“The Larry Spin-off Is Going to Be Awesome”
Jason Biggs of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ talks to his real-life alter ego about career insecurity, Roman noses, and peeing sitting down
By Larry Smith
The news arrived from a college friend, one of those guys with a big marketing job in Hollywood who always knows everything first. His email contained four words—“What do you think?”—and an attached picture. Why was Steve sending me a photo of the guy from American Pie? Then it hit me, confirmed seconds later by Google: Jason Biggs had just been cast as Larry Bloom in Orange Is the New Black. When I got done laughing, I realized I would be connected to the pie guy for a long time.
What I knew was this: Jason Biggs starred in American Pie, the Porky’s for anyone a few years younger than me. Yet there had to be more in the Biggs canon, a phrase I am reasonably sure no one has ever typed out before. And I was going to take it all in.
Biggs has been acting since he was five. He’s done Broadway. A soap opera. A bunch of network TV shows. The American Pie franchise (four movies in all), as well as Saving Silverman, Prozac Nation, and Woody Allen’s Anything Else (who knew?). He has been the voice of Leonardo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series. And now Jason Biggs would be Larry Bloom, the “peculiar, underachieving, underemployed Jewboy” in Orange Is the New Black.
Since the initial announcement of the Biggs casting, and once the first season rolled out, I have fielded approximately 500 calls, texts, emails, tweets, and Facebook comments from friends and family and strangers in which they inform me that Jason Biggs’s portrayal of this Brooklyn-based writer named Larry is: brilliant, awful, odd, doofy, delightful, troubling, surreal, and the fairly common sentiment, “growing on me.” An old girlfriend emailed to say that while she no longer had intimate feelings for me, it was nonetheless weird to see a guy named Larry having sex on a 42-inch screen in her living room. The high school daughter of a former colleague wanted me to know that I’m “way cooler than Larry Bloom.” My friend Samantha, one of the more intellectual and heady people I know, asked if we could sit down for an hour so she could tell me everything she’s feeling about the Biggs characterization. (I wrote about my side of the Orange Is the New Black story here.)
But mostly it seemed that people wanted to talk about the hair. Andy, a past intern of mine, was compelled to look me up and email: “I think Jason Biggs has you down almost perfectly. A little less manic than the actual version, and I wish the hairdressers could have recreated your authentic do. Kind of a mix between Wolverine and the classic Jewfro.” The fan reaction and press on Biggs as Bloom has been less kind.
Jason Biggs and I have more in common than either of us have with Larry Bloom. We both have Wikipedia pages and verified Twitter accounts. Both of us had our career profiles elevated with an unexpected hit. I launched SMITH Magazine and the Six-Word Memoir project in 2006, and a few months later had the first in a series of books. My first book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, was a surprise New York Times bestseller. My advance for that book was $15,000, eventually earning more than six figures in royalties and much more for my publisher. Save for three weeks at Montclair State College, Biggs has never stopped working. In 1999, he starred as Jim Levenstein in the movie American Pie, for which he was paid the SAG minimum of $55,000—and got $1 million for the second one. The American Pie franchise has grossed $989 million worldwide.
In 2011 I was seeking submissions for a new Six-Word Memoirs collection about Jewish life. As I cast a wide net for celebrity contributions, an acquaintance offered to ask an actor friend of hers, one often mistaken for a Jew, to write six words on the topic. So it was that Jason Biggs contributed to the book, writing: “This is a Roman nose, OK?”
On set visits and the occasional press junket, I’ve gotten to know Biggs a bit. But I wanted to learn more about the man who’s playing a version of me. So I got on a plane to Los Angeles and met Jason Biggs for lunch in a Russian café on Melrose Place.
Larry: People are always asking me what it’s like to be played by you. What I want to know is: What do you think of Larry Bloom?
Jason: My take on Larry is that he is way more conservative and idealistic than Piper. In Piper he sees everything that he is not, and it’s attractive to him. In Season 1, after all of the pain that he’s endured, the issues they’ve had, the revelations that were made, he realizes that it’s almost too much, and he finds himself coming back down to the ground, reassessing his life.
Larry: Among all the texts and emails—pro and con—I received about you playing Larry, everyone said, “Well, his hair is good.”
Jason: Are there some cons about Jason Biggs as Larry? I imagine there are.
Larry: Oh yeah, there were some cons. Some of it is less about you, Jason Biggs, than your portraying an underachieving journalist, which should kill me, because my work life matters so much to me. But I think one of the reasons it doesn’t is because as I got to know you, I thought you were a good dude, and I truly think you’re doing a good job on the show.
Jason: Thanks, man. That’s flattering. Especially because people probably ask you all the time, “Does it kill you?”
I do feel like I wanted to get my version of Larry that was based on the script, that was based on [creator] Jenji [Kohan] and her direction, and anchor it a little bit first. And that’s not to say I wouldn’t have sat down with you had you reached out or had Jenji asked me to. I would have done it in a heartbeat.
Truth be told, I don’t really prepare much. I’m not a very serious actor in those regards. I learn my lines, I show up, I take direction…
Larry: You’re not a method actor.
Jason: The furthest thing from it. And frankly, this role has been one of the harder roles I’ve ever had to do because it has required me to be more emotional and more complicated than I’ve ever had to be.
I wanted to establish the character of Larry, and whenever I would see and hang out with the real Larry, the more I could get from him and inject that into the character, the better. And that’s exactly what’s happened. You would come on set. I saw you at the press junket in Toronto, we would hang out. We had these moments together, and I started to know you.
And frankly, not to pat myself on the back—but actually it’s patting Piper [Kerman, Smith’s wife and author of the book Orange Is the New Black] and Jenji on the back—they nailed you. I knew you before I met you.
Larry: There are lines you say that I said, that end up in the book, and then in the show there are lines where you say something like, “I’m going to lock that shit down,” and I don’t know if I said it…
Jason: But it sounds like you.
Larry: It does. And I did try to get my grandmother’s rings to propose. But no one really knew where they were, and the rings my folks did have around were terrible. I saw this scene again on my flight to L.A. coming here to talk to you. United has the first two episodes available as in-flight entertainment. Sure enough, two rows up, people were watching Orange Is the New Black.
Jason: No way. That is wild. So you see me, and you’re like, “That’s me!”
Waiter comes and asks if he can take the dregs of a blintz.
Jason: We’ll eat that. Someone will eat that.
Larry: It’ll always go.
Larry: What do your friends say about the role?
Jason: My friends love the show. But going a little bit broader, it’s the first time I’ve noticed a significant change in the way people recognize me and have a desire to talk about something else besides the pie.
Larry: Actually, I was looking at your Wikipedia page and saw that you’ve been in way more stuff than I realized. I knew about Saving Silverman, but I didn’t know about the Woody Allen movie.
Jason: Sure, but for the most part there’s been a specific franchise that I’m known for. I’m incredibly proud of it, and very lucky, and have the life I’ve had because of it. That said, it’s been refreshing to inhabit this role. It’s been great to be part of a project that has—similarly to American Pie—become part of the American zeitgeist, and one that requires me to do something acting-wise that no one’s seen me do before. This has been a really positive experience playing you [laughs]. I’m challenged in ways I haven’t been challenged in recent years. I feel like I’ve been in a transitional state and have been coming into to my own both personally and professionally in the last few years. I have grown up personally, but the roles I have been playing haven’t grown up with me. And I’ve been waiting for that to happen. Larry, finally, is a character I am playing that is on my level, on my personal level.
Waiter: Are you done?
Jason: We’ll eat it.
Larry: Do you wish the character wasn’t such a pushover?
Jason: I think that characterization is making it too black and white. Larry has these incredible moments of strength, and he makes these tough decisions. He does say “fuck you” to Piper. He does stand up to her. He’s strong when he’s on his own. In terms of being a pushover, I really feel like Larry has a big transition [over the course of Season 1]. And if he’s not as willing or supportive initially, then the payoff isn’t as great, the stakes aren’t as high for when he finally does say “This is it” at the end of Season 1.
Larry: In terms of really understanding my character, I thought you’d want to know a little more about the sex scene in the first episode.
Jason: [Laughs] Please, obviously…
Larry: We didn’t have a pig roast, but we did have a big meal and were totally exhausted, and I believe I did say, “We gotta rally.” But there was no farting in bed. Did you improvise the fart or was it scripted?
Jason: The fart…the fart. Initially I had a problem with it. I felt like the scene was not…that. And it was one of the early days of shooting, and I was still learning the tone of this show. Tone is Jenji’s genius, but as an actor it takes a minute to figure it out. Especially for me, someone who is very sensitive to fart jokes, I was initially like, Really? This feels like an intimate, sad scene here. She’s crying. She goes to the bathroom to cry, and I’m left on the bed, and she comes back and there’s tears, and we’re trying to have sex.
I do fart jokes. I’ve made a career out of fart jokes. And I’m thinking, Is that what I’m doing now? But it turns out that the moment played perfectly. It breaks up the scene in a way that’s real. That’s why all the comedy in this show works: It’s all earned, it’s not forced.
Larry: I know you read Piper’s book. Did you read any of my writing?
Jason: I read your Modern Love column—the carpooling scene with the other guys is really great. I loved it.
Larry: I want to ask you about your own insecurity complex in terms of your career—as I’ve grappled with some of my own. How come you’ve said in other interviews you’re so grateful for the work? A lot of people who have done the teen comedies just disappear. You never did. Why are you so grateful to get the role of Larry?
Jason: Yes, it could have gone in the complete other direction, which is disappearing off the face of the earth professionally. But for all the jobs I have gotten, there are a million roles I didn’t get because of American Pie. So I really am grateful for being cast in Orange Is the New Black. And Jenji also says, “Why are you so grateful? You’re good. You earned this. You are the role.” But you have to understand from my perspective, there have been so many others who have said, “You’re good…but you come with this baggage.”
Larry: You started acting at age five, so I guess you always wanted to act. Based on your Wikipedia page, your family has no acting background. Where did you get the idea that acting was an option for you?
Jason: I gotta check my Wikipedia. I wonder what it says these days.
Larry: I’m going to add that you’re a contributor to Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life.
Jason: That’s not in there yet? You have to add that.
Larry: I’m going to add that. So, acting?
Jason: We grew up right outside the city. My older sister was in a dance group in North Jersey, and then a lot of these girls she knew started getting agents and managers to try the acting thing. Soon enough I was auditioning for and getting roles myself.
Larry: You’re a middle boy, right?
Jason: I’m a middle boy.
Larry: So am I.
Jason: An only boy?
Larry: That’s a very specific thing, dude.
Jason: Very specific.
Larry: It means we understand women. But maybe there’s also some insecurity that comes with it.
Jason: I pee sitting down.
Larry: I haven’t gone that far, but one of my own Six-Word Memoirs is: “Two sisters; never left seat up.” You don’t leave the seat up if you have two sisters.
Jason: I’ve gone beyond that. I don’t pee sitting down in public, but at home I do.
Larry: Did your mom dote on you as the only boy?
Jason: Yeah, maybe too much.
Larry: Catholic moms and Jewish moms are not wildly different.
Jason: Not wildly different.
Larry: Was it painful to have that Jewish mom in Season 1 with lines like, “Larry, you’re the best soup eater ever.”
Jason: I love that line. It’s just like, “God, relax!”
Larry: Hold on a second, I see my friend Lisa.
Lisa, a friend who lives in West Hollywood and doesn’t know that I’m in town, looks at me and then Biggs and does a double take.
Larry: It’s life imitates art.
Lisa is wearing a sexy dress. Various and sundry flirting ensues. She leaves.
Jason: I think she has a little thing for you, Larry. Actually, it’s two Larrys here; must have been blowing her mind a little bit.
Larry: Do you remember your first kiss?
Jason: My first kiss was actually with an actress. It was a screen test for a soap opera I was on when I was 15. And it was four actresses. In a row.
Larry: Your first kisses were four kisses in a row, in front of lots of people?
Jason: Four kisses in front of lots of people. I was so nervous the night before because I knew, tomorrow, four actresses were coming in, and here was my scene, and I was going to have to make out with all four of them. Boom, boom, boom, boom—one after the other.
Larry: Was it weird the first time you kissed Taylor Schilling? Or you’ve just done it for so long that it’s old hat?
Jason: No, it’s really not weird anymore.
Larry: When I asked Jenji Kohan about why she cast you among all her options, she said one of the big factors was that your chemistry with Taylor was really good.
Jason: We have great chemistry.
Larry: It would be inconceivable that Larry Bloom could get Piper Chapman, in some senses. She’s so crazy hot, she’s adventurous, she’s a lesbian. But, in fact, that’s what happened. And, in fact, I did date Piper, and it seems believable in the show.
Jason: I’ve never really had bad chemistry with anybody. And I think you just really have to be open. Things like kissing and sex scenes don’t make me uncomfortable. What makes me uncomfortable is the emotional stuff where I have to really dig deep.
Larry: With the big emotional stuff, I do my best to avoid thinking about it. When everything with Piper being caught started going down, I didn’t think, “Should I break up with her or not?” I kept moving forward.
Jason: It’s much simpler that way.
Larry: Much simpler. It was just, like, do it. Solve the problem as best I can.
Jason: And the way I play Larry in the beginning, in Season 1, it’s just like, this is what he does. The idea that Larry had a choice, to me, is surprising. So that’s interesting you articulate it that way, because that’s actually what I really thought.
Larry: What is weird was that when the feds came knocking, we had been together for two years, and I suddenly didn’t really know this woman. The defining story of our relationship at that point was, “Larry’s dating a lesbian,” which I wrote about in a magazine story in 1997 called “Chasing Piper.”
Jason: I would love to read that! I’m less intrigued about you getting Piper than about learning about pre-prison Piper. I’d like to hear your voice before you had any idea about any of that [crime] and your take on her. Because for both of you, it’s a big demarcation line in your lives. Certainly for Piper, but I imagine for you, too, there was life before you were married to a convicted felon who was incarcerated for a year, and there was life after that. You know? Am I right?
Larry: Are there any other directors you really want to work with, Wes Anderson or maybe the Coen brothers?
Jason: The Coen brothers are up there for me. I auditioned for them for a movie called A Serious Man.
Larry: Of course, you’re Jewish!
Jason: Exactly. I just love them. I was really young and nervous when I did his [Allen’s] movie. And you need to be strong to work with Woody because he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’ll say: “You were putting me to sleep in that take. Do you want to go again? Because you literally put me to sleep.”
Larry: Let’s talk about the storyline with Larry and Polly, Piper’s best friend, getting together in Season 2.
Jason: It is an interesting twist. I was surprised at first, but I think it’s realistic. Polly represents not the “crazy Piper,” but someone more akin to Larry, and sparks fly. And I’m curious, as both an actor and a fan, how it plays out.
Larry: I have to tell you about the dream I had.
Jason: Tell me about the dream.
Larry: I’d been reading the Season 2 scripts that Piper receives ahead of time. And there it is on the page: “Larry hooks up with Polly.” I’ve met Maria Dizzia [the actress who plays Polly]. She’s a super cute little Italian woman with a big personality, the type I used to date. I read the plotline about her and Larry getting together. Then a little while later I have a dream where I’m hooking up with her. And I say to her—since it’s a really awkward kiss—“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve been out of practice because Piper’s been in prison for a year.” And she says, “But that was 10 years ago. This is the TV show.” So in the dream I’m on the set and playing you playing me.
Jason: That is trippy. Do you remember feeling, like, inhabiting physically, me? Or no?
Larry: It was me, but somehow I was an actor on the show. After I got done apologizing, I said: “By the way, where’s Jason Biggs?”
Jason: So crazy. Have you told Piper?
Larry: I did. She’s OK with the dream.
Larry: How long do you think Orange Is the New Black will go on?
Jason: Let’s think about it realistically. In terms of the way they have spaced it out so far, the first season took place over a few months. And I think the same for this season; maybe less time, actually, in Season 2. So maybe this is like a month or two. The truth is, they could stretch this thing for a long time. And they could even switch the protagonist. Jenji’s not afraid to do it. And the diversity of the cast is part of the reason the show is such a big hit.
Larry: The Larry spin-off is going to be awesome.
Jason: It’s going to be amazing.