Clown prince

Fri, Nov 9, 2012, 00:00

Jason Biggs was always going to play the fool; but his persistent success lies in making that fool an everyman. The Grassroots star talks to TARA BRADY

Jason Biggs is standing by the window, arms outstretched, looking not unlike an Alan Partridge action figure. He doesn’t add “Ah ha” but we get the picture. At 34, the Jersey-born actor and comedian will do pretty much anything in the name of buffoonery.

Exhibit A: Last May, Biggs and Jenny Mollen, his wife of five years, attracted tuts from moral mavens when they parodied Time Magazine’s attachment parenting cover. The shot featured Biggs with his mouth over Mollen’s breast and the caption: “Are You Wife Enough?”

Exhibit B: In the run up to the recent US election, Biggs and Mollin were similarly lambasted for a series of sexualised tweets concerning Republican wives Ann Romney and Janna Ryan. Outraged Romney supporters duly contacted Nickleodeon with demands that the network fire Biggs; the actor is currently voicing Leonardo on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Should we have expected more from the man who shot to fame for humping pastry in American Pie?

Probably not, says Biggs: “I was always class clown but I’m also desperate for approval. At school, I kissed the appropriate asses and got the appropriate grades. I wanted to impress peers and teachers alike. I’m a pleaser. But I’m also a simpleton.”

Born in Pequannock Township to shipping company manager Gary and nurse Angela, Jason Biggs was New Jersey before that meant adding definite articles to one’s name. His lineage is Sicilian and English and he grew up in the same Italian-friendly ’burb where Frank Sinatra was born. From the get-go, however, Biggs been cast as Jewish. He currently owns many yarmulkes and was Woody Allen ersatz opposite, well, Woody Allen, in the director’s 2003 comedy Anything Else.

“I don’t know how it happened,” says Biggs, who was raised Roman Catholic. “It’s got to be in the features. At least once a day, someone says ‘Are you saying youre not Jewish’ I’ve played secular Jews. I’ve played orthodox Jews. I know some Hebrew. I know the customs. My wife is part Jewish. I go to Jewish holidays. I think I’m Jew -ish. Or maybe Jewish-ish.”

Almost inevitably, the actor has collaborated with fellow New Jerseyan Kevin Smith – Biggs has credits on Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Jersey Girl – and he shares that film-maker’s passion for their home turf.

“Kevin is loyal to Jersey and I love him for that,” says Biggs. “It is a great thing to be a New Jerseyan. I love Jersey Shore. I grew up near there and when the show first came out I thought I love these people, I grew up with people like this. I know the Jersey thing is gone crazy on reality shows, but what makes Jersey a great state is its characters and its Desperate Housewives.”

Biggs, who followed his older sister into acting aged five, started out as a precocious child star. At 13, he attracted rave notices on Broadway opposite Judd Hirsch in a Tony Award-winning production of Conversations with my Father. At 17, he was a Daytime Emmy nominee for work on As the World Turns.

“I remember just being in it, just being in the job,” recalls Biggs. “I mean some of my earliest memories are professional. My sister was already working when her agent asked my mom if I wanted to try. We didn’t have any big conversation about it. She just took me out on a job to see if I liked it. She always asked me growing up ‘Now, are you sure you want to do this?’ But I loved it from the start. I was always sure.”

The American Pie series changed everything for Biggs. He still cant go anywhere without attracting good-natured puddingrelated cat calls and he still can’t order pie from a menu. “I get ‘Jim’ a lot,” he says. “Or ‘apple pie’. Guys really seem to relate to Jim as a kind of an everyman and that’s an amazing thing. I’ll probably never again in my life have a character like that again. Its such a gift.”

Getting the Pie gang back together for this year’s $235 million grossing postquel – yes, it’s a real thing – was, says Biggs, an easy transition.

“Eddie Kay Thomas is a good friend of mine but with everyone else its a lot more casual. I’ll run in to them sometimes. But once we went back, it was like we never missed a beat. The whole American Pie phenomenon is a bond we share. It’s so close to us and it’s so important in our lives.”

The positives, says Biggs, greatly outweigh the negatives, but his iconic desert scene has left him with something to prove. In this spirit Stephen Gyllenhaal’s Grassroots – a timely, lively political comedy – casts Biggs as a jaded political hack and a straight man to Joel David Moore’s loopy Seattle City Council candidate.

“I had to sit on my hands: metaphorically and physically at times,” admits the actor. “It’s a brilliant story and a complex character and I fear it would have been too big for me without Stephen.”

Grassroots, a latter-day Mr Smith Goes To Washington, is inspired by a 2001 political battle for Seattle during which an eccentric single-issue candidate took on the collective might of the incumbent mayor and the city’s expanding Monorail network.

“Stephen thinks of the movie as a kind of blueprint for grassroots action,” notes Biggs. “He has me travelling around campuses so I’m a convert now. But even before that I loved that it was this was a true story.”

Is this indicative of where his career is headed?

“Well, I loved doing Grassroots because it’s a drama with comic elements. Most of my instincts and skills are comic. And I can’t imagine not doing comedy. Im a simple guy: I like making people laugh.


Grassroots is out now

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