My Mother Was Nuts Book Excerpt: How Robert De Niro, Not Tom Hanks, Almost Starred In Penny Marshall's Big
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Actress and funny lady Penny Marshall made her name in television (Laverne & Shirley) before making an unexpected leap into directing with 1986's Jumpin' Jack Flash. But it was her sophomore feature, a fantasy about a boy transformed into a 30-year-old by a wish, that launched a career behind the camera — and made her the first woman director to gross $100 million. But as Marshall tells it in her wry, vivid memoir My Mother Was Nuts, everyone in Hollywood had passed on Big, Tom Hanks included — until, that is, an unlikely actor threw his hat into the ring: Robert De Niro.
Marshall recalls the struggle to cast Big's leading man — and the names who went out for the part, from Sean Penn to Gary Busey to John Travolta ("at the time he was box office poison"), in Movieline's exclusive excerpt from My Mother Was Nuts.
In the release (in stores today) the 69-year-old Marshall writes her life story, from her childhood growing up in the Bronx alongside sister Ronny and brother Garry, to her introduction to Hollywood and famous friends, colleagues, and lovers including John Belushi, Carrie Fisher, Rob Reiner, Art Garfunkel, Joe Pesci, Steven Spielberg, and many of the brightest talents of New Hollywood, to her successful second career directing films like Big, Awakenings, and A League Of Their Own.
Stay tuned for Movieline's exclusive interview with Marshall.
Jim Brooks and I both had offices on the Fox lot and one day while I was in post-production on Jumpin’ Jack Flash he came into my office and put a script on my desk. “This is your next movie,” he said.
It was Big.
What he didn’t tell me was that everyone in the world had turned it down. From Chuck Shyer to Steven Spielberg. Because I didn’t read the trades or follow the business, I had no idea. Nor did I know there were three similar movies in the works: Like Father, Like Son; Vice Versa; and an Italian version.
But Jim was a mentor and friend. He knew that I had liked directing and making things up. He also knew that I wanted to do it again. I was grateful for his help because I probably wouldn’t have known how to look for a project on my own. Luckily I didn’t have to.
I read the draft and liked the story. Twelve-year-old Josh Baskin can’t get the girl he likes; she’s interested in an older boy who can drive. He wishes he were bigger and wakes up the next morning as a thirty-year-old. He gets a job at FAO Schwarz, rises up the corporate ladder, and becomes the object of affection of a beautiful executive. It was a theme that everyone could identify with: When I’m big I’m gonna . . .
To make the high concept work, I wanted it to be real and believable. The biggest challenge would be casting the lead. I went straight to the three big box-office stars at the time: Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, and Dennis Quaid. All of them passed. Everyone passed.
I tried a different approach. I looked for the kid who would be Josh’s best friend, and I picked Jared Rushton. He had the most spunk of those I saw. He worked well as I brought in actors, including Sean Penn, who was terrific but too young, and Andy Garcia, who was also great, though one of the studio executives said, “We don’t want to spend eighteen million on a kid who grows up to be Puerto Rican.”