There will be nudity. That comforting assurance comes from American Pie 2 director J.B. Rogers, who is proud that the sequel to the 1999 pastry-violating hit also includes “lesbians, tantric sex, a visit to band camp and a kinky accident with Krazy-Glue” as it follows the gang of horny high school grads through the summer after their freshman year in college. The whole cast is back, including Jason Biggs as Jim, the guy who fucks the pie. But Pie 2 would be yesterday’s prune danish without Shannon Elizabeth, Mena Suvari and Tara Reid, the trio of actresses who bring an endearing innocence to even the grossest screen high jinks. “Nothing seems to faze them,” says Rogers. “There’s no squeam factor. Tara is not offended by our crude antics; she adds to them. Shannon is willing to act against her sex-symbol status, always pushing for more comedy. We did this scene where she’s in bed, and she said, ‘What if I’m drooling in my sleep?’ So we shot it that way. And Mena’s overt sweetness is tempered with a wicked sense of humor. We were working on a piece of dialogue that involved referring to somebody’s balls, and she said, ‘Why don’t we make it dirty balls?’ And I said, ‘All right, Mena, dirty balls it is!’ “
Despite these raucous displays of bawdy consciousness, Suvari, 22, Reid, 25, and Elizabeth, age firmly undisclosed but widely reported as 27, insist that — like their Pie characters — they have matured. Damn. Two years ago, when Rolling Stone asked each actress to talk about her virginity and losing it, the answers ranged from demure details (Mena) to a dissertation on orgasms (Shannon) to the benefits of booty calls (Tara). Today, Mena is married to cinematographer Robert Brinkman, sixteen years her senior, whom the American Beauty star met on the set of the cheerleader comedy Sugar and Spice; Shannon is engaged to actor Joe Reitman (The Perfect Storm); and Tara is a free woman, having broken off her high-profile engagement to Total Request Live host Carson Daly. “Guess what?” Tara announces in that smoky voice of hers. “Carson Daly is not a part of my life anymore. Nor will he ever be. And if you want to quote me on that, go right ahead.”
So there. During a break in a Los Angeles photo shoot that has the Pie girls posing in various states of undress, Mena searches for a yogurt, Shannon attends to Dingo, one of her five dogs, and Tara — all nervous brio — drinks a Diet Coke, smokes a Marlboro Light and checks the messages on her constantly ringing cell phone. She is flying tonight on the red-eye to New York to enjoy time in the Hamptons before heading off to Europe with girlfriends, all newly single. “I have nothing or no one to upset me anymore,” she says. “Now I will be the hot girl.” As we all sit down to talk, Tara proves her point, firing off missives into her Motorola two-way pager.
What should every man know about women?
Shannon: [Laughing nervously] Do you want to take this one, Tara?
Tara: Treat them with respect. Stop being such a tough guy.
Mena: You should always talk about everything and appreciate each other.
Shannon: If you get in a fight, talk about why — don’t let it build up until you blow up.
What should every woman know about men?
Mena: They’re the opposite sex?
Tara: I guess their limits, ’cause ours are different.
What qualities do you find attractive in a man?
Tara: At first you might like the way someone looks. Or someone might be standing next to you, and they might not look that good, but they make you laugh. If you have that, then that’s where attraction definitely begins. And you know what’s romantic? We could be just walking down the street, and he would start to dance with me. Or be in the house and just swing me around.
Shannon: When I first met my fiancé, I shook his hand, and I got chills on my body. The whole package is what attracted me, it wasn’t any one thing. But if he had a wimpy handshake, I don’t think it would have given me chills.
Mena: Common sense. To me, that’s more important than book smarts. And I love it when no matter what I’m going through, or if I look like shit, he’ll say, “You’re so beautiful!” And I’m like, “You’re crazy!” but it makes me feel good, you know?
How did you find out about sex?
Tara: I think it was the sixth grade, in health class, and they were supposed to talk about it. But I never had, like, real sex ed.
Mena: No, it was like a chapter….
Shannon: “Let’s learn about the vagina!”
Tara: [Laughs] “And this is your uterus.” Every time they’d say the word vagina, everyone would be, like, tee-hee-hee!
Do you remember your first kiss?
Tara: My first kiss was with this guy named Michael Smith. I think I was in sixth grade. And we French-kissed in my closet.
Mena: Eeewww! I think I was in fifth grade. This guy, he had liked me ever since fourth grade, but he always used to kick me. It was his way of saying, “I like you.” And every time I used to get into the car when my Mom would pick me up, I’d be like, “I hate him! I hate him!” [Fake crying] And my Mom would say, “He does those things because he likes you, Mena.” And I was like, “No he doesn’t! He’s so mean!” The whole time we were going out, like, we never did anything. Like never even held hands! Then we kissed somewhere, like, at some party.
Tara: Did you ever play Seven Minutes in Heaven? You go with someone in the closet and make out, or do whatever, for seven minutes.
Shannon: Oh, my God, I never played that.
What is your hottest unfulfilled fantasy?
Tara: I’ve always wanted to do something crazy under a waterfall with greenery all over the place — not even necessarily have sex but hug and play and splash the water.
Mena: If I’d already done it, I’d probably want to keep it secret.
So why not take the fantasy option.
Shannon: I’m not taking either option — I’ll pass.
Inasmuch as this is the Hot Issue of “Rolling Stone,” what, to you, comprises the quality of being hot?
Tara: A guy that can fix things.
What’s the most erotic experience you’ve ever had with a piece of pastry?
Tara: Eating it.
Shannon: There you go.
Mena: Don’t look at me.
Tara: Eating a strawberry might be erotic, but not pastry; it doesn’t do it for a girl.
In “American Pie,” Jason Biggs’ character asks how sex feels, and his friend says, “Like warm apple pie.” What does it feel like for a girl?
Shannon: [Stands and heads for the door] I’m out of here. I’m done. I’m not answering these kinds of questions.
Was it something I said? All of a sudden I feel like Howard Stern.
Tara: You were fine.
Mena: You’re a sensitive guy.
It takes a few damage-control phone calls before I can meet with Shannon Elizabeth again. We get together at Elixir, a tea garden in the New Age section of Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Shannon is wearing khaki shorts, a T-shirt and a baseball cap. She has tanned, beautiful skin and, even without makeup, a rosy glow to her cheeks. It is hard not to think of her as having just emerged from a shower after a vigorous workout, but in deference to her boundaries, I try. I do not care to have her open another can of whoop-ass on me.
We step gingerly into the topic of sexuality. Shannon, who appeared topless as the Czech exchange student, Nadia, in the first American Pie, is now having second thoughts about taking it all off. “Nadia really helped my career,” says Shannon, who also posed undraped in Playboy around the release of the film. “But I think when other girls see that certain people’s careers got kick-started that way, they think that they have to. It doesn’t have to happen that way.” Although a legion of rabid male fans are glad that she found that out in retrospect, it was a decision that, no matter how much girl-powered rationalization stood behind it, didn’t endear Shannon to the members of her own sex. “I don’t think American Pie made me any female friends,” she says. “Girls would be like, ‘My boyfriend likes you, and he wrote to you. Don’t write him back!‘ And it’s like, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t.'”
A self-reliant woman, Shannon has spent the better part of this summer doing feng shui on both her house and her life, replacing her publicist, assistant and housekeeper, and getting rid of “stagnant energy.” In the process she also took her foot off the pedal that had whooshed her from zero to sex symbol (with a three-picture deal at Miramax) and slammed on the brakes. It’s not like she’s a prude or anything — in her new film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, her jewel-thief character is referred to as “Kitty Boo-Boo Fuck” — it’s just that Shannon Elizabeth wants to be taken seriously as an actress. “I want to be able to do these different types of roles; I want people to see other sides of me,” she says. “If I’m talking about sexual things all the time, and they see me playing a sexual character, they think that’s all that I’m about. There’s so much more to me than that. People don’t realize that what I did in American Pie is a character, not who I am.”
The only child of a husband-wife insurance team in Waco, Texas, Shannon was involved in a whirl of extracurriculars, starting dance lessons at two, twirling a baton, putting on miniplays and doing mannequin modeling, for which she had to stand still for twenty minutes at a time. “It was not very fun,” she recalls, “but, to me, it was my first real acting job.” Before it became famous for Branch-Davidians, Waco was a largely Baptist town, though Shannon was raised an Episcopalian. She formed a more catholic view of spirituality after challenging her minister about using hunting stories in his sermons and after investigating meditation, yoga, reincarnation and the wisdom of her friend’s father who was a medicine man. (Shannon herself is part Cherokee.) By the time Waco erupted, Shannon had left school and begun a modeling career that took her to Tokyo, Paris and New York. In 1996, she ended up in Los Angeles, booked a commercial and landed guest shots on TV. After American Pie, she made Scary Movie, Tomcats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and 13 Ghosts.
Though her career, to date, has largely involved sexy farces, Shannon would one day like to act with Johnny Depp and to direct films herself. Work, however, is not the boss of her. “Acting is a career that I love, but my dogs and my fiancé are the things that make me happier than anything else in the world. I can’t imagine going through everything I’m going through now with nobody to share it with. I’d much rather have someone to come home to than to have an Oscar.” She plans to wed Reitman next spring and will take pains to see that their marriage doesn’t turn into a media soap opera. “Maybe it makes people feel better to see that people, who look like they have perfect lives, have problems, too,” she says. “But we’re no different than anybody else; it’s just another form of entertainment, nothing more.”
Mena Suvari has already been through that media mill. When the then-21-year-old actress eloped with 38-year-old cinematographer Robert Brinkman in March 2000, visions of a child bride danced through the public’s head. “People don’t understand it,” Mena says. “But I know what I want.” Though Mena stands a mere five feet five inches and has the same mixture of child and woman as a teenage model — which she once was — she has always navigated the adult world with an otherworldly poise. The constellation Mena Suvari exists far apart from the self-obsessed world of other starlets. For her, cosmos are not a round of cocktails but the vast reaches of space. “It just happens to be the position that we are in the galaxy with the right conditions that give us water. And, therefore, life is,” she explains. Huh?
On the day we meet at Chado, an L.A. tearoom she favors, Mena is eating Chinese vegetable soup and dumplings purchased elsewhere that she has brought with her in a brown paper bag. She thinks she may have certain food allergies and is working with a nutritionist but insists that she eats what she wants when she wants. “It’s never, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to get out my calculator and count the calories.’ “
Following rules holds no appeal to this only daughter of a psychiatrist, Ando, and a nurse, Candice. Mena’s bloodlines trace back to Estonia and Greece, and she has a first name that comes from an inn at the base of the Egyptian pyramids. Mena was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and lived in a house that was built in the 1870s and is supposedly haunted. She has three older brothers and, therefore, spent her time playing with Legos and Nintendo rather than Barbies. When the family moved to South Carolina so that her brothers could enter the Citadel Academy, Mena enrolled in an all-girls school. She began singing in the school choir (as Heather in American Pie, she herself performed the duet of “How Sweet It Is” with Chris Klein). When Mena was twelve, a modeling agency gave some classes at her school, and she ended up signing to the juniors division of the prestigious Wilhelmina agency in New York. By fifteen she had moved to Los Angeles. “I never had breakdowns about moving,” she recalls. “For some reason I just made it work.”
Mena likes to stay open to new experiences. She plays “a fair maiden,” along with Catherine Deneuve, in the upcoming costume drama The Musketeer, and has the role of a speed freak in Spun, the debut film by video director Jonas Akerlund. “It was low-budget,” she says excitedly of Spun. “I look like shit! I didn’t wash my hair for a week, they put clay in it — and all this resin crap on my teeth.”
Two years ago, when American Pie and American Beauty (she was Kevin Spacey’s naked fantasy covered in rose petals) landed her squarely in the American psyche, Mena described her sudden critical and commercial success as “surreal.” “I never thought anything like that would happen to me. It was just like, ‘Oh, they want me to go and audition? OK.’ I just tried to have fun with it, like, this is my interpretation, and you like it or you don’t.”
I remind Mena that not everyone has a creative job like hers, that some people just work on assembly lines to put food on the table and go to see the movies she makes to escape their dull lives. She leans forward slightly and a smile dances across her face. “That’s amazing,” she says. “See, I never looked at movies like that. I don’t know, man, you’re getting into stuff that’s really intense.”
Even talking on the phone, Tara Reid is all nervous energy. She calls precisely at noon, as she had promised, on July Fourth. She is celebrating her independence, she tells me, having publicly broken off her engagement with Carson Daly, and having had her purse and everything in it, including the two-way pager he got her, liberated from her in the early hours of the morning at a club in the Hamptons, where she is vacationing with her publicist friend Lizzie Grubman. (Four days later, Grubman faced felony charges for mowing down sixteen people with her Mercedes-Benz SUV outside the trendy Conscience Point Inn.) Right now, Tara is giddy about three things: the new apartment she is renting in Manhattan, the Porsche Carerra she’s looking to buy and the European vacation she plans to take with her girlfriends.
For a long time, Tara says, she was trying to fix things with Carson, but a trust had been broken. Two newspapers in New York were betting on whether they would get married or split. “They were going to bring the bet to Vegas!” Tara exclaims. “That’s just fucking sick! Julia Roberts and Benjamin Bratt break up, Heather Graham and Heath Ledger break up, and people are more interested in Carson and me than anyone else.”
Waxing philosophical, Tara concludes that “you can’t marry every lover you ever have. You can’t live your life like a movie. I think people forget that just because you’re a celebrity doesn’t mean you’re a robot. I want everyone to let Tara be Tara. I don’t need the whole world looking at me. It’s no one’s business but my own.”
So be it. Only a fool would cross an actress whose manager is nicknamed Money and who refers to herself in the third person. “Every movie I’ve done, I’ve only seen once, if at all,” she says. “Because that’s Tara caring about what Tara looks like.” She started playing Tara at a very young age. Standing on a table teasing her brother at a food court in the mall near her home in Wyckoff, New Jersey, Tara was discovered by a woman who told her mother that with a personality like that her daughter should model or act.
Tara considered it a sign. “I was always a big dreamer” she says. “I believe in rainbows and, at the end, there might be a pot of gold: That is who I am.” She did commercials in New York, where she attended the Professional Children’s School with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jerry O’Connell. “It was the kind of school where they let you sign out during chemistry to go to auditions,” Tara says, though she admits she was only an average student with average popularity. “The ones who were most popular didn’t have to bust their ass. When life comes too easy, you don’t work as hard.” College was never a consideration. “I don’t care about knowing calculus; I’m an artist. I like to feel and be emotional and crazy and tragic and go through life’s ups and downs like a roller coaster. My job is to be in touch with myself, and that’s not something college can give me.”
Her breakthrough came in The Big Lebowski in a memorable scene involving Jeff Bridges and a $1,000 offer. Since then, she has played a radio sex therapist in Urban Legend and Vicky, a perfectionist who won’t give up her virginity until her boyfriend says the L-word in American Pie. As the boss’ daughter in the upcoming The Guest, she gets into a romantic clinch with co-star Ashton Kutcher. “All the rumors that have been going around about us,” she says, quite unsolicited, “that’s a bunch of bull. He’s my buddy, but there’s definitely no sexual tension between us.” Tara is determined to show a new maturity onscreen and off, even if American Pie 2 is bound to fuel more sexual fantasies. “I can’t help the way I was born and the way I look, but that doesn’t mean I’m a sex goddess,” says Tara. “There might be a sweet girl inside there.”
Question: If they offered you a slice of “American Pie 3,” would you bite?
Mena: I have no idea.
Tara: Maybe in 30 years when we’re all married — or divorced. American Pie 2 is my graduation from the whole MTV generation. After that you’re going to see Tara turn into a woman.