Jason Biggs first shot to fame (pun intended) as the pastry-packing main character of American Pie, the movie that launched a thousand teen comedies. It’s been over a decade since that, let’s face it, iconic film’s release, and since then, Biggs has starred in a Woody Allen comedy, three American Pie sequels (read our oral history on the franchise here), and a wide array of other roles (he’s currently voicing Leonardo on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Beginning this Thursday, Biggs can be seen on the Netflix-only series Orange Is the New Black, playing a man whose fiancee gets sent to prison. So naturally, we asked him to write an essay about how being famous can sometimes feel like being in prison, and even more naturally, he obliged.
“Holy shit it’s Adam Sandler!”
“Are you that guy, Jason Banks?”
Well, at least the last one is correct.
Since July 1999, when the first American Pie hit theaters, my anonymity has been compromised. I say it like that, and not like “I’m world-famous!” because in truth, it’s not always as exciting and wonderful as people think. Okay, before you get all pissy and start in with the “well you asked for it” and “yeah, poor you, must SUCK having all that money and attention and shit” stuff, let me just say, I’m with you. Overall, it’s pretty fucking cool, but fame can be an interesting thing. Some people seek it out, even rely on it entirely to make their living (see the Kardashians). For others, it is but an annoying consequence of their creative pursuits, something that merely gets in the way of the “art” (cue eye roll and jerk-off motion with hand). Others—and I believe this group to be in the majority— appreciate it as a reflection of their success and enjoy its boost to their already-fragile egos, but also understand its fickle nature and general ridiculousness. It can be a stressful barrier to conducting routine activities in their everyday lives, but ultimately they wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I fall into this category.
Now, there are very different levels of fame, to be sure. The American Pie franchise has achieved international success, and as the guy who got naughty with the titular baked good in one of the film’s more talked-about scenes, I can count on being recognized, to some degree, almost anywhere I go. But I am no Brad Pitt. In pectoral size and overall handsomeness, sure, but in famousness, obviously not even close.
Maybe I might be noticed by a high school sports team in LAX who are traveling to some tournament, say, and the result is chaotic and overwhelming. They all want pictures, and if I indulge, not only is it a huge time commitment, but the resulting scene essentially puts me on display to the rest of the terminal’s now-rubbernecking passengers. Awkward, to say the least. It’s flattering to think that people have responded to me and my work, and (mostly) like it, but the vulnerability I feel in these moments, being on view and used almost as a prop of sorts, can be very uncomfortable. If I am traveling alone the discomfort is exponential.
Naturally, places with larger crowds will provide the most opportunities for recognition, and therefore are the most anxiety-inducing. But even in places where there are fewer people, recognition is always a possibility. It is this potential for being recognized that is often more stressful than actually being recognized. It’s like smuggling a joint on an airplane, or sneaking your toy poodle into a grocery store, or driving without proper vehicle registration: you are very much aware of it, even if others aren’t, and there’s that voice in your head telling you you’re gonna get caught. I know when people do double-takes walking by me on a city street, or when people are whispering about me at a nearby table at a restaurant. I can even tell, based on a quick locking of eyes, if they have clocked who I am or not. At any moment your movements may be watched and analyzed. This is a constant. And despite having had a few years to adjust, it is a very weird and trippy feeling. I imagine it’s something I will never truly get used to. Simply put, it’s an unnatural thing. It’s not normal, by any definition of the word.
I think I am also hyper-aware of the fact that fame can be a fleeting and volatile thing. Perhaps as a defense mechanism, I’d rather not get used to it. It’s safer. Because the day I do is the day it will all go away. And if you think I’m bitching now, well just you wait.
But what about Brad Pitt, and others like him? I’ve heard celebrities who are in that stratosphere of notoriety sometimes refer to their fame as a “prison”. At their level, it must be insane. It becomes a logistical nightmare just to get around the block. If they sneeze, it makes headlines (well, they are just like us!). Their children’s safety is jeopardized daily. But prison implies a place where you are made to go, or forced to be. While it may at times feel that way, famous people are never forced to do anything. They have the freedom to make their decisions. Sure, these decisions are informed by the craziness around them, but again, this is a career they have chosen for themselves. Ultimately I can’t really speak to fame at that extreme level, only to fame at this much more modest perch. But regardless, I can assure you one thing: if given the choice between being incarcerated in a real prison, and being famous, at any level, well…I hope you’re curious to see how I sneeze.