35 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Big’ for Its 35th Anniversary

The movie that somehow almost starred Robert De Niro
35 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Big’ for Its 35th Anniversary

It solidified Penny Marshall’s directorial career and made Tom Hanks America’s sweetheart. It’s the movie featuring an iconic floor piano scene and a belated controversy about Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins getting all romantic regardless of the technical age gapBig, the adored 1988 blockbuster turns 35 today, so we’ve gathered enough trivia tidbits to fill up a Zoltar machine and then some...

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Colin Hanks Taught His Dad the ‘Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa Pop’ Song

Colin Hanks was 10 when his dad was making Big, and he had just returned from summer camp, where he had heard and learned the rhyme. Tom Hanks and Marshall were looking for a song to use in the scene, and when Dad Hanks heard Son Hanks rap that tune, he obviously knew it would work.

Hanks Did a Lot of Improvisation During the Party Scene

According to Perkins, Hanks improvised at least 15 bits during the filming of the party scene, and it was apparently delightful to watch. “He walks through the door in a white tuxedo, and the first choice he makes is, ‘Everyone’s staring at me. Is my fly open?’” Perkins recalled. “That was all Tom Hanks. Penny is one of those directors who says, ‘Let’s just do it again and see what happens.’ So there was an enormous amount of play, which really allowed Tom to find those adolescent moments that made you believe he was 13.”

‘Make It Inch’

Marshall said that she came up with a phrase to get Hanks into the mindset of a 12-year-old. “The key words for Tom were ‘innocent’ and ‘shy,’” she explained. “Twelve-year-olds are not that outgoing. They’re not chatty so much. So I’d always say, ‘Inch, ( for ‘INnocent and SHy’), Tom.’ No one else knew what I was talking about. I’d say, ‘Make it inch.’ And he was great.” She also got actor David Moscow, who plays the younger Josh, to do all of Hanks’ scenes so she could record and show it to him as an example of how a kid would literally do it.

John Travolta Really Wanted to Play Adult Josh

The actor was apparently quite eager to star in the movie, but as Marshall wrote in her memoir My Mother Was Nuts, the actor was considered “box-office poison” at the time. Travolta didn’t have the best track record during the 1980s, exacerbated by turning down roles left and right — from An Officer and a Gentleman to Splash, which ultimately became Hanks’ breakthrough movie.

Who Did It Better: Tom Hanks or Vince Vaughn?

There is an argument here that if it weren’t for Hanks singing that song to Billy to convince him that he’s Josh, we’d never have seen Vince Vaughn swap bodies with a teenage girl in Freaky and do this sassy little cheering routine:

Hanks and Robert Loggia Insisted on Doing the Piano Scene Themselves

Leading up to the now iconic scene, Marshall gave the two actors cardboard cutouts to go and practice on at home. However, when they arrived on set, they were low-key annoyed to find that a producer got professional dancers to come in and do the actual dancing. Loggia, especially, insisted on doing it himself, and the final product was all Loggia and Hanks, tapping out “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks.”

The Year 1988 Was Big on Age-Changing Movie Plots

In a single year, audiences were treated to Big, 18 Again!, Vice Versa and 14 Going on 30 — all films that feature a boy somehow becoming a grown man overnight. This late 1980s trend was all started by the Dudley Moore/Kirk Cameron comedy, Like Father, Like Son, which came out in October 1987.

The Movie Almost Featured Some Other Big Names

Anne Spielberg, Steven Spielberg’s younger sister, co-wrote Big along with Gary Ross, with the initial idea being her brother directing Harrison Ford as Adult Josh. When that fell through, Marshall came on board and offered the role to Hanks. However, he didn’t think yet another movie about an age-changing boy would do very well, so he initially turned it down. Likewise, so did Kevin Costner and Randy Quaid. 

Marshall then contacted her old pal Robert De Niro, who agreed to the movie, except the studio wasn’t willing to pay the Raging Bull star’s asking price. When Hanks learned that a star like De Niro wanted to do the film, he changed his mind and subsequently became a Hollywood darling.

About Hanks’ Funny Walk

Moscow recalled that his then 12-year-old feet were growing faster than his body, leading to him walking all funny. “I had a really strange walk, like a sloppy-feet type of walk.” he explained. “And I had Converse, which run large anyway. So Tom had these shoes made that were insanely huge for his feet, and during shooting, he ended up walking like I walk, which was this kind of duck walk.”

The Piano Scene Almost Didn’t Make It Into the Script

Anne Spielberg spotted the piano in a New York store and immediately wanted to add it to the script. “It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but she had to talk me into it,” her co-writer Ross told The Ringer.

Spot the Racism

According to Marshall, she considered Andy Garcia for the lead role at one point. She thought he was great and had the right vibe, but the studio allegedly told her, “We don’t want to spend 18 million on a kid who grows up to be Puerto Rican.” She replied by telling them Garcia’s Cuban. Not that they obviously cared.

Why Josh Was a Boy and Not a Girl

Marshall said that her friend Debra Winger kept asking the director why she didn’t make her main character a girl/woman. Marshall kept telling her that there just wasn’t a scenario where it would be okay for a 35-year-old man to be in a relationship with a 12-year-old girl. To her, that was like “something from Penthouse or Hustler.”

Moscow Had to Make Some Changes to His Physical Appearance

To play the younger version of Josh, Moscow told USA Today that he had to dye his hair to better resemble Hanks, and he also had to wear green contact lenses, “which were the most painful thing in the world at that point.”

Jon Lovitz Hurled On-Set

About a week into production, Lovitz got sick and had to bail on the movie. “I worked on it for about a week, and one day I said, ‘Listen, I feel really sick. I think I’m going to throw up,’” Lovitz told the A.V. Club. “She (Marshall) goes, ‘All right, well, try.’ We’re doing a scene, and in the middle, they go, ‘Cut,’ and I ran and threw up. I said to her, ‘I can’t work anymore.’ I was sick as shit. So I went home, and I had the flu bad for about a week. And then 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.’ And then it turns out to be this huge hit, and I’m like, ‘I’m an idiot.’”

The Creator of the Walking Piano Credits the Movie for the Instrument’s Popularity

“People love trying to play ‘Chopsticks’ because of the movie,” inventor Remo Saraceni told the New York Post about the floor piano at FAO Schwarz, where people lined up every day to get a turn jamming with their feet.

Moscow Had a Ton of Fun Filming the Movie

It was his first movie, and, being a kid, it was a lot of fun for the young Moscow. “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,” he said years later about the scene featuring the famous Zoltar. “I could go around during my downtime and ride the rides. And it was a lot of cotton candy. It was amazing.”

The Movie Gave Marshall a First Behind Her Name

With Big, the late director became the first film from a female director to gross over $100 million at the box office. A League of Their Own also broke that ceiling, making her the first woman with two blockbusters surpassing the landmark number.

For Barry Sonnenfeld, It Was a Nightmare to Make

Cinematographer Sonnenfeld (who would later direct The Addams Family movies and the Men in Black films) wrote in his memoir that, while he and Marshall liked each other, she did not care for him as a cinematographer. According to him, Marshall didn’t like making decisions and would just roll the camera to get as many options as possible, while Sonnenfeld favored pre-planning every shoot. 

For instance, Marshall apparently couldn’t decide whether Elizabeth Perkins’ character, Susan, should have blonde or red hair. So, on the first night of filming, they shot everything both ways, with Perkins constantly switching between wigs. He also claimed that the director wanted to fire him, but apparently, the studios told her not to. 

Marshall Added Some of the Iconic Moments in the Movie

It was Marshall who suggested they add “Chopsticks” to the piano scene. It was also her idea to have Hanks eat that baby corn like it was corn on the cob. “There must have been 10 bits we did at that table,” Marshall told Yahoo! Movies. “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 (Hanks) went, ‘Yeah, got it.’”

The Trampoline Scene Petrified Perkins

The actress said that it was pretty daunting to film the scene, given that the trampoline was situated next to that big wall of windows. She also said that most of it was improvised. “We jumped on that trampoline until our bottoms were sore. There’s a tiny line you can’t hear very well. When I’m getting up on the trampoline, Tom says, ‘Let me move my big balls.’ You have to really listen for it, but it is there. That’s the kind of thing he would just throw out.”

Marshall Changed the Ending Kiss

Initially, Susan was going to kiss Josh goodbye on the lips, but Marshall refused to shoot it. “(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,” the director explained. “I said, ‘No, no, no. You can’t do that. (She) must kiss him on the forehead.’”

Marshall Didn’t Originally Want to Do the Movie

After wrapping production on her first feature, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Marshall was looking to take a break, but James L. Brooks had other plans. He handed her the script for Big, and even though Marshall wanted to have some downtime, she started auditioning some kids for the movie, and everything just rolled on from there.

The Piano Scene Was Grueling to Shoot

The actors got quite a workout shooting the floor piano scene. “It was exhausting,” Hanks told Playboy. “We rehearsed until we dropped. Robert plays three sets of tennis every day, so he was in shape for it. It was like jumping rope for three and a half hours every time we did the scene. It was really hard work.”

The Studio Suggested That Other Strange Ending

By now, most of you have probably heard about the alternate ending in Big, where Susan’s character transforms into a tween. Marshall said that the idea came from the studio but that she rejected it outright. “Why would she do that? Would I want to be 13 and go through that again? No,” Marshall said. “What would she tell her parents? I understood the commerciality of it, but I don’t care. I said, ‘This is the script, guys. It always ended this way.’”

Marshall Tried Her Best to Carefully Navigate the Whole Age Gap Situation

Perkins once told the New York Post that it was the most challenging part of the film. “It’s that very, very fine line of, the audience always knows he’s a 13-year-old, but the (other characters) do not.” For Marshall, it was more important to keep focusing on the point of the entire film — specifically on “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.”

Hanks Did a ‘Big’ Bit While Hosting ‘SNL’

The actor pretended they’d initially shot an entirely different movie where Josh’s wish is granted, but he simply ends up staying in junior high. Hanks then shows the audience clips of supposed scenes they shot that are all just him in character, bullying every kid around him. It’s basically the anti-Josh version on display here.

There Are Two Indian Remakes

The 2004 sci-fi comedy called New was adapted from the Big screenplay and features an adult man who works in a toy store but has to live like a child during work hours.

A remake that stayed closer to the original film was released in 2009 under the title Aao Wish Karein.

It Wasn’t Always Funny

According to Perkins, the film’s tone differed when De Niro was attached. “It was more of a — a little more of a horror movie,” she revealed. “Robert De Niro wandering around the streets of New York. What Tom Hanks brought to it was so much lighter.” 

Moscow Recreated the Zoltar Scene 30 Years Later

The actor and producer launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 to raise funds for his movie, Desolation. Included was a bit with Moscow dressed in the classic red jacket and walking down the boardwalk, but instead of wishing to be big, his request is, “I wish I had money to finish my movie.”

The Origin of the Zoltar Machine

The Zoltar Speaks fortune-telling machine was based on the Zoltanan arcade game produced in the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Zoltar Speaks was trademarked in 2007 by Characters Unlimited, an animatronic company that started selling the fortune-telling machine no one would even know about if it weren’t for Big.

Perkins Had a Huge Crush on Hanks at the Time

While appearing on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Perkins revealed that Hanks was the best on-screen kiss she’s ever had. “He lays one on me about halfway through the movie,” she said. “I had such a crush on him at the time.”

A Special Floor Piano Was Built Just for the Movie

“There was a piano (at FAO Schwarz), but it didn’t play the right notes,” Marshall explained. “It just made noise. So that was useless to me. I went to the creator of the piano and said, ‘I need something workable for this many notes.’ And the guy made me a workable piano.”

The movie piano now resides at the children’s Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia.

Marshall Was Worried That Hanks Would Overplay His Part

In an interview with the L.A. Times, the director explained that because the role was very nonverbal, she was worried that Hanks might struggle to tone his acting down. “I knew that took away one of his favorite weapons — his verbal assurance — but I had to convince him that he had to be 12, not play at being 12,” she explained. She added that she would allow Hanks to do a scene as he saw fit and then tell him to “bring it in, bring it down.”

The Trick Marshall Used to Keep the Kid Actors Loose on Set

“I found they could be a lot more natural if you gave them some props to play with, like baseball cards and toys,” Marshall said. “I even put up a basketball hoop in the office so they could shoot Nerf balls and wouldn’t get so stiff when they were reading lines.”

Hanks Did a Zoltar Bit on ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’

Appearing on Colbert’s show, Hanks finds Zoltar (played by Colbert) in a storage closet and proceeds to ask him to turn him 30 again. The bit includes a running Tim Allen joke, Zoltar pitching a movie to Hanks and Colbert looking smashing with a giant gold earring.


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