Tom Hanks has been one of the biggest names in Hollywood for decades. However, if it wasn’t for 1988’s Big, the story of a child suddenly transformed into an adult man thanks to a misguided wish, Hanks may have never become the star he is today.
We’re looking at the huge facts you didn’t know about this sweet tale, from the actor who wasn’t even allowed in the audition room to the huge twist that nearly ended up in the film.
20. Tom Hanks based his performance on David Moscow’s
Child actors don’t really have the best reputation in general, and the 80s are littered with infamously awful performances from kid actors who hadn’t yet had a chance to really hone their skills. Therefore, it’s often assumed that young actors will take cues from their seniors on set, trying to glean all the advice they can get.
In the case of Big, however, the opposite happened. Before they had shot a single scene, Tom Hanks asked his younger counterpart David Moscow to act it out first, in order to see how the kid would authentically perform it. Hanks would then shoot the scene, replicating the mannerisms and vocal inflections of his young co-star.
19. Robert De Niro almost starred as adult Josh
It’s almost impossible to imagine Big starring anyone other than Tom Hanks, but his casting wasn’t always a sure thing. Everyone involved in selecting the cast for the film was sure that Hanks was the right call, but when they first asked if he was interested in playing the character, he declined. Though Hanks was enamoured with the script, the production clashed with his prior commitment to appear in Dragnet.
In his place, Robert De Niro was offered and then accepted the role, but he ultimately dropped out when his requested salary of $6 million – considered just too high for the production – was denied to him. The casting team set out to find their third choice to play the adult Josh, but thankfully by this point Hanks’ schedule had freed him up enough to accept the role and start shooting.
18. David Moscow was set to play Billy when De Niro was involved
The big question mark around who would play the adult Josh in Big didn’t just affect Hanks and De Niro – it had a knock-on effect on the whole production. When it was thrown into question whether the film would star Hanks or De Niro – who spent time with eventual Billy actor Jared Rushton when he was briefly attached – the child actors’ roles had to be switched around accordingly.
Though David Moscow looks like a pretty convincing child version of Hanks, it’s much harder to believe that he would grow up to be Robert De Niro. Therefore, whenever it looked like De Niro would be leading the movie, Moscow was recast as Josh’s childhood best friend Billy. When De Niro dropped out for good and Hanks took the lead, Rushton was cast as Billy.
17. Penny Marshall got Hanks and the child actors to bond by putting them in a room filled with toys
Directors often come up with creative ideas to help their cast get to know one another, whether it’s the cast of Mamma Mia! going on a holiday to Greece together, the titular Bridesmaids getting suitably drunk while on a night out, or the kids in The Breakfast Club being encouraged to hang out and act like real teenagers in between takes. However, it’s way more complicated to try and build chemistry when half of your cast are children and half are adults.
To try and make the younger actors of Big feel as comfortable as possible, Penny Marshall scheduled a bonding session where young Josh, adult Josh and Billy actors David Moscow, Tom Hanks and Jared Rushton all got to hang out in a huge room filled with toys. The subsequent mischief is what inspired the silly string scene in the movie, with something similar apparently having played out in real life.
16. The studio refused to let John Travolta be in the movie
The back and forth between Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro wasn’t the only casting squabble that happened in the early stages of Big’s production. A lot of names were in the running at one stage, and the producers only really objected to one: John Travolta. Travolta had read an early version of the script and had fallen in love with the story, and became pretty persistent in attempting to win the role.
Unfortunately, Travolta was never even seriously considered, as the producers on Big were so convinced that the actor was box office poison. Big went into production roughly a full decade after Travolta’s starring roles in Grease and Saturday Night Fever, and he wouldn’t have his career revived by Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction for a number of years.
15. It was at one point suggested that Josh be female
Big perfectly captures the friendship that pre-teen boys often share – as well as how a young boy would most likely navigate the world of work and relationships if he suddenly woke up in a man’s body. It’s an earnest and hilarious concept, and one that makes for an almost perfect movie. Some of those involved at the pre-production stage, however, thought one big change was necessary to improve it.
Some involved in the production were of the opinion that the movie would be better if it were about a young girl who wakes up as an adult woman, in something close to a 13 Going on 30 style story. Penny Marshall refused to budge and swap the genders, however, on the grounds that there was no way to make a grown man in a relationship with a young girl in an adult’s body not creepy.
14. It was the fifth age-change comedy to come out that year
Nowadays, most film fans look back on Big as a pretty original story that has endured throughout the decades. However, when it finally hit cinemas in 1988, the film wasn’t considered quite so groundbreaking. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Big was actually the fifth movie that year to tackle a dramatic age switch through the lens of comedy.
In order of release, the four other movies to use a similar device across a 12-month period were: Like Father, Like Son; Da grande; Vice Versa; and 18 Again… (not to be confused with the similarly titled 2009 Zac Efron and Matthew Perry star vehicle 17 Again). Thankfully for Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks and all involved in the film’s production, Big went on to be the biggest hit of them all.
13. Gary Busey auditioned to play Josh but it was decided he wasn’t convincing as an adult
Even though while Big was shooting many of the film’s cast members had their doubts about how successful the final product would turn out to be, the producers had high hopes for the comedy right from the beginning of production. In particular, they believed that the success of the movie hinged entirely on the choice of who would portray Josh.
Before settling on Tom Hanks, the team went through several other picks to potentially play Josh. Sean Penn was briefly considered, but it was decided that he was too young to carry the film. Likewise, Gary Busey auditioned, but Penny Marshall later said of Busey’s take on the character: “he had the energy of a child, but I didn’t think he could pull off playing an adult.”
12. Jon Lovitz snuck off the film early, assuming it would be a huge flop
Jon Lovitz appears in Big as Josh’s co-worker Scotty Brennan, a minor character who only shows up for a few scenes in the movie. Originally, Scotty was set to be around for a much bigger chunk of the film, but Lovitz was unfortunately struck down with flu in the middle of shooting, leading to him taking a few weeks off to recover.
Lovitz actually got better quickly enough for him to have returned to the shoot, but the actor and comedian decided on a whim to keep quiet, and hope that the production team never got in touch to ask him to come back. He chose to do this because he assumed the movie would be a flop, and so jumped at the chance to limit his presence in it. However, Big turned out to be a huge success, and Lovitz has since called his decision to not return the “biggest mistake of his career”. Whoops.
11. It’s one of the only PG movies to contain the F-word
Big is an odd movie. It’s light on violence and sexual content and features a fair few idyllic scenes that illustrate the magic of childhood, such as the iconic dance on the piano or Josh and Billy playing around with silly string. However, the premise of a pre-teen in an adult’s body struggling to navigate work and romance is a little bit more grown-up.
These two competing tones might explain why Big was initially given a PG rating, but is also one of the only PG movies to feature the use of the F-word. The use of such a curse word with such a rating puts Big in a pretty exclusive club, alongside Spaceballs, Caddyshack II and Beetlejuice. The PG-13 rating was created shortly after to differentiate between movies like Big and truly family-friendly fare.
10. The famous piano scene was done without stunt doubles
The scene where Josh and Mr MacMillan bond over playing Chopsticks on a huge cardboard piano is not only one of the most standout sequences in Big, but also one of the most recognisable scenes in all of 80s cinema. What makes the scene even more timeless and impressive is that Robert Loggia and Tom Hanks really did perform the songs with their feet, despite the director doubting their ability to pull it off.
Director Penny Marshall first asked the two men to step back and let some specially chosen stuntmen film the sequence, but all this did was make Loggia and Hanks more determined. The pair insisted on mastering the songs themselves and, after working hard to rehearse the scene, surprisingly delivered the whole thing faultlessly in just one take!
9. Penny Marshall simply hired the receptionist who worked in the building to play the MacMillan receptionist
One of the main locations where the movie Big spends its time is the head offices of MacMillan Toys, where Josh is invited to work after impressing the company’s owner with his childlike joy at the toy store. There are several scenes of Josh adapting to life as a member of the company, and he often clashes with the company’s grouchy receptionist.
Mildred Vandever gives an ultra-realistic performance of a harassed but ultimately kind-hearted professional, and the reason she feels so right for the role is simple: she’s a real receptionist. Rather than hire an actress to play the part, the director simply opted to cast the receptionist who usually worked at Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhartdt, the advertising agency whose offices were used, to play a fictionalised version of herself, which she immediately agreed to.
8. The film changed the life of the Walking Piano’s inventor
Without a doubt, Big’s most iconic scene is that involving the musical piano at FAO Schwarz. It allows Josh and Mr MacMillan to meet and bond, and helps Mr MacMillan to re-evaluate his whole approach to toys and children’s happiness. However, what you might not know is that as well as being pivotal to the movie, the Heart and Soul piano duet was also pivotal for the piano’s inventor.
The life-size Walking Piano was specially designed for Big, and was created by inventor and designer Remo Saraceni. Saraceni had begun working on musical furniture way back in 1970, with the invention of his Musical Daisy, and by 1980 had progressed to creating walkable pianos for museums and private collections. The one designed for Big was the largest and most elaborate he had ever made, and the fame the movie brought him allowed him to spend the rest of his life building and selling them for individuals who were enchanted by the idea. This also allowed him to fund his other inventions for decades after the movie came out.
7. Josh’s transforming robot/bug toy eventually became real
One of the most memorable scenes in Big comes when Josh is pitching various new toy ideas, all of which are sure to revolutionise MacMillan Toys and enchant children around the country. One of his ideas is that of a bug that transforms into a robot, Transformers style, in order to fight bad guys. This idea was actually Penny Marshall’s.
Marshall came up with the idea for the bug-robot-hybrid toy whilst watching a nature documentary on bugs, and then immediately added it into the screenplay. It turned out to be a remarkably prescient idea for a successful toy, as it was later independently developed and released by Bionicles – meaning that, ever since 2001, it has been possible to purchase the toy that Josh dreamed of.
6. Steven Spielberg was originally going to direct, with Harrison Ford starring
The first draft of Big’s screenplay was written by Anne Spielberg, the younger sister of legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Anne collaborated on the script with fellow writer Gary Ross, and both were convinced that when it came to the question of who should sit in the director’s seat, the answer was obvious: Anne’s brother Steven.
Unfortunately, despite initially agreeing to helm the project, Steven Spielberg dropped out of the running to direct pretty early on. Harrison Ford, who had also agreed to appear in the project but only on the condition that Spielberg directed, dropped out soon after. This left producer James L Brooks to shop the script around, eventually interesting Penny Marshall in the story.
5. The Coco Pops rap was Tom Hanks’ idea
One of the most iconic scenes in Big is the moment where Josh, desperate to convince his best friend Billy that he really has suddenly found himself living in an adult body, breaks into a rousing rendition of the Shimmy Shimmy Coco Pops rap. Only the two friends know all the words to this elaborate song, and so Billy instantly comes round to believing Josh once he’s finished.
The idea for Josh to sing a secret inside joke song was actually Tom Hanks’, and the specific words to the Coco Pops rap came from Hanks too. According to an interview with Jonathan Ross, Hanks’ son Colin Hanks had learned a similar song at summer camp the previous year, and loved reciting it at any opportunity. Hanks adapted the song for Big, based on the lyrics and intonation of his son’s camp song.
4. Tom Hanks was nominated for an Oscar for his performance
Big was received well by critics when it was first released, and it has only become more beloved since. In 2008, AFI named it as the tenth-best film in the fantasy genre, while it also landed at number 23 on Bravo’s list of the 100 Funniest Movies. Out of all of the age-change comedies that were released in the late 80s, Big is the one that has best stood the test of time.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Big’s success is that Tom Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Actor, despite the movie being a fantasy and a comedy, two genres that the Oscars have been historically unlikely to reward with a nomination. Hanks also won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for playing Josh.
3. Penny Marshall became a record-breaking director thanks to the film
Before Big was released in 1988, Penny Marshall was mostly known for her acting chops, rather than her abilities behind the camera. In the early 80s, her directing experience was limited to a few episodes of Laverne and Shirley and an Aretha Franklin music video, making her being given the job to direct Big a pretty large jump and learning curve.
Thankfully Marshall rose to the challenge and created a movie that was instantly beloved by both audiences and critics. Marshall also became the first female director to direct a film that took more than $100 million at the box office, setting a new standard for herself as well as the female directors that followed. Pretty impressive, especially when you consider that she followed up Big with the similarly successful A League of Their Own just a few years later.
2. A Big TV show is in development now
With Big being such a huge hit with critics and audiences alike, it’s not surprising that several adaptations of the classic story have followed in its wake. In 2004, a Telugu film titled Naani was released with virtually the same plot and the same characters, but with a few geographic and cultural changes made to help the film resonate with an international audience.
Big’s first adaptation, though, came in 1996, when it was turned into a reasonably successful Broadway show. It ran for a little under a year, with 196 performances in that time, and featured lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr, who had previously won a Tony for his work on Fosse. Ever since 2014, Fox have been developing a television show inspired by Big, one which aims to show what it means to be a kid in modern times.
1. Barry Sonnenfeld nearly got fired in his first week working on the movie
Before working on 1988’s Big as its cinematographer, future Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld had worked on a variety of projects, from TV movies to music videos and ABC Afterschool Specials. Some of those projects had been pretty influential, such as the music video for The Clash’s Rock the Casbah, which is considered an important part of music history thanks to its taboo imagery and boundary-pushing lyrics.
Sonnenfeld was hired on the strength of his resume, but Penny Marshall was not immediately won over by his skills. Despite approving of the choice to make him director of photography, Marshall believed that Sonnenfeld was not giving his best to the project, and almost fired him during the first week of shooting. It was only studio executives stepping in that allowed him to keep his job, as they forbid Marshall from dropping him from the project.