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Interview: Jason Biggs

8th November 2012

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TNS chats to Jason Biggs about American politics, his latest film, Nandos obsessions ...and narrowly avoids a game of Spin the Bottle.

Part way through TNS’s interview with Jason Biggs, outside the hotel window, the sun goes behind a cloud. “The lights are dimmed,” says the man most famous for doing unwholesome things to an apple pie. “Shall we play Spin the Bottle?”

Slightly earlier, picking up his glass of water from the table: “Is this vodka?”

Based on this introduction, you might be surprised to discover that Biggs’s latest film is a political underdog story following the true events of the Seattle City Council elections in 2001. It could hardly be more different from the role he is most famous for.

In Grassroots, Biggs plays Phil Campbell, a fairly useless 20-something, who takes on the role of managing the political campaign of his friend Grant Cogswell. Cogswell’s ambition is to be elected to the City Council in order to realise his dream of creating a monorail to empower the low income residents of Seattle.

What attracted Biggs to the film?

“I loved the David vs. Goliath aspect,” he says, “and all the political stuff. But for me it really felt like it was sort of an underdog story and it was incredibly well written.

“For me I knew it was a role that would just be different from what I’ve done recently and what I’m most well known for certainly, and to exercise the muscles that I hadn’t exercised in a while. I was starting to get flabby in that area.”

Although essentially a positive film, events throughout Grassroots are marred by failure. What does Biggs think about this?

“One of the things you could say is what would be your definition of failure or success?” he says.

“What he (Grant) gains is much more important really. There are a lot of things going on in the movie and there are a lot of things at stake for people who are considering running for office. Just do it, because it doesn’t really matter if you win or not. First of all it’s a great personal experience.

“I was saying to some students yesterday, how do you think you’re going to get a job and get out of school?

“It’s worse in the United States I think than it is here. They might get a job if they raise their hand very nervously. And I just say, run for office – because that work is always available, and you might win, and then you’ll have a job. But more than that just... running for it is going to both add to your resume massively and add to who you are as a person, so I think just jumping in and doing it. You’ve got to keep saying to everyone just do it, just run for office. And the film seems to have that effect on people, which is really great, which is to just ignite their spirit.”

The film begins in July 2001, and although of course the characters don’t know what is coming, there is a looming sense of dread for the audience. Questions have to be raised over whether this is a post-9/11 film...

Biggs is empathic that it is. “It is a post 9/11 film,” he says. “I do think there is a post 9/11 world. My own opinion is that the United States did exactly what Osama and 9/11 wanted them to do, which was to expand the treasury and basically get mired. I’m very anti the war and what it accomplished and the damage that was done was done.

“Grassroots has been around and ever since democracy has been around. There was a much larger grassroots movement in the United States in the late 90s, in Seattle, then when 9/11 hit there was a real shutting down of everything, shutting down of the grassroots movement. And now they’ve come back up again - there was Occupy Wall Street and everything surrounding that. So I think there is... there’s a lot of things surrounding post 9/11 that are interesting, the Arab Spring, which is another example of democracy and its impact. And yeah I think 9/11 does play a really important part in it.”

Has been in the film altered him politically?

“I think I’m more aware of politics on a local level for sure, definitely,” he says. “We filmed this two years ago. I’ve definitely been more aware and LA in recent years it’s kind of a hotbed of local measures and propositions that have been from residents. The medical marijuana bills, gay marriage...

“I’ve always been interested in politics but I’ve always felt a little shy talking about it, either because I felt I didn’t know enough, or maybe just felt like it was a topic that was off limits.”

He adds: “Working on his movie ...(it is) the exact opposite, you need to talk about it; politics are what dictates our lives.

“We have to discuss issues and such. It’s made me more aware of what’s going on around my home, locally.”

Biggs adds: “I’m incredibly proud of the film and the way Stephen put it together and I think it’s a beautiful movie and I’m proud of my performance. When I heard that it was getting UK release and coming to London Film Festival, that was great news, I was really thrilled. So hopefully people enjoy it.”

And one final, slightly absurd question. We’ve heard he’s a huge fan of Nandos....

The answer, apparently, is yes. “Love, love, love Nandos,” he says.  

What does he order?

“I order the chicken livers, and I order the half chicken leg and thigh and I order it hot. That’s one of my favourite meals in London.”

And with this the interview draws to a close and Jason Biggs leaves, presumably to get his fix of spicy chicken.   

Grassroots is released on 9th November. Read our review here

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