real, keep it real. That part of the movie makes me laugh more than any others.

He wipes the sweat off his brow, leans back, and fires.

So the movie hits and I'm in a very different world. I'm in the Bronx, in a household that doesn't really watch TV or check out movies a lot. I was sequestered in a way, in a good way, you know, always first and foremost, my parents were, you play with your friends, do well in school. That was the rule. If I didn't get As, then I couldn't continue this anymore.

Then sort of the Academy Awards of it all. The number one movie in America. I'd be standing on the street. My mom would be chastising me for acting like a brat in a restaurant, and someone would come up to us and be like, hey! And then we'd have to stop. My mom would like, quietly sit back for a moment. I'd sign some autographs and then we'd turn and she'd be like--

Looky, looky, but don't touch.

So there's a very funny story. I had done a movie called "Wizard of Loneliness." This was before "Big" came out. But the lead in that movie is Lukas Hass, who was the little boy in "Witness." So the little boy in "Witness" and the little boy in "Big" had done a movie.

But then after that, he went to New York to do a movie with the little girl from ET.

DREW BARRYMORE: [SCREAMS]

- [SCREAMS]

DAVID MOSCOW: And he called me up, and he was like, I think you and Drew would like each other. You guys should go on a date. So my mom was a chaperone and I think the studio teacher was a chaperone, and I called up Drew, and I was like I'm going to take you to Hard Rock Cafe, because that's how I do.

DREW BARRYMORE: Give me a break.

DAVID MOSCOW: It was very lovely. At one point her best friend, who was like 16, came at the end, and they were like whispering in each other's ear and then she turned and said, do you want to come with me to this party after? And I looked at my mom, and my mom was like--

So Drew was like, this was great. See you later. Then she left and I was like, that was really cool. And that was the end of it until "Riding In Cars With Boys," and then I walked into that audition and there was Penny and there was Drew and I was like, oh I got this.

My dad does community activism, was developing dual-language public schools in New York. And he was working with his friend Luis. And he called me up and he's like, yeah Luis's kid, who you know, he wrote 20 pages of music for his college thesis. Will you-- can they come to your theater company and will you listen to it? And I was like, oh no, this is a nightmare.

There's nothing worse than bad theater, being trapped watching. And then it's a family friend, like, oh god. So I went to his theater company and went down in there, and five minutes in I was like, lock the doors. This is amazing. And the kid's name was Lin-Manuel Miranda, and it was "In the Heights." And there was something really cool about helping a creative person and not having to be on stage. So it sort of snowballed into a producing career.

And I realize my summers in Montana were the last time I had true connectivity with the food I was getting.

I go around the world and meet with food producers and we harvest and grow and fish and hunt, and then I take it to a chef, and we make a meal from it. Coming from a political family, I'd always been trying to weigh, like, why was I doing? Why was I acting? So I was looking to see, is there a way that I could marry sort of my political beliefs, or trying to help the world become a better place, and the only talent I had was in this business.

I think failing might be the best gift that I was given as a child actor. Not the moments where I was successful, because that's kind of easy. But the moments where you walked out of the room and you were like, what was that? And then you had to forget about it, and you had to go out the next day and do it again. Auditioning and failing, I was going on 100 auditions a year for 20 years. If I got two in a year, that's a very good year for me.

Being a child actor, especially at the peak sort of in the '80s and '90s, it was a blessing for me. But I think I had my parents who always were very grounded. Sometimes everyone gets wrapped up in it. The parents and the kids, everyone gets wrapped up in it. And that can be dangerous.

I think every time I would like go through it-- I haven't worked in six months what should I do? My parents are all be like, you should become a teacher. I think it's time for you to go back to school and become a teacher. And I'd be like, that's not what I need to hear. I think only today, today do they finally see, oh this is what David's going to do with his life.

Your wish is granted.

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