Chris Klein is probably best known as Chris “Oz” Ostreicher, one of four high school pals who famously sought to lose their virginity in 1999’s American Pie and remained friends throughout the franchise’s subsequent installments, but he’s amassed quite an eclectic filmography. Currently, Klein stars alongside Kaley Cuoco in Authors Anonymous, a comedy about a group of struggling writers learning to cope with the sudden success of one of its members. We got the chance to speak with Klein about his Five Favorite Films, which proved to be somewhat revealing about his own personality. Read on for his selections:
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981; 95% Tomatometer)
I’m a guy. I love guy films. I love adventure films. Adventure films are why I wanted to be in show business; I wanted to go on those adventures. I think my very favorite movie of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark.
RT: We were just talking about this movie, because Mayim Bialik’s character on The Big Bang Theory recently made the claim that Raiders would be the exact same movie without Indiana Jones in it, which sparked a fifteen-minute debate among all of us yesterday.
And where did you guys land?
RT: Unfortunately, she’s kind of right, because when you think about every plot point in the film, Indiana Jones is always playing catch-up. There’s not anything that he does that really spurs events into motion.
Oh, that’s hilarious. But isn’t that what makes Indiana Jones so terrific? He’s a human being. In today’s movies, we don’t get heroes without superpowers. We don’t get heroes who are playing catch-up and trying to make things happen with some courage, grit, a whip, and a hat. He’s a history teacher, for God’s sake. He’s an archaeologist. And he’s one of the greatest American heroes. I love that he doesn’t have any superpowers. That’s why he’s one of my favorite all-time cinematic characters, whether he’s necessary to the plot or not. Being a very little kid, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, going on that journey with Indiana Jones, it just spurred the imagination.
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962; 99% Tomatometer)
Next on my list is Lawrence of Arabia. 1962, Peter O’Toole, directed by David Lean. When you watch this movie digitally remastered… I would love, at some point, to see it in a theater, to see it on film, the way it was meant to be seen. I’ve never done that with Lawrence of Arabia, and I would love to be able to do that. But when you watch that on a flatscreen — get a big enough one — with surround sound, the epicness of this movie… I mean, there’s an intermission for God’s sake. I’m not sure there’s a greater adventure than Lawrence of Arabia. And Peter O’Toole, he’s another guy who doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s a human being. He’s working off the human condition, what it is to be a man, and what he believes in, and what he’s trying to do out there in the middle of the desert. It’s epic. It’s epic in scope.
And then, one that I can’t get away from is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. First of all, in America, we weren’t all that familiar with Chow Yun-Fat, and we were a little bit more familiar with Michelle Yeoh, but we weren’t all that familiar with Ziyi Zhang, who’s phenomenal in everything that she does. But we’d never seen… I was new to the business — I’d been in show business since 1997, so I was three years in show business, and a lover of movies my whole life. And I remember sitting in the theater going, “This is a turning point. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.” And then it’s been copied now, over and over and over and over. And I would kind of argue that things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I’d have to call that an original take on that genre. The story is beautiful, and visually, what Ang Lee was able to do… The fact that he can do that and make beautiful films like Brokeback Mountain, and then come back and do movies like Life of Pi, which is another visually stunning film. For me, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon might be on the list to stay. You and I could sit down and watch that movie right now and still go, “God is that cool! That is just cool.”
I’m taking you in a slightly different direction now, and I’m going to throw down Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. To me, as an actor, and as a lover and proponent of independent film, what Kathryn Bigelow and Jeremy Renner were able to do on a budget… The storytelling in this movie is sublime. I would have a hard time putting any performance by a male actor above the beautifully nuanced, incredibly layered performance that Jeremy Renner gives in this movie. Yes, he was nominated; I still don’t think he gets enough credit for this performance. Maybe it’s my place in life, maybe it’s the age I was when I saw the film, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been frustrated with the lack of war films coming out at a time when America was at war and these stories needed to be told. I still feel like they need to be told and aren’t necessarily being told the right way. The Hurt Locker, to me, is as perfect a film as you can make. And Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty — those three characters, gosh… That movie blows me away.
Really for me, it’s Paul Newman in The Hustler. When I watched The Hustler, and it’s Jackie Gleason… You know, we know Jackie Gleason from The Honeymooners, but you have to know Jackie Gleason from The Hustler. When I watched that movie as an actor and as a lover of acting, again, those performances from those two men are standalone performances.
My father is a big reason why, because I fell in love with acting very early on, and my dad introduced me to the actors that he grew up watching, and I had the opportunity, watching these films, to really get a master class in being an actor. Listen, I just turned 35 in March, and my goal is to become an actor capable of telling the type of stories that Paul Newman got to tell, and that Redford got to tell, and that Cary Grant and those guys got to tell. You know, you talk about the comedy and the mystery and the intrigue and the drama; these guys honed in on it all. And when I watched The Hustler, out of the long list of amazing performances that Paul Newman gives, to me, that movie just stands alone.
RT: The commonality that I see in these particular films is that, as you were saying in the beginning, these are guys without superpowers. These are normal guys who were very heroic in their everyday lives, and they did extraordinary things just because they were extraordinary. I would wager that says something about you and how you try to live. Do you think that’s the case?
Chris Klein: You know, I suppose so. I think that that’s a pretty good assessment. There’s a reason that we gravitate toward movies. They make us feel something. And all of these men in these films are definitely men that I look up to, men that inspire me to try to do amazing things with my ordinary powers. You know, I don’t come to the table with any superpowers. And yeah, ordinary men doing extraordinary things in the face of extraordinary circumstances — those are the stories that I love. And really, what that says about me — I hope it’s what you said. I hope that I strive to be a good person like that. I’m sure that there are plenty of people in my life that would call me the anti-hero. [laughs] But yeah, I think with this list, especially, that’s definitely a fair assessment.
Authors Anonymous is currently playing in limited release.