The actor Josh Peck is perhaps best known for his role in the long-running Nickelodeon show Drake & Josh—a kid-friendly comedy that spawned a movie and the spin-off iCarly—and for his voice work in the Ice Age movies. But the actor has spent the last few years breaking out. In 2008 he starred in the coming-of-age indie The Wackness and next year he’ll appear in the 3-D breakdancing movie Battle of the Year: The Dream Team. And now, after a long delay held up the film’s release, he appears in his first action movie: a remake of the 1984 cult classic Red Dawn, in theaters Nov. 21, in which the original’s Cold War plot has been replaced with a North Korean invasion of Washington State. As in the original, Peck and his co-stars join together as a band of teenage patriot rebels who call themselves the Wolverines. Peck spoke to TIME about why Red Dawn is worth revisiting.
You weren’t born when the first Red Dawn came out, so what did you know about the movie before you got involved in the project?
I wasn’t too aware of the original, but as soon I was part of the remake I was immediately put on notice that I was on sacred ground—friends telling me, “Don’t mess with my movie, bro.” It’s such a fine line when doing a remake. I thought we could broaden the perspective of the movie and up the stakes and still page homage to what people love about the original.
What exactly do you think people love so much about the original?
It’s so true to its time. I love ’80s movies. The cast is killer and I think there’s something exciting too about knowing that people like Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson went on to have the careers that they’ve had, and seeing them a little bit before their fame. And people inherently love kids kicking ass.
Are you an action movie fan?
Definitely. I have a respect for the 3-D computer-generated action movies, but my first love is stuff like Lethal Weapon. Murtaugh and Riggs, that was my jam.
What’s it like to make the transition from kid fare to action movies?
It was my dream to do Drake & Josh and to be on Nickelodeon, because I grew up with shows like Kenan and Kel and All That! I did that for six years and the great thing you’re afforded with kids’ television is you just can’t go too big, so you the opportunity to be silly. As I got older, my tastes matured a little bit and movies like The Wackness or Red Dawn started to appeal to me more. In that respect, it’s just the opportunity to continue to be challenged and go into areas that I haven’t done before.
It seems like that transition has gone smoothly for you. Did you find yourself able to really plan out your career in advance? Did you have a vision for it?
It’s so interesting that if you take some action, the universe sort of conspires to help you. In that respect I feel as though, as I was getting to the tail end of Drake & Josh and I was hoping to go out and do new, challenging things, I was lucky to have the opportunity to go for that kind of material. But as I get a little bit older I see that my plans, whatever they are, mean less and less. Whatever life brings into the journey next becomes the right thing.
Speaking of unexpected things, Red Dawn got delayed for a few years because of MGM’s financial troubles. Do you remember when you heard that news?
It was late May of 2010. There was a frustration because, inherently, making a movie is anxiety-producing, because even if everything goes to plan it’s a year till it comes out. But I was excited for people to see it. I had seen a rough cut so I was passionate about the project. I knew what was there if only it could find the right home.
So what’s it like now that the movie’s coming out?
It’s surreal. I’m pretty sure they can’t pull the plug at this point.
Some things changed between when you originally shot the movie and now. Originally the Chinese invaded, but in the final cut the bad guys are from North Korea. Did that require any extra filming?
We did some reshoots in June of 2010, but it was pretty much all rooted in story points. [The change of villains] was just looping and digital changes.
How do you think the movie coming out now—as opposed to a few years ago—will be different for you, in terms of where you are in your career?
I don’t really know. I sort of have to give over to the idea that everything has a divine timetable. I think what’s beneficial to the movie is guys like Chris Hemsworth [of Thor] and Josh Hutcherson [of The Hunger Games], my friends, who have now been part of these huge movies and they’ve developed this big audience that we might not otherwise have been able to benefit from, had it come out at its original date.
What about for the world as a whole? How do you think Red Dawn fits into the world today?
What I think the first movie was really successful in doing was playing on a fear that was so present at that time. What if the fight was brought to your front door and you were forced to deal with circumstances that were so beyond your imagination, things that you never thought you would have to face that could threaten your family or your home? I feel everyone would have a very real, visceral reaction to that.
Did going into work every day and thinking about that scenario make you more nervous about the state of the world?
I knew this movie was always a total escapist action movie. It wasn’t trying to make too much of a statement. It just wanted to be great fare for a holiday weekend, and I think it really succeeded in that. So all I was thinking about was how cool it was.
If something like the plot of Red Dawn actually happened, would you make a good resistance fighter?
Hell no! I think I’d be dead. I’m not built for war. I’m built for entertainment. I’m built for jokes—either telling them or being the butt of them.
There’s a scene in Red Dawn where Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise hold up a Subway shop, with a hilarious line about a sandwich artist. How sad were you that you didn’t get to be in that scene?
I was totally bummed, but Connor and Josh killed it.