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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Big,' Tom Hanks's First Blockbuster Hit

August 17, 2020 37.3k views19 items

When Big went into production in 1987, the signs behind the scenes weren't promising. It was only director Penny Marshall's second feature film; there were several other films in production with similar plots about characters changing ages; the central romantic relationship between the teenaged Josh and the adult Susan was morally dicey; and several high-profile actors, including Tom Hanks, had passed on taking on the role of Josh Baskin. Even after Hanks changed his mind and accepted the part, he and co-star Elizabeth Perkins quietly worried that the film would end up going straight to video.

But these doubts turned out to be unfounded. Big became one of the biggest commercial hits of 1988 and it received Academy Award nominations for Hanks (Best Actor) and for its screenplay.

Here are some of the fun behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Big.

  • Penny Marshall Worried That Tom Hanks Would Overact

    Tom Hanks was reportedly always the first choice to play the adult Josh Baskin, but that didn't mean director Penny Marshall didn't have her doubts. At that time, Hanks was best known for playing glib, irreverent-type characters, and Marshall wasn't sure how the actor would approach the part.

    "This was a very nonverbal role, so I really thought Tom had to be innocent and shy," she told the Los Angeles Times shortly after Big was released in 1988. "I knew that took away one of his favorite weapons [as an actor] - his verbal assurance - but I had to convince him that he had to be 12, not play at being 12."

    In order to keep Hanks from overacting, Marshall brought in respected dramatic actors like Robert Loggia and John Heard to play key supporting roles, hoping their style would help keep Hanks in check. Marshall explained to the newspaper that whenever there was a new scene, she would let Hanks try different approaches before telling him, "Bring it in, bring it down."

    In the end, Hanks earned his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance in Big. He has gone on to earn four more such nominations (winning twice), as well as an additional nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

  • The Writers Made Josh 13 Instead Of 12 So He'd Be A Man Under Judaic Law

    Screenwriters Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg worried about whether it was even appropriate for Josh to get into an intimate relationship with an adult. So while he was originally meant to be 12, they eventually changed his age to 13.

    That meant he would have already had his bar mitzvah, which under Judaic law is seen as the rite of passage into manhood.

  • There Is Still Confusion About How Far Josh And Susan Actually Went

    Although Big was a commercial and critical success, the romantic relationship between Josh and Susan made many people uncomfortable, since it involved a 13-year-old boy and an adult woman - even if the adult was unaware of Josh's true age. And because the film never actually showed the two in bed, not everyone believed that the relationship went that far. To date, no one involved in the making of the film has come out and answered the question of "did they or didn't they?"

    "To put these people in bed and actually have them have sex, where do you draw the line?" Perkins asked in a 2013 interview with the New York Post. "She can't have sex with a 13-year-old. And yet, the next morning when you see him, you get the impression [from his happy expression] that they slept together, or that he has been sexually fulfilled somehow." Perkins continued, "But it's that very very fine line of, the audience always knows he's a 13-year-old, but [the other characters] do not."

  • In The Script, Susan Kisses Josh On The Lips When They Say Goodbye

    In the original screenplay, Susan kisses Josh on the lips to say goodbye after she drives him home following his confession about being a kid. But Marshall knew that wouldn't fly, since Susan now knows that he is only 13.

    "I said, 'No, no, no, you can't do that. [She] must kiss him on the forehead," Marshall recalled to the New York Post in 2013.