Sunday, January 21, 2007

What’s the Biggs’ Deal? An Interview with Loser Jason Biggs 07.01.00

Since his debut sex scene with a fresh-baked pie in American Pie, Jason Biggs has been working without break. Currently, he simultaneously opened the teen sex comedies Boys & Girls and Loser and is shooting Prozac Nation with Christina Ricci and Saving Silverman with Jack Black and Steve Zahn.

Biggs and I met in Beverly Hills recently to chat about his career, his new movie Loser, and co-star Mena Suvari.

Where’s that dumb-ass hunter’s cap you wore in the movie?
I, uh, left it in, uh, Planet Hollywood. Right? How are you doing?

I’m fine, thanks.

Dude, how much weight did you drop?
Twenty-five. Mostly what motivated me was the weather out here right now. Getting off of my lazy ass and taking advantage of Southern California weather. I started mountain biking. I started running. All the things I couldn't do in New Jersey. I didn’t set out to lose weight; I didn’t really think I was overweight. In a way, it was kind of a bonus thing.

Do you think dropping the weight has created more opportunities for you as an actor?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I’m in a movie now where I’m the object of Amanda Peet and Amanda Detmer’s affection and I’m playing in a scene with Christina Ricci. That’s not too shabby, right? (laughs) I mean, Brad Pitt has nothing to worry about, by any means. But it has affected the kinds of scripts I’ve been reading. I think I now have the ability a little bit more to play -- and I use this term very loosely -- the leading man type of role. Again, Brad Pitt has nothing to fear, but you know what I mean.

What did you learn working with Amy Heckerling?
Oh man, Amy and I worked so closely together. It’s funny, she may say the same thing, but she would come to give me notes in between takes and we were so on the same page about my character and about my performance. Basically, she understood my performance more than any other person I’ve ever worked with has understood my performance. She would come over to give me a note and before she was even half finished giving me the note, I was like, “Oh, I know. That’s exactly what I was thinking.” Or should come in and I would be like, “I needed to do that, right?” and she’s like, “Yup, exactly. Like this.” We were so on the same page.

God, I mean, as far as comedy and acting, you know, she understood me and got me, but as far as directing, that’s where I really learned from her. The way she runs a set, because it all starts with the director. The director’s attitude trickles down throughout everyone on the cast and crew and it affects the every day performance from everyone. And Amy was just so great and everyone was more than happy to come in and work fifteen-hour days for her day-in and day-out for three months with a smile on their face. She’s so open to all of our ideas, and everyone had a say. If there’s one thing I learned from Amy it’s being open-minded. That’s why I think she’s got such a grasp on youth stuff. It’s because she is so open to what we have to say.

What about Dan Aykroyd?
My Dad was pretty impressed. It’s kind of cool because Eugene Levy was my Dad, too. So I have a nice cast of Dads. It’s pretty cool. Canadian Dads, too. When Amy told me he was gonna be coming in and playing my father, it was really cool. I’m a huge fan of Dan Aykroyd. He’s such a great actor -- he’s a great comedian obviously -- but his stuff in Loser is pretty mellow. It’s kind of sweet and serious and that’s one of Dan’s greatest attributes, which is that he’s not only a great comedian, but a wonderful actor and really sweet and sincere, and he brought that out in the scenes with me. It was really cool.

Did you take to the sort of early Sixties romantic comedy vibe of Loser? It certainly played like an homage to The Apartment, albeit much lighter in tone…
I guess there are some parallels. I’ve never actually seen The Apartment. Isn’t that weird? Is that weird? Am I a freak? Whatever. Yeah, I mean, I know that Amy didn’t set out to copy a movie. I think. I don’t really know. I’ve never seen The Apartment, but I read this script and was like, “This is a great movie. Amy Heckerling, blah blah blah” and it was like there was never an issue for me. I mean, even if Amy Heckerling had come to me and said we’re gonna do an Apartment remake and I’m directing, I still would’ve said, “Where do I sign?” you know?

How are you like the loser you played?
I related to my character in kind of feeling like an outsider, not exactly to the same extent, but I’m sure everyone at certain points feels alone and like the world is against them. Even when things are going great. And I actually went to NYU briefly -- I had a brief stint there -- but I came from a smalltown in New Jersey; I grew up in New Jersey. Pesker Heights. Northern. Right outside of Manhattan. About ten minutes from the city. I went across the river and went over there. It’s like, when you leave a comfortable surrounding and you got to start something completely new, it’s pretty daunting. You feel definitely pretty alone and that the world is against you. I know I definitely felt that when I went to NYU.

Was the school in Loser supposed to be NYU?
It was never said, but we filmed in and around Washington Square Park and the NYU campus. You know, big university in New York, it’s either one of two places.

You also shot in Time Square. Were you recognized?
Yeah, yeah. My hair kind threw a lot of people. Hair extensions glued into my head. We shot that on a Saturday night at like 10:00. I mean it was like right as theatregoers were getting out, so there was like a big crowd and we were right on the island in Times Square there. There was big crowd of people on either side, lining up. It was pretty trippy. Really cool. Mena and I, both coming off of the success of American Pie and Mena also the success of American Beauty, so she was BIG.

Even though you two were in American Pie together, this was actually the first time you’ve ever worked together, right?
It was. That’s why it was interesting because on American Pie, our characters never had a line of dialogue spoken between them and there were maybe three or four days where we were both on-set together, but we never worked with each other. We did some photo shoots together to promote American Pie, so we had had the occasional conversation or two or three, whatever, and had known each other. But coming into Loser, we brought that American Pie connection and we had that foundation. You know, American Pie was such a blessing and so great for her and I and everyone involved, so we had that connection coming into it. Loser just allowed us to grow on that, working opposite each other every day for three months.

From what you knew of her, did she seem different a year later in light of the phenomenal success of American Beauty?
No, she didn’t seem changed. Again, I didn’t really know her from American Pie that well, but no, we were filming Loser right when the Golden Globe nominations and Oscar nominations, this is all happening. American Beauty just had been such a huge hit. She was very -- and still is -- humble about it and still awestruck. I mean, I remember her talking right when we started Loser, saying it’s just a thrill for me to be in the same room with Kevin Spacey, now it’s being nominated for this and that and, no, she didn’t seem changed. She’s a sweetheart and very humble.

American Pie was, of course, a huge success in its own right. How has that affected your career?
It has been a whirlwind definitely since American Pie, but because I started so young -- I started when I was five -- I’ve seen the ups and downs of this business. Just when I think I had the big break, I would see it disappear and I’d be back to square one, hitting the pavement in NYC, going for Atlantic Bell voiceover auditions, you know, after coming off of a Broadway play that ran for a year.

So were there lean years between five and, what are you now? Twenty-two?
You know, it’s funny you say that. There were. I had some bad years (laughs). It’s funny when you say it like that, but it’s true! It’s true! You laugh, but I tell you what, my senior year of high school, was not too good. And that was probably the most critical for me because it was at a point where I knew for sure that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and it was like, okay, nothing was going on. I had done Broadway, and I had done two failed television series, and I had just gotten fired from As The World Turns after I had just gotten nominated for an Emmy.

It was like it was up, it was down and then it was like flat for the longest time and New York was dead. It still kind of is slow but, for me, it was just dead my whole senior year. So as I was starting college, that was the point where I was deciding -- where I needed to decide -- what I was going to do for the rest of my life. So I was like, “I need to go to college because what if this acting thing doesn’t work out because it’s not right now, I need something to fall back on.” Unfortunately college was sort of a have-to as opposed to a want-to at that point. As it is for most people going to college, I suppose. For me, it was like, “Alright, I’ll go for something to fall back on.”

What’s the thing you were going to fall back on?
Well, when I first went, I was completely undecided and then I left NYU and I went to a smaller school in New Jersey, Montclair State University, where I declared myself a Psych major. I’d be on my road to becoming a psychiatrist. That’s what I would do if I wasn’t acting, I suppose. It’s the closest thing I think. Getting into people’s heads. That’s what I do as an actor, I try to see how people would act in certain situations and that’s pretty much what a psychiatrist plays with. I would definitely do it because just being a psychologist and hanging my cloak wouldn’t be enough for me. I’d be like, “You know, screw it. I’m going to school for another four years and then I’ll make the big bucks.”

You’re in Prozac Nation with Christina Ricci, who was outspoken about how she would not have played the role Mena Suvari played in Loser because of the line about swallowing…
(mock indignation) Is that what Christina said? Ricci, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. (laughs) I don’t know the specifics on that because I wasn’t involved at that point.

Did you ask her about it when you worked with her?
No, I didn’t bring it up. No, no, but I had seen that quote, too. But, you know, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. “That’s the beauty of opinions, everyone’s entitled to them!” (laughs) Quote me on it! You did, didn’t you? (laughs)

Was working with Christina Ricci what you imagined?
Oh man, well, Christina is, uh, well, she’s such a talented actress first of all. She’s brilliant. I was more the guest in this. I mean it’s her movie. I mean she’s obviously playing Elizabeth. She found the project. She brought it to the studio. She’s producing it. It’s her thing. Her pet project. So I’m just visiting. I was just a guest. I worked maybe eight days, nine days on the project. In a smaller supporting role. And so there’s always the thought, at first, that you come into a set and, being the guest, that you know it could be a little awkward or not comfortable and Christina erased any of those concerns immediately. In fact, I read with her before I got the part and she was so sweet and so open and she’s wise beyond her years.

What can you say about Saving Silverman?
Saving Silverman is kind of comedic. Actually in Saving Silverman, I am more reactionary to the comedy of Jack Black and Steve Zahn. You know Jack Black, right? Phew. Ah, man, genius, genius. So those two guys are just absolutely hilarious, but that’s more of a reactionary role. It’s not me really instigating the comedy. I have some really funny moments.

So, you’re pretty much working non-stop?
Yeah, I’ve been keeping really busy. Which is great. Boys and Girls and Loser I shot simultaneously I was kind of going back and forth doing both of them. And then I had a little break. And then Prozac Nation and Saving Silverman I’ve been doing at the same time. Prozac just finished up. So basically, I don’t do less than two movies at any one time, and I’ll be looking for three my next time around.

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