August 9, 2001
A Nice Not-Jewish Boy
"Everyone thinks I'm Jewish," says actor Jason Biggs.
The 23-year-old star of "American Pie," "Loser" and "American Pie 2" is actually an Italian Catholic from New Jersey. But he looks like the kind of nice Jewish boy you had a crush on in Hebrew school. Which is why he keeps getting cast as Jews, he says.
His big break, at age 13, was playing Judd Hirsch's son in the Broadway run of "Conversations With My Father." In 1997, TV mogul Steven Bochco cast him as Robby Rosenfeld in the series "Total Security."
In "American Pie 2," Biggs' character, Jim, gets a Jewish surname, Levenstein. "Yet again, I am playing a Jew," quips Biggs, who comes across as exuberant and personable.
If the misconception lingers, it doesn't help that Biggs has a Jewish girlfriend, a 24-year-old writer, his first serious relationship since high school. In the year and a half that they've been dating, he has celebrated Shabbat and Rosh Hashana at her parents' Los Angeles home.
When she flew off to Israel in June to visit her brother, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem exchange student, Biggs tagged along. "I was definitely concerned about the political situation," he confides, "but I've always wanted to see Israel."
Hours after he flew into Lod airport, Biggs was walking in Tel Aviv when he heard a loud explosion. "When we got to our restaurant, all the Israelis were on their cell phones, and suddenly they were clearing out of the place," he recalls. "Then our waiter told us there had been a suicide bombing at a discotheque less than half a mile away. It was as if the headlines had come to life."
When the shaken actor walked past the disco two days later, there was still blood on the sidewalk. "But the Israelis were getting on with their lives, so we felt, 'We must get on with our vacation,'" says Biggs, who was often approached for autographs.
"They were impressed that we would show solidarity and come at a time like this to see their country."
He spent the rest of his 12-day trip doing touristy things like snorkeling in Eilat, visiting Hebrew University and learning a smattering of Hebrew. He was amused to learn that the Israeli Domino's Pizza was giving away promotional copies of the Hebrew-language "American Pie" video.
Back in Los Angeles just before the release of "Pie 2," Biggs was wearing his Hebrew University T-shirt and recalling the day he made pop culture history with a pastry.
"Pie got everywhere," he recalls. "It was pretty slimy."
The actor was hesitant to do the sequel, however. "I thought so highly of the original that I didn't want to mess with it," he says.
But he was swayed by the funny script, in which Jim comes home from college and at one point visits "band camp" -- the almost-mythical place that was obnoxiously touted by his prom date, Michelle, in the original movie. He's seeking sex-ed from the experienced Michelle, who begins every other sentence with the annoying phrase, "This one time, at band camp...."
In real life, the sequel's band camp sequences were filmed at Camp Shalom in Malibu.
"At the end of the second day of filming, my girlfriend asked me which camp it was, and I was like, 'Oh, it's Camp Shalom,' and she goes, 'No way, I went there for four summers!'" Biggs says. "I was just relieved that at no point has she ever said, 'This one time, at Camp Shalom....'"