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updated: 3/27/2012 7:40 AM

Chris Klein's suburban roots shape 'American Pie,' 'Election' roles

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  • Hinsdale-born actor Chris Klein reprises his role as Oz in the upcoming "American Reunion." He co-stars with Katrina Bowden.

    Hinsdale-born actor Chris Klein reprises his role as Oz in the upcoming "American Reunion." He co-stars with Katrina Bowden.

  • Hinsdale-born actor Chris Klein reprises his role as Oz as his fellow "American Pie" co-stars reunite for the upcoming release "American Reunion."

    Hinsdale-born actor Chris Klein reprises his role as Oz as his fellow "American Pie" co-stars reunite for the upcoming release "American Reunion."

  • Former suburbanite Chris Klein plays Drew, right, who doesn't like a suicidal lawyer named Ryan (Elijah Wood) in the FX series "Wilfred."

    Former suburbanite Chris Klein plays Drew, right, who doesn't like a suicidal lawyer named Ryan (Elijah Wood) in the FX series "Wilfred."

  • Former suburbanite Chris Klein plays Drew in the FX series "Wilfred."

    Former suburbanite Chris Klein plays Drew in the FX series "Wilfred."

  • Video: "American Reunion" trailer

 

Actor Chris Klein said that he probably could not have played his characters in the hit movies "Election" and "American Pie" had it not been for his Midwestern upbringing.

"I think being from the Midwest is everything," Klein said. "I think that because of that upbringing, those are the stories that I have to tell. Paul Metzler from 'Election.' Chris 'Oz' Ostreicher from 'American Pie.' Without my Midwest roots and upbringing, the values of those characters I wouldn't know anything about."

The Hinsdale-born Klein spent his earliest years in LaGrange and moved to Brookfield until he was 12. Then his father, a General Motors employee, moved the family to Omaha. There, a teenage Klein auditioned for filmmaker Alexander Payne in July of 1997 for the movie "Election," starring a youthful Reese Witherspoon.

It wasn't until after Klein had entered Texas Christian University at Fort Worth that he got the call in his dorm.

Payne told him he won the role of Paul in "Election." Would he be able to return to Omaha to act in it? Klein said, yes, of course.

"Actually, what I said was, 'I better talk to my parents first!'" he admitted.

They consented, and Klein was on his way to an acting career in the movies.

Klein reprises Oz once again in "American Reunion," opening April 6. He reunites with Seann William Scott, Jason Biggs and other cast members from the 1999 original "American Pie," a surprisingly warm and likable comedy that spawned two theatrical sequels. (Klein had to skip "American Wedding" because he was tied up in London at the time.)

"The comic bits are the hook," Klein said. "But the heart is the groundedness of these characters. In the first movie, we were dealing with sex and relationships. Thirteen years later, we're still dealing with sex and relationships."

In "American Reunion," Oz and his high school girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari) have coasted apart. Oz has become a successful L.A. sports announcer with a hot, younger girlfriend. But when he sees Heather at their high school reunion, she reminds him of his Midwestern dreams.

"When I was a little kid, my mother was a preschool teacher in Brookfield and had the summers off with my brother and sister," Klein said. "When it was my turn to choose the activities for the day, I would choose the movies. When I would sit in the theater, I didn't want to watch the movie, I wanted to be in the movie.

"When we watched Macaulay Culkin in 'Home Alone,' I wanted to be with him having fun and making Joe Pesci slide down the stairs.

"Later, I realized that these were actors acting out those roles. Then I dreamed that that's what I wanted to do. When I was young, I had opportunities to sing and dance and perform onstage. That fostered my love of it."

Of course, there was that incident in 2010 that probably didn't foster Klein's love for the Internet. Someone found Klein's audition for the musical "Mamma Mia" and sent it out on the website Funny or Die.

"I've had some auditions that were bad, but this one was awful," he admitted. "If you see this audition, there is a reason I didn't get the part. I was horrible, and it was ridiculous that I even went in. But I gave it my best shot. That's what we do and take chances. And those aren't things that anyone's supposed to see. When that leaked on the Internet, I wondered, man, who did I (tick) off? How many horrible auditions have I done in my life?"

Klein contacted the Funny or Die people and proposed making a second audition short for them. In it, he "auditions" for lots of movies. (His wired-up audition for a motion-capture role in "Avatar" is a hoot.)

"At 33, to be able to laugh at myself a little bit at this incredible, really crazy journey I've been on," said Klein. "I have such gratitude for what I get to do for a living."

He's also grateful that he grew up in the suburbs.

"On a clear day, I got a clear view of the Sears Tower," he said. "I would look at the tower and just be inspired by it. Be awe-inspiredby it. It was an opportunity to be a kid and to grow up as a teenager in an incredibly healthy environment. "

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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