Disney put a $32 million picture in the hands of 2-year-old twins

If you saw them in person, the first thing you’d think is, I can understand how. How the irresistible, chubby-cheeked charm of Daniel and Joshua Shalikar — identical twins from suburban New Jersey, with no toilet training, let alone thespian training — could make Disney casting agent Renée Rousselot throw all prudence aside. And how in December 1990, Disney could make the unprecedented decision to ask these 2-year-olds to star as Adam Szalinski in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, the effects-laden sequel to the smash 1989 comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

There’s little need to question that decision now: The new Kid, in which the Shalikar boys appear to balloon up to 112 feet tall, is doing reasonably big box office, pulling in $27 million in its first 10 days. But before this success, even the boys’ parents thought that Disney, a notoriously tightfisted studio, was taking a huge risk in building a $32 million production around two tots who could barely toddle.

It’s not unheard of for little kids to land big parts (such as the four infants who played Mikey in Look Who’s Talking). But never before have 2-year-olds been hired to do so much: laugh, cry, exclaim, recite, even follow choreography for complex trick shots. Though standard practice is to find 3- or 4-year-olds who can look and act younger, the Shalikar boys beat out 1,100 other, mostly older hopefuls. ”I guess to the casting agent, they looked like perfect little Rick Moranises,” says their mom, Audrey, who submitted the boys’ photos to an agent without knowing what the role was.

Key players on the Honey team say that ultimately they were impressed by the boys’ ability to take direction and repeat scenes as many as 10 or 15 times. But before all the oohing and googling, there was a lot of white-knuckle time.

Chief ”baby wrangler” Elaine Hall Katz, recruited to guide the twins through the production, began breaking in her tiny charges two weeks before filming started. A California state-mandated social worker was on hand as well. The plan was to shoot all morning with one child, break for nap time and lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., then switch twins in the afternoon.

To get the boys to stand, walk, jump, and look where they were supposed to, Katz borrowed a page from Mary Poppins’ psychology: She made the job a game. ”I had to extend their focus, which was sometimes only 30 seconds,” she says. ”They took turns being animals, learning songs. Slowly we’d incorporate their dialogue, like ‘Sorry, mama, sorry!”’ Katz and director Randal Kleiser planned for each scene several days in advance, deciding what kind of child behavior was needed and then, Kleiser says, ”mapping out play to create that behavior.”

But while everything went swimmingly in rehearsals, the boys initially floundered on the set. They were clearly distracted by all the lights, noise, and people, so the crew joined the behavior-modification campaign. Visual effects producer Tom Smith, who got the boys to sit for more than 100 blue-screen composite-image shots, serenaded them on guitar, wore silly hats, drew faces on his fingertips, and dressed his ”Singing Digits” in tiny hats and bow ties. ”It was pretty embarrassing to walk into the commissary having forgotten to take them off,” he says.

The tricks worked, but new diversions had to be dreamed up daily. Sharing the tension when their sons had a bad day, Audrey and Sia Shalikar stood by in frustration. ”It was crazy that the studio kept trying to separate them, to bring them on for scenes one at a time,” Sia says. Adds Audrey, ”We didn’t want to sound like awful stage parents. But we could have told Disney, if you want maximum usage of your expensive minutes, let the boys see each other. They’ll learn faster.” When Sia proved adept at playfully cuing his boys from the sidelines to do moves that the baby wranglers couldn’t elicit, Disney put him on the payroll. And effects man Smith discovered on his own that the boys were indeed more manageable together. ”We heard one screaming in the trailer, ‘I wanna be in there!”’ says Smith. ”So much for the child psychologists who told us to keep them apart.” Smith found that the twins worked best when almost touching. ”They formed a whole personality that way,” he says. ”On his own, Dan was almost too adventuresome to repeat one move, and Josh seemed very cautious. Put them together and they could do anything.”

Things also got better when the boys finally got to see themselves on film. ”’Again! Again!’ they kept saying,” laughs Katz. ”It gave them a charge to want to get back to work, because now they had a connection to what they’d been doing.”

But even as the little stars grew into their roles, they were also growing out of them. Some scenes filmed early in the five-month shoot couldn’t be used because the twins’ faces had lost fat. The boys also took up some actorly ways. Says one effects assistant, ”They learned to say, ‘No more blue screen’ and ‘I wan’ go trailer.”’ Their agent, Shirley Grant, boasts that by the end, ”They’d fight over whose turn it was to do the take.” There was only one instance of the Shalikars balking. When Audrey and Sia were asked if their boys’ hair could be dyed darker to match the locks on a costly, oversized mechanical head, they said, ”No way,” Sia recalls. ”And if that means you don’t want us, let us know when the plane leaves for New Jersey.” The hair on the dummy head was changed.

Worried that their babies might wind up scapegoats for cost overruns, the Shalikars were delighted to learn that the movie wrapped under budget. Though some on the set grumbled about the tots — one called them ”total spoiled brats” — a number of others say they ”fell in love” with Dan and Josh and still write and call. They may see them again soon: Disney has a contract option with the Shalikars for two more Honey movies, so more twin wrangling is likely. But the boys can expect a few changes if Kleiser returns as director. ”Next time,” he says, ”I’m gonna work naps into my contract.”

Every adult hides an ”inner child,” say self-help gurus like John Bradshaw. But there was a 195-pound, 6-foot-3-inch grown-up inside the giant toddler suit in the latest Honey movie. He’s actor Alex Daniels, and his assignment was to try to find his own inner child playing the ”blown-up” Adam Szalinski.

”Five guys passed the first audition acting like babies,” says Daniels, who has played many heavily made-up villains in movies and on TV, including one in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. ”Then we had to spend a week working with a coach to call back our childhood memories.” The competition to don the nearly 40-pound, electronic-headed Li’l Adam suit narrowed when several candidates dredged up painful memories and dropped out. ”I’m lucky,” says Daniels. ”I came from a really loving family.”

Studying videotapes of the Shalikar twins, Daniels grew uncannily expert at weaving, stumbling, arm swinging, and padding around just like the boys did. ”I don’t think they really understood I was them blown out of proportion,” Daniels says. ”They were a little scared the first time they saw me, but pretty soon they started calling me Big Alex.”

Once suited up on the set, Daniels had to magnify his movements so they would show through the costume’s heavy, clumsy folds. Occasionally, the heat inside the outfit proved too much for its coolant system — a vest with ice water pumped through tubes-prompting crew members who noticed Daniels faltering to yell, ”Get Alex outta there!” Gatorade and neck wipes with Sea Breeze helped ease the going, but it was anything but child’s play.

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid
  • Movie
  • 89 minutes