Pissing With Stifler – a short story from The Netherlands.

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In June 2010 I arrived in The Netherlands with the notion of finally ‘settling down’. Young, in love and still just a little wet behind the ears, my girl and I had all the typical rat race dreams: Get the jobs so we could save money. Save money so we could get the house. Get the house so we could have kids. Have kids so we could be a happy family, a regular functioning cog in this big old machine we call society. What could possibly go wrong?

Those first few years in Amsterdam were a blast! I loved the city, had the job of my dreams and S and I were saving plenty of money as we looked to move out of our rented apartment and buy a place of our own.

Cheesy photo opportunity #456 – Ad’s stag weekend – January 2011.

In January 2011 a bunch of my old schoolmates flew over from London for My old friend Ad’s stag weekend. He was finally getting married and it was up to me to make sure he saw the best (and worst) of Amsterdam.  “How was Cameron Diaz?” enquired my mate Palmer as we exchanged hugs in Rembrandt Square’s Old Bell Pub, my favorite Amsterdam watering hole. “Delightful!” I grinned, “she complimented me on my shoes”.

It was a really fantastic weekend; one of the last times we were all together in one place. And we really made it count, devouring plate after plate of delicious Indian food at Tagore Restaurant on Utrechtsestraat before hitting the city bars. In between we toured The Heineken Brewery, wandered around Albert Cuyp Market and… inevitably… ended up in the Red Light District’s seemingly unavoidable Banana Bar. What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam.

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I’d hardly got all the beer out of my system when it was time to go back to so-called work for interviews with the cast of ‘The Impossible’. I’d really enjoyed the film, a surprisingly affecting dramatization of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. I’d expected stunning visual effects and ferocious onscreen carnage, but I hadn’t anticipated Naomi Watts’ excellent Oscar-nominated performance and the emergence of child star Tom Holland. It was the beginning of big things for Holland, who would later go on to become Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

I had to do some serious homework on Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, who I’d admittedly never heard of. It was Bayona’s first Hollywood film following his Spanish language debut ‘The Orphanage’, a chilling horror that went down a storm at The Cannes Film Festival.

Juan Antonio Bayona on the set of ‘The Impossible’ with Naomi Watts and Tom Holland.

Bayona the man meanwhile (unlike the grouchy and petulant Ewan McGregor), proved to be a lovely guy. Thoughtful, humble and softly spoken, he greeted me with a steady handshake and a pat on the shoulder before inviting me to sit down, as if I’d just wandered into his living room. It was one of those interviews that felt more like an informal chat than anything official. We could have just met on a train or something as we discussed the delicacy of working with child actors and the responsibility of bringing such a tragic, real life disaster to the big screen. When the junket rep began to motion that I was running out of time, Bayona immediately requested that they give us an extra five minutes. “It was nice to meet you,” he said as we parted ways. “This is a great city you live in, don’t take it for granted!”

Instinctively I felt he was destined for great things. And so it proved. Four years on from our Amsterdam meeting, Bayona’s critically acclaimed fantasy drama ‘A Monster Calls’ hit cinemas starring Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver. Good enough apparently for him to be entrusted with the Jurassic Park reigns for the new installment ‘Fallen Kingdom’. However that turns out and whatever he goes on to do next, I wish him nothing but the very best.

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“What do you think?” asked S with a twinkle in her eyes, “I feel like it’s really starting to come together!” It was exciting times for my girl and I. After a short and reasonably painless search we’d bought a three-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam’s allegedly up and coming Bos en Lommer neighborhood. The area was a little rough and ready; particularly the ghetto-like network of ugly social housing that sprawled off into the distance from our living room window.

The New Kit – Bos en Lommer, Amsterdam.

But our building (the towering, futuristic New Kit) was brand new and located right next to the subway and tram stop. It was the first home either of us had owned and the next logical step in our marriage. “It’ll be kids next!” said absolutely everyone upon hearing the news of our step onto the property ladder. And, I figured, they were probably right.

Not that we’d even begun thinking about it. Both S and I were crazy busy with work and in our free time everything went into transforming our shell of an apartment into the home of our dreams. The walls needed to be painted, there were floorboards to be laid and our open planned kitchen still had to be installed. It was a hell of a project, the pair of us constantly scuttling between office and home to meet with estate agents, let in decorators, sign papers for the kitchen guy, check up on the handymen. Elsewhere, the designated bathroom didn’t contain as much as a sink and we were planning to furnish the entire place completely from scratch. It was stressful but very exciting and for perhaps the first time ever I felt I was living the life of a legitimate adult.

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I recall one particularly hectic day when I had to leave a busy writing and recording schedule at the office for interviews with director Dustin Daniel Cretton and the actress Brie Larson. The movie in question was an independent drama called ‘Short Term 12′. Nobody had heard of Cretton and it would be another two years before Larson won an Oscar for ‘Room’. So naturally the careerist interviewers at work didn’t give a fuck about it and the junket ended up in my lap.

It turned out to be another wonderful experience. Although largely ignored by the movie-watching public, ‘Short Term 12’ is a powerful and often disturbing account of life at a mental health facility for troubled teenagers. Cretton meanwhile, shy, bookish and almost painfully polite, told me how he’d written the script based on his own experiences working with suicidal youths. And Larson revealed how she’d auditioned for her part over Skype after reading the screenplay that costar John Gallagher described as “probably the best script I’ve ever been sent!” Both Cretton and Larson seemed proud but humble about the finished result and the critics agreed, with ‘Short Term 12’ winning a bunch of industry awards.

As soon as I got the flash disk with my interviews I caught a tram back to Bos en Lommer. Jumping off outside my apartment just in time, I was met by a giant Ikea van and an endless parade of brown boxes. The delivery included an army of cloud-scraping storage units for our ever-growing media empire. I got started on it that afternoon, but it took almost three days to assemble everything and file our music and film collection as per my specifications. Alphabetical order in case you’re wondering.

‘Part’ of our music, film and TV empire – 2011.

Piece by piece our home took shape as the months flew by. The kitchen was finally operational, the sofas arrived and we began peppering the joint with all those little personal touches. I honestly never thought I’d be that guy. But after so many years on the road and the unwavering belief that S was the one, I had to concede that domestic life suited me. We still had our travel plans and that hunger to discover new places and delve into different cultures still burned inside me. So in many ways it felt like I had the best of both worlds, a lifestyle compromise that had been well worth making.

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The American Pie crew – at The Grand Hotel – Amsterdam, March 2012.

I was really excited when I got the interviews for the new American Pie movie, ‘American Reunion’. The entire cast had flown over to Europe from The U.S, with one half attending the French premiere in Paris, the other coming to Amsterdam. All things considered I was really happy with my half of the draw, which featured scheduled sit-downs with Seann William Scott (Stifler) and Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch), as well as Thomas Ian Nicholas (Kevin), Tara Reid (Vicky) and co-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. The press junket took place at Amsterdam’s The Grand Hotel on a sunny March morning and when I arrived I was directed straight to the press lounge. Signing in, I treated myself to some coffee, salmon sandwiches and a generous wedge of yes… a bona fide American style apple pie!

I can’t exactly call myself a fan of the American Pie franchise, but like most people I consider the original a comedy classic. ‘Reunion’ turned out to be a decent installment, especially when compared to the other sequels, not to mention the appalling ‘Band Camp’ disgraces that succeeded only in sullying the name of the series altogether.

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When I entered the room Tara and Thomas were in deep conversation about an Amsterdam restaurant she’d been to some years before. “Amazing food… candlelit tables… great service… it’s perfect… you’re gonna love it!”

I’d been so curious to meet Tara. As someone who wrote celebrity news for a living I knew all about the stories surrounding her private life. But on the day of our interview she was in great spirits, laughing and joking with Thomas and I as we discussed the Dawson’s Creek-esque nature of the will-they-or-won’t-they storyline for their characters in ‘Reunion’. Dressed in a red and pink figure-hugging sleeveless dress, Tara looked great, albeit so heavily made up that her face appeared to be melting a little under the lights.

Reminiscing over the runaway success of the original movie, she told me how she’d received thousands of letters from teenage girls identifying with the associated pressures and anxiety of losing one’s virginity and how ‘Reunion’ finally brought Vicky and Kevin’s story to a conclusion.

Pie Guys – American Reunion.

Thomas meanwhile came across as one of the friendliest, most unpretentious actors I’d ever interviewed. Discussing Kevin’s role in the three films, I suggested that he was almost certainly “the sensible one”, the grounded thinker who never really got into those ridiculous scrapes. Bearing in mind these were the scenes that made American Pie so popular and memorable, did he feel a little left out? No man…!” he replied, leaning in. And I swear for just a moment his eyes began to tear up. “I always thought of Kevin as that ‘heart’ you know… thank you for recognizing that grounding force!”

My interview with Seann William Scott and Eddie Kaye Thomas was a riot. “What’s with the toilets in Amsterdam?” quipped Eddie, raised eyebrows, eyes diluted. “Like you have to drop your load… onto a shelf… WITHOUT water… you can’t help but think… ok, that’s what I’m made of!”

Talk of Amsterdam lavatories morphed nicely into American Pie’s ever-increasing levels of toilet humor. Was there a danger of over-reliance? Was ‘Reunion’ trying to push the boat out to see just how much they could get away with? “I don’t think we were ever DISGUSTING”, said Seann, “I mean… well… except maybe the doggy doo scene in 2”. “Ah yes, the doggy doo scene” muttered Eddie, hand on head.

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I was back in the lounge dispatching another sandwich before my interview with the directors when nature called. Unzipping at the urinal, suddenly Seann waltzed in and took the free one next to me. “Hey!” he said. “Oh hey!” I answered, a little taken aback that the stars didn’t have their own private gold-plated restroom facilities. “You really liked the first American Pie?” he enquired, as we stood doing our business. “Sure!” I confirmed, perplexed as to why that would need double-checking. “But you know… my favorite movie you’ve done has gotta be Road Trip!” “Duuude!” he exclaimed, still urinating, that was a great movie!” Standing there pissing with Stifler, it was another one of those surreal this is my job moments that I’ll always remember.

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A still from my soundbite-driven interview with Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

My chat with the directors was a pretty standard affair where their answers were obviously scripted presets dutifully rolled out for every interview. Nevertheless, it struck me that Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz had approached the movie with a genuine love for the franchise and a determination to restore its battered reputation. Describing themselves as American Pie fanboys long before they’d even made their debuts as directors, Schlossberg admitted that getting the gig had felt like winning the lottery. And, in those first few days of filming, they still had to pinch themselves that it was really happening. “We’d be rehearsing,” said Jon with a wide grin, “and I’d literally be thinking oh my god I just told Stifler where to stand!!!” 

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That night I hit the red carpet for Reunion’s Amsterdam premiere. A bunch of national celebrities were attending, which meant I had to do some interviews in Dutch, which was pretty nerve-wracking. There was a poster-boy soap opera star, a god-awful teen girl group called Djumbo (“1,2,3… we’re playing hide-and-seek!”) and some grisly beardy men of unknown origin.

And then of course it was round two with the Pie stars. “I haven’t seen you in like four hours!” laughed Seann, before revealing that for him Amsterdam wasn’t about the weed or pretty girls, but the scandalously underrated coffee. “Nobody talks about the coffee!!!” he lamented.

With Seann William Scott on the red carpet for American Reunion’s Amsterdam premiere.

When Eddie stopped by to speak to me he seemed a little guarded, revealing that even though Jason Biggs was in Paris, he was still half expecting his costar to ambush him and pull his trousers down, as he’d apparently done on another red carpet back in the U.S. Tara, accompanied by her fussy pencil-moustache stylist, talked me through her wardrobe choice for the evening and Thomas oozed superlatives about Amsterdam. “Man, if I could just live here I would!”

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I was on the tram back home, my voice a little hoarse from the day’s exertions. I’d been thinking back to the time when I first saw the original American Pie film as a twenty one year old. I couldn’t help but surmise what an innocent time of my life that had been and how, in the intervening thirteen years, I’d been through so much that I barely felt like the same person.

I guess in many ways it must have been similar for the Pie crew. Deep down they must have all known that the success of that first film would be the defining moment of their careers. Other movies would come and go without much consequence and any personal troubles that might crop up would always end up getting far more coverage.

My own golden period, professionally at least, was right now. And I knew it. I understood that it probably wouldn’t get any better than this, so I resolved to simply continue doing my best and just enjoy the ride. And while the mother of all personal crises lay in wait just around the corner, at least it wouldn’t be played out against a backdrop of tabloid newspapers, flashing cameras and malicious online comment threads. For that at least, I’ll always be grateful.

This short story was taken from my collection Notes From The Netherlands.

For more on the city of Amsterdam, check out my Top 5 articles on The Heineken Experience, The EYE Film Institute, Queen’s Day and my choice spots from across the city.

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