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The Untold Truth Of Big

The premise of the 1988 film "Big" is a relatable one: 13-year-old Josh Baskins (David Moscow) is desperate to be a grown-up. When his wish is granted, and he wakes up having aged into his 30s (and now played by Tom Hanks), he discovers that adulthood isn't all it's cracked up to be. The film, directed by Penny Marshall, has become a classic. It's a sweet and relatable portrayal of how hard it is to grow up, and how healing childhood innocence can be.

While the film is beloved now, it was hard for the filmmakers to be positive prior to its release. The film had been turned down by several directors, was plagued with casting issues, and had a concept that, at the time, felt overdone. But with the charm of Tom Hanks in the lead role, and Penny Marshall's deft direction, the film won out in the end. Here are some facts about "Big" that you might not know.

Tom Hanks initially turned down the role

When director Penny Marshall signed on to direct "Big," she knew the success of the film depended on the casting of the lead actor. She needed someone who would be believable in the fantastical situation of the film. "I went straight to the three big box-office stars at the time: Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, and Dennis Quaid," Marshall wrote in her autobiography, "My Mother Was Nuts" (via Movieline). "All of them passed. Everyone passed." Marshall brought in several other actors, such as Andy Garcia, Sean Penn, Gary Busey, and John Travolta. None of them worked out.

When Robert DeNiro briefly signed onto the project, Marshall's film started to draw attention. "Word had spread about Bobby D. and a handful of actors who had turned me down, including Kevin Costner, now asked about 'Big,'" Marshall said in "My Mother Was Nuts." "Bobby had given me validity." While DeNiro exiting the project presented yet another hurdle, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. With the delays the casting difficulties had called, as well as the fresh buzz around the film, Tom Hanks was now available and willing to do the film (via New York Post).

Robert DeNiro was nearly cast as the lead

When all of her first-choice actors turned down the lead role in "Big," director Penny Marshall had to get creative. She decided to go in a different direction. "I thought at one point that I could take it out of the realm of the other movies and make it grittier, more of a streets versus the suburbs," Marshall told The Morning Call. "It would have had a whole different tone. The actor that I wanted was Robert DeNiro."

At the time, DeNiro was looking to expand his repertoire by making a more family-friendly film. He read the script for "Big," liked it, and told Marshall he'd take the role. He even spent some time with Marshall and Jared Rushton, the young actor slated to play Josh's best friend. However, the studio was not sure that DeNiro was right for the role. They tried to convince Marshall to cast Warren Beatty instead, which began to give DeNiro doubts. Those doubts grew when an article came out detailing the rates of other big actors at the time ... and DeNiro's payment was a fraction of that. "To be blunt," Marshall wrote in her autobiography "My Mother Was Nuts," the studio executives "were going to pay him sh*t and they weren't budging. They just didn't want him" (via Movieline). Marshall even offered to give her salary for the film to DeNiro, but he wouldn't accept. He told Marshall he couldn't do the film anymore.

The movie's premise was part of a trend

Another challenge facing the production of "Big" was the fact that the child-in-an-adult's-body concept was old news. Director Penny Marshall wasn't aware of this when she accepted the project from 20th Century Fox executive Jim Brooks. In her memoir "My Mother Was Nuts," Marshall wrote, "What [Fox] didn't tell me was that everyone in the world had turned [the project] 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" (via Movieline).

While shooting "Big," the prevalence of other, similar films made the cast pessimistic; they thought the film would surely be a flop, and actress Elizabeth Perkins said that she and Tom Hanks believed it would be released straight to video (via New York Post). However, Marshall felt confident about the film. "Someone out of courtesy sent me the scripts for 'Like Father, Like Son' and 'Vice Versa' and I read them," she told The Morning Call at the time. "I feel that the tone of the other films is different. There's more action-adventure, more car chases. This film is sweeter – I had a love story to tell."

Steven Spielberg nearly directed the film

The screenplay for "Big" was written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, with the development help of James L. Brooks, who had previously produced "Broadcast News" and "Terms of Endearment." The original plan was for Anne Spielberg's brother, Steven Spielberg, to direct the film (via W Magazine).

If he had, it would have been a very different film, as Spielberg wanted Harrison Ford in the lead role. Marshall told The Morning Call that if Spielberg had directed the film as originally planned, there wouldn't have been as much competition with the film's concept: "If Steven had done it, it would probably have been the first (switch) film out." However, Spielberg had to drop the film, as he was dealing with scheduling issues on "Empire Of the Sun." Marshall also acknowledged that putting Harrison Ford in the lead role would also have changed the vibe of the film, telling the Washington Post, "Harrison Ford isn't considered a laugh riot."

Body doubles nearly performed the iconic piano dance scene

Penny Marshall wanted the iconic scene of Josh and his boss dancing on the walking piano to be shot in long takes and wide shots, like an old Fred Astaire dance scene. Choreographer Patricia Birch taught Hanks and Robert Loggia the song/dance. "I had to figure out how to work the feet because we had to cross them now and then and I didn't want them looking awkward," she told The Ringer. "I had [Hanks and Loggia] make two cardboard pianos and we practiced on those. I had them take them home and work on them."

Just to be safe, the production hired doubles to perform the dance sequence, in case Hanks and Loggia weren't able to pull it off. But they were confident. "We see two guys dressed like we were, and they were going to shoot [the piano dance scene] with just the feet," Loggia told The A.V. Club. "We thought that was ridiculous. We told the guys who were dressed like we were to take a hike... Tom and I did all the dance. It didn't take long at all really. Just about one take."

Tom Hanks studied hard for his role

Once Tom Hanks signed on for the lead role in "Big," he prepared by observing his young counterpart, actor David Moscow, very closely. He took a video camera and filmed Moscow hanging out with his friends throughout New York City, then using the tapes to adopt Moscow's behaviors and mannerisms (via USA Today). Additionally, Penny Marshall had Moscow perform a majority of Hanks' scenes. "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," Marshall told Yahoo!.

Hanks also worked on his physical transformation, as David Moscow recalled to MTV: "My feet were growing much faster than the rest of my body, so I had this very strange walk. Also I was wearing Converse at the time, and Converse are like a size bigger than normal shoes, so I would walk almost like this duck walk ... [Hanks] asked for larger shoes so he could imitate that walk. So in the movie, he's kind of flopping around in these shoes." Hanks used his own memories to help with the role as well. ”I remember 13 being all elbows and knees,” Hanks told the New York Times. ”The girls had already grown up. I started the role with the point of view of a newborn giraffe. They have spindly heads that look geeky when they run.”

The shoot was heaven for David Moscow

For David Moscow, the actor who plays the young version of Tom Hanks' Josh, shooting "Big" was a magical and transformative experience. 25 years after the film's release, Moscow told USA Today about shooting the carnival sequences: "It was the first time I ever stayed up all night, and I had the carnival to myself pretty much for four nights in a row. I could go around during my downtime and ride the rides. And it was a lot of cotton candy. It was amazing." As if that were not cool enough, Moscow also turned 12 on set. "The birthday celebration was throughout the whole [shoot]," Moscow told MTV.

The magic continued at the film's premiere, which took place at the FAO Schwarz toy store. "They had fire-eaters and clowns and jugglers," Moscow told MTV. "As a parting gift, I got one of those pianos, which is probably also in my mom's basement. She could kill on eBay, I bet."

Jon Lovitz threw up on set

Comedian Jon Lovitz was hired in "Big" to play one of Josh's new coworkers at the toy company, Scotty Brennen. Lovitz thought his part in the film didn't really matter, especially because he believed "Big" would be a flop. When Penny Marshall reigned in Lovitz's comedic improvisation, he cared even less. When he got sick, that was the last straw. "One day I said, 'Listen, I feel really sick. I think I'm going to throw up.' She goes, 'All right, well, try. We're doing a scene, and in the middle they go, 'Cut,' and I ran and threw up," Lovitz told The A.V. Club. "So I went home, and I had the flu bad for about a week."

While Lovitz eventually felt better physically, he didn't feel any better about the film. "I felt better, and I thought, 'Maybe I should call her up and tell her I'm feeling better, see if she wants to put me back into the movie.' But then I thought, 'Ah, forget it! The part was nothing,'" Lovitz recalled. "And then it turns out to be this huge hit, and I'm like, 'I'm an idiot.'"

Director Penny Marshall made history

"Big" was only the second film Penny Marshall had ever directed. Prior to directing, she had a very successful career as a comedic actress, most notably as Laverne in the television show "Laverne & Shirley." She ended up directing a few episodes of the show as well.

And while Marshall wasn't the most experienced director at the time, her instincts served her well. In July of 1988, "Big" was declared "the most successful feature film ever directed by a woman" (via AFI). She was also the first woman to direct a film that earned more than $100 million at the box office (via Vox). Suddenly, she was one of the most sought-after directors in the film industry. "Yes, I'm supposedly hot right now ... I'm feeling a little scared," she told The Washington Post. "All of the sudden, you're wanted for everything."

At the time, Marshall wasn't ready to seek out her next directing project, telling the Post ​​"I'm just not someone who knocks on doors. Basically, I have the attitude of 'Well, if you really want me ...' Then I'll feel needed and then I'll go through all the obsessive pain it takes to do whatever job it is." Of course, Marshall did go on to direct many more successful films, including "A League of Their Own," which again made history for Marshall as the film earned more than $100 million.

Penny Marshall added her own comedic flair

Having had a successful career as an actress, most notably as Laverne in "Laverne & Shirley," Penny Marshall was particularly prepared to direct actors, particularly through comedic moments. Elizabeth Perkins, who played Susan across Tom Hanks' Josh, found it was very comfortable working with Marshall. "There are numerous benefits to working with Penny simply because she's an actress. She has an incredible instinct about what works and what doesn't," Perkins told The Morning Call. "There were times when we knew something wasn't working and we couldn't pinpoint what it was. So we'd turn to Penny and she's say 'It's because of the inflection on the line.' She knows comedy. In a general sense, she gave me the security to take risks, to go as far as I wanted with my character."

Marshall not only helped her actors, she also added a few of the most iconic comedic moments into "Big." In the script, the only song that Josh and his boss dance to on the piano is "Heart and Soul." "I added 'Chop Sticks' because I thought visually it was funny," Marshall told Yahoo!. Another iconic moment, when Josh eats baby corn like it's corn on the cob, was Marshall's creation. "I guided him to the corn," she said. "There must have been ten 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, I got it.'"

Penny Marshall was very careful with the main relationship's age gap

The relationship between the 13-year-old Josh in an adult body and his adult coworker Susan is the heart of the film, but also one of the film's most challenging aspects. "It's that very, very fine line of, the audience always knows he's a 13-year-old, but the [other characters] do not," actress Elizabeth Perkins told the New York Post.

Penny Marshall navigated her way around the dramatic irony of the age gap very carefully. For her, she felt that the film was about "how a child's innocence can touch people and make them realize certain things about themselves that, getting caught up in the rat race of life, they forget," she told The Morning Call. Marshall also said she used the idea of innocence to direct Perkins: "For Susan, Josh is just a unique personality who isn't driven and competitive as the people she's used to being around. Plus he's a guy who doesn't want anything from her ... I just told Elizabeth to take his innocence as sensuality." Marshall also reigned in the relationship from how it appeared in the script. "[The writers] did write at the end that when she drives him home, she kisses him on the lips. She knows he's 13 by then," Marshall told the New York Post. "I said, 'No no no. You can't do that. [She] must kiss him on the forehead.'"

A special version of the piano was made for the film

Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia's dancing duet on the large piano toy is perhaps the most iconic scene in "Big." The scene was written into the script when writer Anne Spielberg visited FAO Schwarz in New York City, and was inspired by the toy. When Penny Marshall signed on to direct the film, she loved the scene, but there was one issue: The toy piano was too small.

Instead of deciding on a different toy for the film, Marshall called the inventor of the Walking Piano, Remo Saraceni. 'I said, 'OK, I need this many octaves, and I need it practical, so it lights up when they hit the right note," Marshall recalled to The Ringer. Saraceni agreed to make a larger piano. The finished version was nearly 16 feet long.

The Walking Piano's appearance in the film catapulted Saraceni's career. Prior to the film, only 100 of the toys had been sold, but by Christmas of 1988 over 3,000 of the toys were sold (via AFI).