It's still a bit difficult to see Jason Biggs as anyone other than Jim Levenstein of American Pie infamy. But he's clearly trying to put this indelible role behind him, while remaining refreshingly unashamed about it. At age 27, he's making intriguing choices, from key roles in films by Woody Allen and Kevin Smith to the offbeat, indie army comedy Guy X, in which he plays a victim of mistaken identity stranded at an isolated American military base in Greenland. Here he talks about what drew him to this project...
Although it is set in a very specific time and place, Guy X deals in universal themes doesnít it?
Itís about an ordinary guy in this very extraordinary place. The location is such a huge part of this movie, this base in Greenland. The weather becomes a huge factor, and it was kind of funny to watch it play such a huge part in the film. Itís like another character almost. The challenge for me was keeping Rudy grounded and identifiable because you need to take this journey with him. He is this ordinary guy in this extraordinary place and the audience takes this crazy ride with him.
Did his sympathetic side shine through in the script, or is that something you brought to it?
It was definitely on the page, although Ė this is going to sound immodest Ė I think thereís an inherent sympathetic quality to me, or at least the characters Iíve played up to this point. And maybe thatís why thereís this sympathy right off the bat, because I have played characters like that in the past. Iím used to doing comedies that are broader, going for the joke, but here I couldnít do that. I had to be disciplined about keeping the performance subtle and thatís what I loved about the script. I just hope that I did it justice.
Can you define the difference between this and one of those broader comedies?
Itís tough to put your finger on it. I come from the theatre world, so Iím used to performing for the last row, and in a lot of the film work that Iíve done I was still able to play things up a bit because the role required it of me. Here I had to be reined in a little bit more. I tried to be conscious of it, I talked to Saul Metzstein, the director, about it and at times I felt like I was not giving enough. Iím my own worst critic and I felt like I wasnít giving Saul what he wanted. He reminded me that the camera would pick up all that stuff, even those minor adjustments, whether they are physical things, line deliveries or a reaction Ė itís going to be picked up by the camera. I tend to forget that when Iím performing on stage, or Ďhaving sexual relationsí with a pie.
Youíre working with a great cast here, do scenes with someone like Michael Ironside Ė the Guy X of the title Ė inevitably raise the stakes for you as an actor?
Absolutely. And similarly in scenes with Jeremy Northam who is also a very intense actor. And Natascha McElhone. These are amazing people Iím getting to work with in this film, so youíve got to step it up when youíre around them. And in terms of keeping it realistic, when youíre working opposite someone like Michael Ironside, he just exudes this intensity and this realism that contagious. He just sort of takes over, and you follow him along.
Ironside is Canadian, and Northam and McElhone are British, so as one of the few Americans here were you the Ďconscienceí of the film, helping to keep it real?
Yes and no. There were certainly conversations that we had, I was a bit of a sounding board. But the thing is I probably only know as much if not less about that era, and the American military in general, as the British members of the cast. And of course Saul did his research, and being a Scotsman it didnít hinder his ability to direct what some people call an American film. I donít even think it is an American film, itís a great story about these people who could be from anywhere.
But there are moments, like when Jeremyís character wields a baseball bat, that a non-American would do less instinctively arenít there?
Actually that was really funny, Jeremy kept wanting to use it like a cricket bat. In the movie itís him whoís giving me the lesson in how to stand but right before we shot that scene I was actually showing him how to position me for the proper stance. He was a bit nervous about the baseball stuff but I think he pulled it off quite credibly.
How do you feel now about your feathery co-stars, the puffins?
They bite, man, they really bite. For the one or two scenes where we had real puffins walking around we had a puffin wrangler who, after each take, would go and run after them. Iíd join in, because we were losing time, but if you caught one or two youíd have to wear gloves because they clamp right down with their beaks and they really hurt.
Was one of the appealing things about the film political parallels between the upheaval of the mid to late 70s and the world as it is now?
That was part of what attracted me to the script, that apart from it being set in 1979 I feel like itís kind of a contemporary piece. And itís certainly timely given the state of political affairs in the world. So I was attracted to the script because of the political nature of it. Iím a relatively diplomatic person, I have my convictions but Iím not very outspoken about them. For me itís ultimately more about the character and this great story we tell than it is about me saying, ĎIím an anti-war actor and this is why I did this film!í I happened to enjoy this story, I thought it was compelling and a great role for me to do. That being said I like that there is this edge to it, I think itís cool.
How did you feel about working in Iceland, which was doubling in the film for Greenland?
Itís an amazing place. The landscape is amazing and diverse, youíve got the lava fields, the mountains and the fields, snow capped glaciers Ė youíve got it all. Itís just so beautiful.
The craziest thing about the weather, the thing that got to me was that it was inconsistent. Amazingly inconsistent. One minute the sun would be out and it would warm up and feel like spring. And then in a moment clouds would roll in and the winds would pick up and it was freezing. The winds were really the craziest thing, but it was beautiful still, and an amazing experience. And the people are wonderful too. It was cool. Iíd go back in a heartbeat.