'American Reunion' Star Chris Klein on Cast Chemistry, Oz's Return, and Finding Himself in Hollywood
If the relationship between Jim and Michelle provides a sort of nexus for the American Pie films’ virtuoso combination of sentimentality and raunch, the series’ sweetest outlier has always been the one between Heather and Oz. As the jock and the “choir chick” who fall head over heels for one another, Chris Klein and Mena Suvari created an unexpectedly sweet coupling in a film that was dominated by hardcore hijinks.
But in American Reunion, the duo brings that love affair full circle, examining the impact of 13 intervening years on a relationship -- much less a movie franchise. Klein recently sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about the experience of returning to the film series that first made him a star; in addition to discussing the challenges – or lack thereof – of getting back into his character, Klein talked about the effects of spending almost half of his life in the Hollywood spotlight, and reflected on the growing up he’s done both as a person and a professional actor.
The Hollywood Reporter: I understand that scheduling conflicts prevented you from doing American Wedding. What circumstances made American Reunion right for you to want to revisit the character of Oz?
Chris Klein: It wasn't about that at all. Universal and the powers that be that greenlight movies, they took Wedding in a direction that Oz and Heather wasn't necessary to the story, and those are decisions way above my pay grade. And then when Reunion came along, Oz was involved. I remember sitting down with Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg when they were first writing this, about a year before production started, and all the way around it was a cool idea and I was really stoked to be invited.
THR: Was there anything in particular you wanted to do with the character, or see happen?
Klein: I didn't have any expectations -- I would have had to be sitting around for, you know, 10 years or 8 years, or however long it was. I play this part, I don't write this part. So Jon, Hayden and I sat down and they said, "we kind of think that Oz is in sports broadcasting and was hosting a highlight-style show a la SportsCenter on ESPN." I didn't have a pitch better than that one, and then they said, "and we think that maybe Oz does like a 'Dancing with the Stars' kind of thing, because he has got some celebrity.” And I said great, because that fits -- you see him in [American Pie] and he is singing and he obviously enjoys it. And then they said, "Oz goes back to the reunion and he sees Heather and the sparks are alive." And I said great -- I can't think of anything cooler.
THR: How tough was it to dial back into that relationship?
Klein: Not at all. As a professional and as a friend, I love Mena Suvari and I think that she is one of the most talented actresses of our generation, and to play Oz and Heather, that chemistry and that magic that her and I found with those two characters in the beginning, that doesn't die. That doesn't go anywhere -- and also you can't create it; it's either there or it's not there. We all have seen plenty of movies where [you look at] the chemistry of the actor and actress and you just think, "Nah, I’m not buying that.” But it worked for us and it worked for the audience, so when we got back to it in Atlanta last summer, it was there. And it was on the page; I mean, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg did a great job of really completing that arc for us and we were able to show up and bring what we brought years ago.
THR: How did you reconcile the TV personality of the character, since we first see him on his show, and the way you played him in previous movies?
Klein: That was the whole idea, that he is a host of a television show, and I hazard to guess that any of the great sports broadcasters out there have a TV persona, and then they come home and do what they do. And also, Oz, he is not 100% comfortable with celebrity -- they have this big house, and he doesn't need this big house. But Mia, his girlfriend needs a big house. You know you see him right away questioning, "Why do we need an interior decorator?" But Oz has this reunion, he wants to go, and so he hasn’t lost himself in it; really, what I see Oz in Act One, is like he’s got the American bachelor dream on paper. This dude is put together and rock-solid and using all his talents that he has to make good. But you see it when he hangs with his buddies at Jilly's bar, and they are going through the yearbook and he says "I will be coaching my son's league team." That’s where all of a sudden he is home and there is no longer that disconnect. And next thing he sees is Heather at the lake, and there is still a spark -- and I need to investigate this, because over here is a special thing.
THR: How do you look at yourself between now and when you did the first American Pie movie? Do you feel like a totally different person?
Klein: I mean, I grew up. I spent my 20s in this business and I have a career now that is almost 15 years, and that is a long time -- I mean, that's just three years less than half of my life. And of course I've changed, so the characters that I could play then, I can play different characters now. I did the teen heartthrob thing and that worked for a while, and then I got old and I searched to find my voice and where I fit in. It’s a needle in a haystack operation here in Hollywood, and so it's about staying present in the moment and consistently finding my voice – and also just going for it, you know. It might not work, or maybe nobody sees it, but I’m going to work hard and I’m going to have fun and have the best intentions to try and do something [memorable]. And in American Reunion, Oz is a little bit more understated, and to be an actor is to really expand the realm of possibilities of the human condition, if I may be so bold at 33 years old. And I’m just kind of getting started, and it's consistently trying to find my voice and where I fit in, and the movies that are available. And that’s a cool adventure.
THR: Do you feel at this point you’ve fallen into a comfortable groove with that kind of creative discovery? Is the work constantly surprising you, or are you comfortable tackling each new challenge?
Klein: I think that has to do more with life experience. In my 20s I was very much 'go for the gusto, all I need is the clothes on my back and I can go at any time'. But now I’m 33, and I’m slowing down just a little bit and I appreciate having some roots; maybe the peaks and valleys don't have to be so high and low – I’d settle for some rolling hills, and I think that’s a healthy outlook. And in terms of roles to play, man, I am looking forward to continuing the adventure, and I am so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had. I really hope to continue finding more opportunities, because I truly love being an actor. I love it with all my heart and soul, and I hope that I get to do it for a very long time.