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By James Robert Parish
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 James Robert Parish
All rights reserved.
apples and all that
Before, when you said, "There's the pie guy," you were talking about [rotund comedian] Louie Anderson. — TV talk show host/comedian Martin Short, 1999
It was midsummer 1998 and in Los Angeles the entertainment industry was really humming. Casts and crews of TV series were hurriedly taping new episodes that would soon air on the upcoming fall season. Sharing production space on the same busy studio lots in the San Fernando Valley, in Hollywood, in Culver City, and elsewhere around the show business capital in Southern California, were assorted feature films in the making.
One of these beehives of activity was Universal Pictures, most famous today for its expansive and elaborate studio tour that attracts hordes of tourists to the lot on a daily basis. On one of the company's soundstages in Universal City — adjacent to Burbank in the San Fernando Valley a few miles over the hills from Hollywood — one motion picture in particular was in full production.
At first glance to the untutored eye, it seemed a typical movie set filled with performers and technicians — professionals rushing about preparing for the next take. But it was not quite the normal situation on an average day of filming at the decades-old movie lot. The perceptive observer would spot there was not one, but two movie directors at the hubbub of preparation for the scene about to be shot.
In control of the situation were the Weitz brothers, thirty-two-year-old Paul and his three-years-younger brother, Chris, helming their first theatrical release. That in itself was not totally unique in the late 1990s. In recent years there had been such sibling American filmmaking teams as Albert and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents), Bobby and Peter Farrelly (Kingpin, There's Something About Mary), and Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, The Big Lebowski).
And the film set itself that day at Universal was not in and of itself that extraordinary. It resembled a well-stocked, airy kitchen, one that might be found in countless middle-class homes of suburban communities across the United States. The lighting and camera crew were focusing their attention on a table in the middle of the studio-made room waiting for the set decorators, as well as prop master Chris Call and his assistant, Chris Redmond, to redress the set after the last rehearsal.
Now one of the cast returned from his dressing room to the hub of operation. He was a young man of average height, with short, dark hair and a winning smile. He looked like a typical, wholesome, fun-loving teen on the brink of adulthood. He would have blended in easily with any crowd of high schoolers, if he were on school grounds instead of being on a studio lot making a motion picture — and being the center of attention that day.
To most onlookers, all this bustle — of people rushing around, then waiting while a decision was being made, or a camera or piece of lighting equipment was repositioned yet again — seemed very normal. It was what everyone, even those not in the business, had come to expect from seeing and reading media coverage of the filmmaking process.
Then, suddenly everything took a turn for the unexpected. The young actor, who physically resembled comedian/movie star Adam Sandler, moved over to the white-tiled counter in the kitchen set, jumped up and lay down, straddling the table. In the process, he encased a now-squashed piece of pastry. This might seem odd in the real world, but in Hollywood on a picture shoot, not entirely strange or without precedent — think Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Jim Carrey.
Things, however, got a bit more bizarre as members of the filmmaking crew came over to consult with the performer to guide his next activity. They chatted as the actor pulled down his brown shorts and underwear and helped him as first his pants came down not far enough and then too far. The makeup team was on hand to do their thing. Later, the assistant director was called over to decide if enough of the actor's backside was showing for the cameras — or, conversely, if it was too much exposure of bare flesh. By now, even a seasoned spectator to the activity on the soundstage would have been curious. He might well have wondered if he wandered onto the set of a forthcoming porno film or certainly an R-rated art-house release.
When all was finally right on the movie set and all the props had been arranged to everyone's satisfaction, the brothers Weitz gave their okay to proceed. Next, the assistant director quieted down the soundstage squad. Then he shouted out to cast and crew not the standard industry order "Action!" but the far more unique "Start humping!" With that startling order, the obliging, buoyant actor, twenty-year-old Jason Biggs, began doing his thing as the camera hummed. He began — or so it would appear on camera — to be making "love" to the apple pie beneath him, using this favorite dessert to help accomplish a teen boy's favorite pastime.
And so began the first film takes for a key scene in what would prove to be one of the most talked-about movies of 1999. This pastry-humping sequence from the teen comedy American Pie would be reshot in less explicit variations, one of which (Jason seated and with the pie thrust on and covering his male organ) for the final release version of the Universal Pictures production. The more risqué, overt account, however, would eventually turn up as part of the unrated alternative home video/DVD edition of the hit film when it went on sale in December, 1999.
On its own, and even in its milder form used for American Pie's theatrical release, this potentially crude but hilarious sequence would prove to be a show-stopper. After all, how many mainstream feature films had ever dared to detail on camera a horny high school male virgin testing out a more experienced friend's pronouncement about what it really felt like to have sex with a woman.
In the plot line of American Pie, Jason Biggs's character of Jim is told by his more experienced classmate Chris "Oz" Ostreicher (played by Chris Klein) that the sex act is best compared to the feel of penetrating a warm apple pie. It naturally makes the sex-obsessed Jim, a high school senior, extremely curious. And when, in the script, Jim comes home from school one afternoon to find a fresh pie cooling on the kitchen table, his hormonally driven mind starts thinking along certain lines.
And then he reads the note placed next to the pastry. It's from his mother. A closeup reveals the message to say that she's baked a fresh apple pie — "you're favorite" (oops, yes, the word "your" was misspelled on the on-camera note — not intentionally though) — and that he should enjoy a piece. So what's a testosterone-driven fellow to do? Immediately he turns into a hard-core pragmatist, who must put his pal Oz's theory to the test, just as he might do with a demanding chemistry lab experiment. First he sticks two of his fingers in and out of to the latticed-crossed pie crust. As he wiggles his digits around in the warm pie, it sparks an idea. Should he or shouldn't he is clearly written across his face. Then, having made his decision, he loosens his pants. Next, the eager teenager jumps on the table, and, doing what a man has got to do, goes to town on the dessert!
Besides this cinematic milestone the film boasted other zany sequences (i.e., the film's opening sequence in which Jim's parents catch him masturbating while watching porn on a scrambled TV pay station; the storyline highlight of Jim doing a goofy strip dance at the urging of a curvaceous high school exchange student who has disrobed in his bedroom — all the while unintentionally being taped for a huge home audience over the Internet). What made the potentially gross-out apple pie bit and the other low jinks work so well was the essential wholesomeness of the lead character as scripted by Adam Herz, as directed by the Weitz brothers, and, especially, as played by Jason Biggs.
* * *
When distributed in July, 1999, American Pie became a huge box-office hit. It grossed over $100 million in the United States and, later, did nearly as well overseas. (Thereafter, there would be the enormous proceeds from the movie's home video/DVD release.) As a result, the comedy bonanza, and its pleasant young star, Jason Biggs, became the new buzz of the entertainment industry, and, in turn, of the public as well.
Jumping on a bandwagon of well-strategized hype, the media launched an array of copy analyzing the sneak hit movie and, in particular, its game, fresh-faced "pie guy." Owen Gleiberman, in reviewing American Pie for Entertainment Weekly (July 17, 1999), gave thumbs-up to the movie and decided that Jason Biggs could be compared to a "junior David Schwimmer." Not bad to be placed in the same ranks as one of the stars of the hit TV sitcom Friends.
Many observers of today's pop culture predicted that Jason was on the fast track to becoming the new generation's Adam Sandler. And, indeed, with Jason's sound comedy timing and his appealing underdog persona, there are indeed many acting resemblances between Biggs and the twelve-year-older Adam Sandler. Moreover, with Biggs's equally fuzzy startled looks on camera and his short, dark hair style, there are many physical similarities between Jason and Adam, the latter who broke through to public acclaim in the early 1990s as a regular on TV's Saturday Night Live.
One of American Pie's producers, Warren Zide, informed the media of Jason: "He's like a cross between Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler. He has the personality of a guy you could see getting embarrassed around women. The stuff he does in the movie, I can see him doing in real life."
This was heady stuff to be placed in the same professional league as the already very well established and highly popular Carrey and Sandler, each of whom commanded a hefty paycheck per film. To be compared to movie stars who were earning over $20 million per movie was extremely flattering and could have easily over-inflated the ego of an actor less level- headed than down-to-earth Biggs.
There were others at the time of American Pie's release who found parallels between Jason's breakthrough screen performance and that of past Hollywood stars-in-the-making. According to Brian Conant, reporting for the College Press Network's Illinois College Bureau, "In past, there had been Tom Cruise in Risky Business  and then John Cusack in Say Anything  in which he [Cusack] stands outside his girlfriend's house holding a blaring boom box aloft." Conant theorized, "Indeed Tom Cruise and Cusack's stints as teenagers in the movies ... not only made for long-cherished moments in teenage cinema, but also made them household names."
A more recent defining screen entry — to which Jason and his "pie scene" would frequently be compared — is the genitalia sequence of There's Something About Mary (1998). In that highly popular big-screen feature — much more on the mean-spirited side than American Pie — star Ben Stiller has a storyline bit where he catches his male equipment in the zipper of his trousers. The results are understandably painful for the on-screen character, but very laugh-provoking for the viewer. (There is also another moment in There's Something About Mary that is parallel to an episode in Pie. It occurs when leading man Stiller has a glob of sperm — the end result of his recent masturbation — unknowingly nesting in his hair. His lady love — played by Cameron Diaz — comes onto the scene and mistakes the goo in his do for hair gel.)
Jason himself had his own theory about why his non-Food-Network-like pastry food fest and other hijinks on camera in American Pie were so well received. He told the press, "When I read the script I knew I had to do this movie. Though most people won't be able to relate to this stuff directly, everybody had to deal with the curiosity and anxiety of virginity as a teenager. Nobody in the theater will be like, 'Yeah, I remember when I humped a pie,' but most will identify with the troubles of the main characters."
As American Pie continued in its widely successful release in the United States and abroad during the 1999, jokes about apple pastry and its new movie ties to self-gratification made the rounds of the Internet. There were quips to be rattled off by TV late-night talk show hosts, and these jokes would pop up frequently in other media references. It gave a whole new meaning to the fruit dessert, previously so synonymous with mom's home cooking. There were others who riffed off the film's name, the same title as that of Don McLean's 1971 folk song anthem, which the film's producers had gained permission from the songwriter to use. (Actually that eight and a half minute tune was inspired by the death of rock singer Buddy Holly.)
And tied to all the pop culture discussion (critical, moral, and other) about American Pie was Jason Biggs. Repeatedly, he was asked about his unique claim to fame as the "pie person." While others might find it professionally demoralizing to be linked so tightly to a visual sexual image, Jason accepted the recognition factor as a compliment. He appreciated the fact that he was now a known entertainment personality and that was sufficient unto itself.
* * *
Once American Pie became a recognized commercial gold mine and Jason Biggs a part of its snowballing success, there was a growing interest in the young man from Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. Inquiring minds wanted to know what life factors and events led to his unforgettable screen moments in this winning screen comedy. What had professionally prepared him for his outrageous movie assignment? Did he really have the goods to be the "next" Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler? Or, on a more modest level, was Jason a one-film wonder or would his acting career catch on as had that of such Hollywood contemporaries as Freddie Prinze Jr. (I Know What You Did Last Summer, She's All That), James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson (both of TV's Dawson's Creek), the upcoming Josh Hartnett (Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, Here on Earth) and Shane West (Liberty Heights, TV's Once and Again), or the slightly older Ryan Phillippe (White Squall, Cruel Intentions), Scott Speedman (TV's Felicity), and the fast-rising Shawn Hatosy (The Postman, Anywhere But Here)?
When Jason quickly signed for two more major, mainstream pictures — Losers (2000) and Boys & Girls (2000) — speculation about and interest in this unique Generation Y personality increased. What is he all about? ... What motivates him? ... What are his goals? ... What is he really like off screen?CHAPTER 2
from the start
I started acting when I was five years old, and it was always a hobby. School came first. — Jason Biggs, 1999
In 1978, southern Democrat James Earl Carter Jr., better known as Jimmy Carter, was in his second year in the White House. One of the biggest domestic issues that year for America's thirty-ninth President was dealing with rising inflation, a situation spurred on by the shortage of fuel (especially the availability of oil from the Middle East). To stem the critical situation Carter put a freeze on wage increases for federal employees at 5.5 percent and asked Congress and America to hold down wage and price escalation in general.
The biggest hit on Broadway in 1978 was the musical Ain't Misbehavin' and among the most popular movies of the year were Grease, Coming Home, Midnight Express, and National Lampoon's Animal House. On TV, for the 1977–78 lineup, the top ten series included Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, Three's Company, M*A*S*H, and Little House on the Prairie. In the sports world, major league baseball attracted a record-breaking 40 million fans, while basketball star David Thompson (Denver Nuggets) maneuvered an $800,000 contract for the year — the biggest such negotiation to that time for a professional athlete.
Excerpted from Jason Biggs by James Robert Parish. Copyright © 2000 James Robert Parish. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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