Clown prince

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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

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 Jersey­born 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 you're 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 Jewishish.”

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 can't 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.

“Most of my in­stincts and skills are comic. And I can’t imag­ine not do­ing com­edy”

“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. I'm a sim­ple guy: I like mak­ing peo­ple laugh."

Grass­roots is out now and is re­viewed on page 13

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