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American Pie guy

By Nancy Bartosek

CHRIS KLEIN wakes up to hair and makeup in Los Angeles.

By 9 o'clock, the theatre sophomore is grinning at the camera -- the same smile millions of moviegoers saw in the summer blockbuster American Pie. On this early summer day, the publicity machine for the movie is just getting started.

By 9:30, he's in an interview with LA Weekly magazine. At 10, hotel checkout precedes a ride to Smashbox Studios in Culver City, Calif., where Klein meets other Pie cast members for an Entertainment Weekly magazine photo shoot and, of course, more primping of hair and powdering of noses. About 10:30, Klein's publicist drags him to a phone for yet another interview -- yours truly -- after which he is whisked to the airport to catch a plane for Minneapolis and a date with the cast of the new movie he's starring in, Here on Earth. Shooting began in June.

Such is Klein's life since he walked from his high school locker room in 1997 and literally bumped into director Alexander Payne who was scouting the school for a movie location. The accidental encounter led to Klein's part in Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, and his portrayal of Oz in Pie.

"Truly, every day I am involved in things I always wanted to do as a kid," he said.

"Whenever I had an opportunity to use a video camera for a school project, I used it. I recruited friends as actors, and I acted in it. So all of this, the photo shoots, the interviews, the acting, really is a dream come true."

Klein plays a high school jock in both movies, a part not far from his own experience -- he was a popular outside linebacker for his Omaha high school team. His next role as the lead in Here on Earth will stretch his talents a bit (as well as possibly cause him to miss the fall semester at TCU).

"Everybody on the planet has the capability to reach every emotion possible in the human condition -- to be mad, to be sad, to be happy, to be ugly, to be sensitive," Klein said. "In my job, I get to explore some of those very deeply every time I step on the stage or in front of the camera."

Klein realizes he has an extraordinary line of work, but doesn't think it's changed him very much.

"I'm still me," he said. "Part of me is going back to Nebraska and walking my dog Tad near the lake where I live, part of me is going back to TCU and sticking around with my fraternity brothers and having fun."

Believe it or not, Klein adds, "I'm still sort of sloppy and wear jeans and a T-shirt to class."