There had been other raunchy sex comedies — “Porky’s,” with its memorable, ouch-inducing locker-room scene, and “Animal House,” which showed the extremes of frat life. But “American Pie” set a new standard for the genre when the world watched an apple pie become a vehicle to manhood.
Centered on a group of high school friends — Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin Myers (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Chris “Oz” Ostreicher (Chris Klein) and Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) — “American Pie” followed the four on their winding and sometimes humiliating quest to losing their virginity.
But the scene that would go down in movie history is when Jim, whose friend had described the feeling of third base as “warm apple pie,” sees one such pastry sitting on his kitchen counter and decides to experiment with it. That would be awkward enough — and then Jim’s father (Eugene Levy) walks in.
Made for $11 million, “American Pie” was released on July 9, 1999, and gave Biggs his big break. Since its release, there have been three additional feature films and four direct-to-video movies in the “American Pie” franchise. And, 20 years later, the original movie still gives new meaning to pie.
Stars Jason Biggs and Eugene Levy, writer Adam Herz, directors Chris and Paul Weitz and producer Chris Moore recently looked back on filming the notorious pie scene, and talked about the lasting impact of the film. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.
Originally there was no pie — in the script or in the title.
ADAM HERZ [The pie scene] wasn’t in my original draft. There was this line somewhere early in the first act where the kids are talking about rounding the bases of sex. I wanted this line to show Jim’s naïveté but also show, do the other guys know what they’re talking about either? I wrote this line “What does third base feel like?” And Chris Klein was like, “Warm apple pie, dude,” and he does this gesture. That line always stuck with me.
CHRIS MOORE It was my first big studio movie, and there was this whole conversation about, “What would a pie look like if somebody had done that?” [Everyone had] different opinions: “Well, would it be crushed? Would it be mangled? Would it actually have fallen out of the pan? Should we do a scene where you see some of it on ‘him’?”
HERZ If you talk to Chris and Paul, or any of the producers, nobody seems to take credit for coming up with “American Pie.” But I remember at the time thinking [the name] was awful, because I was a huge Don McLean fan. I remember being like, “Do you know how disrespectful it is to that song?” I don’t know how Don McLean feels about it, but it worked.
JASON BIGGS I remember reading the “American Pie” script, though it wasn’t called “American Pie” at the time. I would’ve been happy if I had gotten any part. It was like nothing I had read. It was brutal because the feedback I had gotten was that I was the director’s first choice, but the studio was still potentially holding out for a “name” in the role. The name that was I hearing the most at the time was Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who was at the height of “Home Improvement” fame. There was at least a month where I was just waiting around.
EUGENE LEVY When I first read the script, I had a problem with the way the character was written. Paul and Chris were so amenable to the changes I wanted to make that we had a session a week before we started shooting where they were like, “What do you want to change about the character?” I said, “Everything. I want the character to be a dad: a square dad. I don’t want him to be the guy who wants to be best friends with his son.”
CHRIS WEITZ I think the movie would not have worked the way it did without Eugene’s humane take on the character.
BIGGS He only worked like five days in that first movie. For me, though, those five days working with Eugene was like a comedy intensive.
The pie scene may have been ridiculous on-screen but shooting it required intricate mechanics — and a lot of deep breaths.
BIGGS I was just like, “I’m going to put my penis in a pie? I’m really going to do this. Could this come back and just totally haunt me? Am I about to ruin my career before it even starts? I called my manager, and I was like, “Man, I am about to go film that scene, and I’m kind of having a bit of a moment. Should I be freaked out?” He was like, “Jason, you go and [have sex with] that pie with all you got, man.”
LEVY For me it was more anti-climactic than one might think. I walked into the kitchen and I was only looking at a piece of tape marked on a light stand where my son would have been humping the pie. So, I had to react to a piece of tape.
MOORE At one point we tried to see if we could get McDonald’s apple pie, and as a producer that was one of the funniest phone calls I’ve ever been on, listening to the representative from McDonald’s say, “Wait. You want a character to put on the apple pie as if he was trying it out on his manhood.”
BIGGS I wasn’t aroused, obviously, so it was kind of more like [my penis] was against it. It wasn’t in it, if you will. Also, it was a fake pie. It was a real tin pie case, but then it was Styrofoam on the inside. Then we put real apple pie pieces all around it, and all around my region. I was sort of flush against the pie as opposed to being inserted into the pie, if you know what I mean.
Biggs had to shoot multiple options and angles with the pie. Those outtakes came in handy when, after the success of the film in theaters, the studio decided to release an unrated DVD version of the film.
BIGGS We did it once where I straddled the counter and the pie on that island in the kitchen. Then we did it a second way where I was doing it standing up. I believe the latter was the version that was in the theaters, and then the former was where I was on top of the counter, I believe that was in the DVD or the unrated version.
PAUL WEITZ [For the scene], our first assistant director J.B. Rogers called out “Start humpin’” instead of “action.”
BIGGS Each time it was very tricky. I’ll never forget J.B. would be coming in and would be adjusting my pants ever so slightly. Like, “O.K., you’re showing too much crack. Oh, you’re showing not enough crack. We can see a little bit of your penis here.” It was probably like six hours of doing it from all different angles and all different versions of it.
MOORE There was one [Biggs] did sitting down that didn’t really work at all because [the pie] just all dumped on top of him. Then there was a whole conversation about thrusting. I think most people, if they looked at it, wouldn’t say he got all the way to the point of release with the pie.
When “American Pie” hit theaters in 1999, it was a surprise sensation, ultimately raking in $235.5 million at the box office. (Though Spike Lee notably wasn’t a fan.) Twenty years later, the pie scene has remained a cultural touchstone.
BIGGS It seemed like our timing was kind of perfect. It felt like our generation, the teens of that time, were craving their “Animal House,” their “Porky’s,” their “Revenge of the Nerds,” and we just came out at the right time with not only the right kind of comedy, but with the right characters and story that people found they could connect to.
CHRIS WEITZ In theaters, it was received with considerable glee. The internet was not at full-throttle yet, so neither the outrage machine nor the meme economy came into play. I recall Spike Lee saying something rather unkind about it; apparently the [pie] scene disqualified the movie from being a movie. Twenty years later, that’s what still stings!
BIGGS For a long time after, and still occasionally, I’ll get sent an apple pie at the restaurant. It’s definitely not as intense as it was when the movie first came out. That I think is just always going to happen. I’ve resigned myself to that. I got a lot of pies sent to me.
HERZ It was super surreal. I remember one night Jay Leno was doing pie jokes — you just knew it was entering the zeitgeist.
BIGGS I do remember there was a story after the movie had come out about a kid in Idaho that attempted to do this and got third-degree burns on his penis, because he didn’t wait for the pie to cool down after it got out of the oven, which is, of course, just a super amateur mistake. Dude, you got to let it sit for an hour after it gets out of the oven. Come on.
MOORE Jason deserves a lot of credit, and Eugene, for creating those characters in a way that they weren’t your stock dad and dumb kid. And I think that’s why it went on to make four theatrical and three straight-to-DVD movies: because people really liked the characters and the comedy stayed in the realm of reality — if there is such a thing where a guy’s going to see what it feels like to use an apple pie as a sex toy.
PAUL WEITZ The things I like most in the movie are conversations between Natasha Lyonne and Tara Reid about whether her character has had an orgasm and Natasha’s character’s advice that she has as much of a right to enjoy sex as the male character she’s with and that’s something that should be considered.
CHRIS WEITZ We were keen to empower girls to be as avid and interested in sex. Among the various dubious messages people may have taken from the movie, I’d say that would be the one we’d most like to emphasize.
PAUL WEITZ I watched it recently with my 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, and I think she secretly watched with someone already. It’s the only movie that [afterward] my son said, “I’m proud of you.”
LEVY I still have people stopping me on the street and talking to me about “American Pie.” To this day, people love the movie. I’ve had more apple pies put in front of me in restaurants with waiters and waitresses giggling as they set it down.
BIGGS At least for people my age, I think it helped make talking about sex a little bit easier. Four guys, high school buddies, trying to lose their virginity. I mean, if that’s not relatable to high school guys everywhere, I don’t know what is. It certainly was to me and my friends. But this idea of bringing it out into the open and just talking about it, perhaps that was the cultural impact of it.