Jason Biggs Gets Political In 'Grassroots'
Funnyman Jason Biggs, 34, is starring as politician Grant Cogswell’s campaign manager Phil Campbell in the new film Grassroots, an R-rated dramedy based on the book Zioncheck for President. Grassroots tells the true story of oddball Grant (played by Joel David Moore), who enlists his friend Phil, an unemployed journalist, as his campaign manager to fulfill his lofty, if naïve, political aspirations to run for a 2001 Seattle City Council seat. Directed by Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, the film also stars Lauren Ambrose, Christopher McDonald and How I Met Your Mother regular Cobie Smulders.
A Pompton Plains, N.J., native, Biggs acted in several films and series before his big break in teen comedy American Pie (1999), and was nominated twice for his role as Pete Wendall in the soap opera As the World Turns (1994). After playing goofy Jim Levenstein in the American Pie series, Biggs went on to appear in Loser (2000), Jersey Girl (2004) and Over Her Dead Body (2008) alongside Eva Longoria and Paul Rudd. But his creative talents span far beyond the silver screen, including several theater stints such as Modern Orthodox (2004) and Boys’ Life (2008); a hip-hop collaboration with Bay Area rapper E-40 in 2006; and a literary cameo in the What’s Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey anthology, to which he contributed his poem “Scratch-and-Sniff” in 2010. Biggs now resides in Los Angeles with his wife and actress, Jenny Mollen, 33, whom he met on the set of My Best Friend’s Girl in 2008.
Biggs talks about his latest endeavor: politics. Inspired by his experience on the set of Grassroots, Biggs recently launched a kickstarter campaign called The Grassroots Project in collaboration with director Stephen Gyllenhaal, father of Maggie and Jake. "There is no specific kind of candidate [in mind]; there is no platform, there is no left, right, center, Democrat, Republican. It’s more about giving a voice to the people and conceptually backing grassroots politics," Biggs told Uinterview exclusively. Although Biggs is a self-professed leftie, he claims that the campaign aims to support all local-level candidates and efforts. "The fact is that no movement is too small, no idea is too small, no person is too small to actually get something done." Biggs also discusses his chemistry with co-star Moore, his take on the dramatic genre, and what office he would run for.
- Q: What drew you to a movie about a local city council race? - Uinterview
- A: It’s a very specific story, but it felt really universal in its themes and relationships. It felt relatable and approachable, even though it was just about this tiny city council election from 2001. The characters were hilarious and complex and quirky. I thought that the relationship between the two guys was especially great. My character is a reluctant participant, while [Joel David Moore]’s character is really eccentric and out there, and very active in the relationship. And I think it’s a cool story to tell right now, in our current political climate, about this notion of grassroots politics. They say all politics are local; it’s really true. Lastly, it was also just different. I read the script and I knew this was clearly something that would be a departure for me. I’m always trying to do things that are outside of my comfort zone and many times it’s just a matter of getting the right filmmaker to trust you and go there with you. [Director Stephen Gyllenhaal] believed in me.
- Q: On that topic, how was this role different for you than some of the more straight comedies you’ve done? Did you have to pull back and be more reserved as a comedian? - Uinterview
- A: A lot. I joked about it with Stephen. You have to remember that he is a drama guy. The films he makes are much heavier and more dramatic. So when we came together, he looked at it like he was making a comedy and I looked at it like I was making a drama. In a way, we made both. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he casted me, because he wanted me to find the humor in some of these places where the drama is already obvious, especially with 9/11 being a major part of the dramatic element of the film. Stephen was great about directing me into this performance. I give all the credit to Stephen. I probably would have turned this into a big romp.
- Q: The film is based on a real person. Did you get to meet the real Phil Campbell? - Uinterview
- A: I did, but not until a couple of weeks into filming. [Phil] was a great guy and he gave me such a sweet compliment. He’d been watching me do a scene and he came up to me and was like: 'You’ve got me down, you’ve totally got me down, oh my God.' It was weird because I hadn’t met him; it was simply a product of the way the script was written. Stephen really captured this guy’s voice in his script, so the writing dictated a certain rhythm and cadence to the performance that, I guess, ended up sounding like Phil.
- Q: It’s an election year, so the film has a lot of resonance with that. What do you think about grassroot politics, such as the Tea Party and the movements on the left? - Uinterview
- A: Personally, I think the Tea Party’s beliefs are off the wall. I’m too far left to believe in any of that stuff. But the truth is that these movements are what are shaping American politics. The fact is that no movement is too small, no idea is too small, no person is too small to actually get something done. And no idea too crazy, clearly.
- Q: What sort of candidates are you looking to back with your Kickstarter campaign, The Grassroots Project? - Uinterview
- A: There is no specific kind of candidate [in mind]; there is no platform, there is no left, right, center, Democrat, Republican. It’s more about giving a voice to the people and conceptually backing grassroots politics. Stephen has been very unbiased in that way. He is left-leaning and has very specific political views, but he only cares about getting people out voting and involved. That’s why he wanted to tell this story. The campaign is still kicking along, pun intended. I think we’re halfway to our goal.
- Q: If you were going to run for office, what office would you run for and what would your slogan be? - Uinterview
- A: With no time to think about that? Oh boy. I would run for Office Depot and my slogan would be “F--- you, Staples.” That’s what I would run for. I honestly don’t know. Certainly not for Treasury because that involves too many f---ing numbers. Arts? Is there an office with a guy that just sits at home and smokes weed all day? Because, if so, I’d run for that office and my slogan would be “Puff, puff, pass.”
- Q: Are there any particular causes that you’re involved or interested in? - Uinterview
- A: I’m not super engaged, admittedly. I tend to get more involved with my friends' stuff. If there is anything I’m more active with it’s animal charities. We’re very involved with no-kill shelters and pet adoptions and rescue missions. But otherwise it’s mostly friends who will call up and say, 'My charity is in this. Will you come and help?' I don’t really discriminate. I feel like there isn’t one charity that is better than the other. I’ll do whatever. Whoever has the better party.
- Q: Was there a single moment while you were filming the movie that summed up your experience or that was the most memorable for you? - Uinterview
- A: Joel and I had great chemistry. There’s a video that Stephen put together highlighting our relationship and the weird things we did on set. There is one prank that Joel did that is so childish and probably horribly unfunny for somebody else to watch, but to us it was the most amazing thing ever. He would set traps. He’d be inside in a room, and he’d know I would be coming, so he would take the chair, put it against the door and build piles of chairs, pillows, the clock off the wall, a can of coke, all this stuff… so that when I opened the door, it would all fall on me and I would be trapped. He would film it every time. Sometimes it would just be the door opening and only the can of coke would fall off, but we would die. I think that epitomizes not only our relationship, but also the whole experience. Ultimately, [the most memorable experience was] what we were able to capture on film, which is this weird dynamic where Joel is just crazy and I’m like, 'Really. Yeah.'
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