Penny Marshall's "Big" was a big deal back in 1988. And nowadays, looking back, "Big" remains a big deal, not just because star Tom Hanks first became Oscar Nominee Tom hanks, but because Marshall became the first female director to make a film that grossed more than $100 million.
Of course, it's hard to imagine "Big" making such big money without the iconic piano dancing scene between Hanks and Robert Loggia. But hearing Marshall talk about it, it's easy to imagine that scene never getting filmed at all.
"The piano that was in the store didn't play any notes," Marshall told Yahoo Movies over the phone recently while speaking about the new 25th Anniversary Edition of "Big," now available on Blu-ray. "A 'C' wasn't a 'C.' I mean, I did take piano lessons as a kid, I know what a 'C' is. I know what an octave is. So this was useless to me. It was too small for two people."
So you give up right? You find a different toy at FAO Shwarz to bond over, right?
"I called the inventor. I said, 'Okay, I need this many octaves, and I need it practical, so it lights up when they hit the right note." So the inventor, Remo Saraceni, made a better model, the one you see in the film.
But when it came time to shoot the scene, some of the producers thought Loggia and Hanks needed a little help with their moves. "I don't know certain movie things, and they kept saying, 'Do you want dancers? Do you want stand-ins?' No! They can do it," said Marshall, who had the duo practice on a cardboard piano while they waited for the remodeled version. "They could do it themselves. If I could do it, they could do it."
Not only did they have to do the whole "Heart and Soul" song and dance, as the script called for, but Marshall added even more steps, and faster paced ones at that. "I added 'Chop Sticks' because I thought visually it was funny."
As you might expect from the woman who gave us Laverne De Fazio, that wasn't the only funny bit Marshall contributed. Remember when Hanks eats the baby corn like it's corn-on-the-cob? "I guided him to the corn," said Marshall. "There must have been 10 bits we did at that table. The writers wrote the caviar. But when you're there, you do a bunch of things. You put little olives on your fingers. I picked up a piece of corn and just signaled, and he went, 'Yeah, got it.'
Hanks and Marshall's shorthand didn’t' start with "Big." He and Marshall actually met on the Paramount lot, where Hanks was starring in the sitcom "Bosom Buddies" and Marshal was slaying audiences in "Laverne & Shirley." Marshall even appeared as herself on an episode of "Bosom Buddies."
While there were some dramatic moments in "Splash," "Big" offered Hanks the chance to really grow up as a dramatic actor, even though he wasn't actually playing a grownup. To help Hanks nail the mannerisms of a pre-pubescent boy, Marshall videotaped David Moscow, who plays young Josh Baskin, playing scenes opposite all the principles. "I had him do all the scenes with Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, and I videoed them for Tom, so he could have a guideline of how a 12-year-old would react."
Hanks's reactions went a long way towards earning him that Oscar nomination. And Penny Marshall's direction went a long towards eliciting those reactions. No wonder they teamed up again four years later for "League of Their Own," the film that made Marshall the first female director to notch two $100 million movies.
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