Nobody expected the teen comedy American Pie to be such a hit, but a hit it was, and it turned Jason Biggs into a hot Hollywood property. But sometimes it takes a bit longer for that success to be maintained, as Paul Fischer discovered when chatting to the young actor on the set of his latest comedy, Saving Silverman.
In a small studio just outside of Vancouver, Jason Biggs is trying to rehearse a prison scene. As co-star Jack Black (High Fidelity) says his line [Which begins “Now look in BOTH my eyes —], Biggs finds it impossible to keep a straight face. Such is the difficulty of making comedies. “What you don’t see is that Jack and Steve [Zahn] are making faces, so can you blame me for screwing up?” Biggs responds later while we are having lunch on the set. The film that Biggs is shooting, his fourth since American Pie elevated his profile, is Saving Silverman, an irreverent comedy from director Dennis Dugan, who brought us Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy.
The film tells of three former high school buddies, obsessed with Neil Diamond, two of who are out to prevent Biggs’ character from marrying the wrong girl. Biggs plays straight man to Zahn and Black, but the young actor isn’t concerned at being upstaged. “Clearly those guys are crazy, wouldn’t you say, but I’m having a blast.” That is obvious from what we were able to see. Apart from the romantic plot, the most interesting facet of Silverman, is that these three guys are so into Neil Diamond they put together their own cover ban in tribute to their idol. Prior to shooting, Biggs had no interest in the legendary singer. “I knew nothing about him and hadn’t even heard any of his songs”, the actor confesses. That all had to change. “Yeah I had to sing a few Diamond songs with the guys.” Sort of. “Steve and Jack got to sing, I merely lip-synched. Those guys have sung professionally but as for me, I can’t sing a solitary note.”
A highlight of shooting Silverman, though, was the presence of Diamond himself, who came to Vancouver for a few days to take part in this comic romp. “He was incredible”, Biggs recalls, “A real good sport, who recognised that we weren’t out to parody him. This is more an affectionate tribute, as our characters are real fans, and as you can see from our set, we hold him pretty dear to our hearts.” He is right, of course. There is a glass cage with a Diamond jacket spinning around, a multitude of photographs and posters, “all of which Neil and his people provided us. It’s pretty cool.”
It can be argued that the 22-year old New Jersey native is on a roll following the megahit American Pie that well and truly launched his career. But the young actor faced a bit of reality of late with the lacklustre commercial successes that greeted his two previous films: Boys and Girls and Loser. “Look obviously you’d rather be in a hit than not, but you do the best you can and the rest is up to you,” Biggs says philosophically.
Biggs is hoping that the film won t be a loser internationally, as it begins to open outside the US. “It was one of those good natured stories that I just read and fall in love with”. Biggs explains. Biggs could also see some clear parallels with his Loser character. “I could identify with that character s predicament. Because I was in a popular national commercial I got picked on in grad school. Several of my classmates pretended it wasn’t cool to be an actor. I realize now they were just jealous, but it hurt back then.” Biggs also enrolled in New York University for a year before heading off to the City of Angels. “I was not comfortable at all at NYU. I was still living at home and commuting. I was so lonely and had so few friends. The whole experience was daunting, so I definitely drew on those memories to play Paul,” Biggs explains.
Things have changed for the young actor; watching him work on Saving Silverman, the very together Biggs certainly doesn’t seem like the outsider he effortlessly plays on film. “American Pie has opened so many windows of opportunity for me. I can be picky about the films I do and it’s given me a great circle of friends”. To prove his diversity, Biggs recently completed work on the very serious drama Prozac Nation with Christina Ricci, which at times was shot simultaneously with Saving Silverman. “I play Christina Ricci’s boyfriend. It’s a very dark, heavy film and the kind of role I needed to show I can do more than comedy.” Going from one to another proved challenging. “It was bizarre going from this heavy drama about drugs to a movie where I had to lip-synch to Neil Diamond. At least each experience offset the other.”
Biggs will take some well-deserved r & r following Silverman, “but I’m looking for the perfect role.” Will there be an American Pie 2? “Anything is possible. They brought in the writer from the first movie to rewrite the script, so we’ll see what happens.”