We know him best as Jim from the rowdy yet heartfelt “American Pie” franchise, but in his latest film “Grassroots,” Jason Biggs takes on a much more serious role as Phil Campbell, a journalist turned campaign manager for his irrational but lovable friend, Grant Cogswell (Joel David Moore).
“Grassroots,” directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (yes, father to Jake), is based on a true story of one candidate’s (Moore) unforeseen run for a seat on the 2001 Seattle City Council Campaign against the incumbent nominee, Richard McIver (Cedric the Entertainer). In an attempt to bring change — in the form of extending the monorail — to Seattle, Cogswell fervently verbalizes his ideas to the people of Emerald City in a coffee shop and wherever else they might hear him. And perhaps not so surprisingly, Cogswell begins to see his passion come to fruition as he begins winning votes, becoming more than some irrational preacher, but a legitimate candidate in the campaign.
Based off the book “Zioncheck for President” by Campbell, Cogswell’s real-life campaign manager, the dramedy also stars Lauren Ambrose, Cobie Smulders and Tom Arnold among others. [Currently playing in Portland and Seattle, “Grassroots” opens in New York to select theaters July 13.]
Indiewire caught up with Jason Biggs to discuss the indie film, his visit to Comic-Con, and his raucous Tweets about ABC’s reality show “The Bachelorette” (he’s a fan).
This is obviously a far departure from your role as Jim in the “American Pie” franchise. What made you want to take this on?
Well I think a part of it is, it is a departure — therein lies a large part of the appeal for me. Also it’s such a small story, such a specific kind of story on paper. You read it and you’re like, “2001 Seattle City Council election,” and it feels so specific, first of all, because it’s based on a real story. And as I explored this story a little further, you realize that it has the David vs. Goliath element and the bromance element. All of these things make it, I think, very universal even though it’s such a specific, Seattle-specific story.
It had these universal themes that I think really resonated with me and I thought at times it was really funny and at times it was really sweet and endearing and heartwarming. And, you know, I thought the 9/11 stuff was something for me that…because it’s been done a bit in film now and theater, I’ve never seen it done this way. I thought Stephen (Gyllenhaal) did such an amazing job in the way that he handled and depicted 9/11.
I remember when I signed up for the movie, thinking, “Oh, it takes place in 2001! That’s like yesterday! That’s not that long ago, you know,” and then we start filming and I realized that I was doing a period piece. Because it really was another time. It was another world. There really was such a fine line in the sand there. There was pre-9/11 and there was post 9/11.
Not only that, technologically everything has changed. Social media was not a part of the way anyone lived their lives, but specific to this story, we weren’t campaigning with social media. Now, that’s half the battle. But there were just a lot of quirky, fun things about this story and these characters that I thought would be really fun to play. And Joel David Moore and I, we got together with Stephen and we did a chemistry read, and we just hit it off.
And the characters of McIver and Cogswell represent broader post 9/11-related themes—like voting for the guy you’re familiar with (McIver, the incumbent) versus going for change (with Cogswell).
I mean look at the past couple of years post 9/11 with Obama and change and all this. These are themes that have really sort of taken over our country in the last few years. This was something that Stephen highlighted in this tiny little Seattle council story from 2001.
So, we know who Phil supports in the film, but who would Jason Biggs support—McIver or Cogswell?
[Laughs] That’s a really good question and the first time I’ve been asked that. You know, I have to say that having read Phil’s book, met Grant, met Phil, shot the film, seen the film, and stayed in Seattle for these last couple of months and really fallen in love with the city; which by the way, have you ever been?
No, I haven’t.
It’s the kind of city I feel that people would never be like, “You know what, I’m going to put that on my list, I’m going to go to Seattle for a week.” Especially if you live in New York. It’s the kind of city you’d go to if you had to go there for work. I highly recommend people put it on their list of places to go before they die. Put it on your bucket list Travel Cities because it’s such a magnificent city. And so anyway, you go there and I’ve been telling this story for so long now, this Grant Cogswell monorail story, that I actually am like, “Yeah, why the fuck don’t they extend the monorail?” Like it’s really insane; you go there and the monorail is super efficient, it’s quiet, it’s everything we preach about in the movie, that Grant preaches about. It all makes perfect sense.
But it also makes sense why it hasn’t happened because politics and money and all this stuff gets in the way and it ultimately doesn’t happen. So in that sense, I’m like I believe in the cause, but you know, Grant’s kind of an unstable guy, certainly as depicted by Joel David Moore. The real Grant might be a little more stable but he’s still quite an eccentric dude. So I wish I could tell you that I would’ve voted for Grant, but certainly in 2001 I probably would have voted for McIver because it would’ve been one of the first elections I could have voted in, first of all—well, okay that’s not true, but I still would have been relatively new to voting. And I probably would have tried to be a little more level-headed about things. And the truth is, you gotta be a little crazy to make things happen! To get shit done! You really do. And so now, the 34-year old self, would in hindsight, would be like, “Oh, you should’ve voted for Grant Cogswell.” I really wish he had won.
Grant wears a panda suit in the movie, and so, I was curious…Being a celebrity yourself, have you ever thought, “Man, I wish I could put on a panda suit for once and just walk out, having no one know who I am.“
Yeah…I’m not kidding. Oh my God, all the time! It’s funny you actually asked that because tomorrow, I’m going to Comic-Con in San Diego. And I’ve actually never been but I hear it’s insanity. Have you ever been?
No I haven’t, but it is the place where a “Twilight” fan was killed just this week.
Yesterday, yup. Sad. Really sad. I mean, it was horrible.
So, I’ve never been, it’s supposed to be nuts, but there are people in costume everywhere! And I’m like, shit, I gotta walk around and do all this stuff. What I could do is, I could just throw on like a fucking Stormtrooper mask and walk around and no one would bother me at all! And then I won’t look weird at all! It’s sort of like Halloween. I love Halloween! You throw on a mask and walk around totally anonymous.
Is there any one person, if you could pick anyone, that you’d want to go up to and say something or do something crazy and have them not know it was you?
I don’t know…oh boy.
Maybe punk any of your “American Pie”castmates?
That would be funny. Yeah, maybe, or like, go and punch one of my childhood tormentors and then just run away and they’d never know it was me.
What’s next for you?
Oh, did I tell you why I was going to Comic-Con? I’m going because I’m doing the voice of Leonardo in the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series on Nickelodeon. So I’m pumped about that. And then I don’t know! I don’t know!
And okay, finally, because I promised you on Twitter we’d bond about this: “The Bachelorette”
THAT WAS YOU?
That was me!
YES! Fuck yeah dude. Yeah, let’s talk about it. Who do you think wins?
I think Arie’s going to win.
I think Arie’s going to win, too. I think I called Arie—not physically called him—but picked him as my winner like four or five episodes ago, when it was like six or seven guys. But then my wife was like, he’s going to win from the very beginning and I was like, “Yeah, yeah.” And then like seven episodes later I had said it on twitter, Arie wins. But then, last week, for a second, I was like, is it going to be Jef? I was like, maybe it’s going to be Jef…but no, it’s going to be Arie? Right?
But here’s the thing about Arie—GAY? I just don’t know why I just realized this last week but I was watching last week and I was like, “Dude! He’s gay!” But he’s a racecar driver so he hides it well. Fuck man, I think Arie has to win, but I bet they don’t last.
They never last! I think once Chris Harrison split up with his wife, I gave up all hope on the franchise.
We’re all doomed! But I do love it man. I just Tweet it because it’s so easy to make fun of. I mean, these people are so ridiculous! The lengths they will go to for fame. The dudes with their v-necks, every fucking one of them wears a v-neck every week and her—Emily—the weekly transformation of her face? She’s turning into Heidi Montag. I mean, it’s unreal. It’s unbelievable. But now I’m like actually into the show and I’m like, “Fuck, man! Who’s going to win?” I can’t fucking wait to find out.