Had all gone to plan, Chris Penn would have joined the American Pie series as Stifler’s dad – but his role was cut in post-production.
Word of mouth had been gathering for some time ahead of the eventual cinema release of 1999’s American Pie, a movie penned by Adam Herz and directed by Paul and Chris Weitz. In this case, it was justified too. The film became a huge and very profitable success, and that led to Universal Pictures swiftly wanted a sequel. No surprise, either: the original cost $11m to make, and grossed $235m worldwide in cinemas alone. It was a gigantic DVD hit as well.
The follow-up, then, swung into life really quite quickly. Adam Herz started working on a screenplay (although not before Universal had hired a different writer to have a first go at it), and this time J B Rogers – the first assistant director on the original – would be stepping into the director’s chair for the first time. Filming would begin in February 2001, with the movie in cinemas by the middle of August. Yet it would be a more difficult production second time around, with the truncated schedule and the problem over storylines that weren’t quite gelling.
Specifically, what the second film intended to do was build on the impact of Seann William Scott’s character, Steven Stifler. He’d been a huge hit in the first movie, and the plan was put in place to bring in the character of his father for the follow-up.
The role was written then with Bill Paxton in mind to play the character. He duly agreed to appear in the movie, but then a schedule clash took him out of contention (he was making his underrated directorial debut, Frailty, around the same time).
In his place was cast Chris Penn. He signed on the dotted line, and shot the role, appearing in a publicity image for the movie along with Seann William Scott. But when the film arrived in cinemas, Penn – and the entire character of Stifler’s dad – were nowhere to be seen.
So what happened? Penn had appeared in a promo behind the scenes shot for the film, but his sizeable role in the movie was absent. Here’s the shot that was issued…
The story had been that test audiences weren’t enamoured at all with the character in the film, which led to the scissors coming out. But in an interview a year or two later with Empire magazine (issue 171, September 2003), both Herz and Jason Biggs (who played Jim in the franchise of course), had slightly differing views on what happened.
Biggs – whilst noting that the second film was “difficult”, added that “there were storylines that weren’t working”. He specifically cited the fact that “Stifler’s dad was a huge character – you saw their rocky relationship and found out why Stifler is the guy he is”.
Yet in spite of being “a huge chunk of the film”, Biggs reported that “it wasn’t working”, explaining “it got a little too sentimental”.
In the same article, though, Herz put a different point of view forward, and took the “full blame” for the character not ultimately working. “Originally, he was so beyond offensive that I thought he’d be really funny”, Herz recalled. “The studio never got the part, and they asked me to make changes, which I was happy to make. But at the same time, I wasn’t getting to do what I wanted to do, and they weren’t getting what they wanted”.
In the end, all concerned agreed that the character of Stifler’s dad had to go.
What’s more, the film was retooled very, very late in the day, and the story goes that this was why we got the character of Stifler’s little brother in the movie instead. He was drafted in when the decision to take Stifler’s dad out was made. In fact there’s a moment that remains in the film, where Stifler is on the phone, and originally that was shot so he’d be talking to his dad.
It was also said that there’s a brief snippet of Chris Penn on the deleted scenes in at least one of the movie’s disc releases, but I’ve not seen it. These changes were done just weeks before the film was released (and a further plot change at the last minute saw Oz and Heather having phone sex, rather than breaking up). It was a scramble and a half to the finish line.
Stifler’s dad was no more, then. But that didn’t stop the character being considered again for the third movie, American Wedding.
The idea here was a possible subplot that would have seen Stifler’s mum and dad getting married again. However, at this stage, Penn wasn’t in contention to reprise the role, and to give a clue as to the direction the production was instead looking to go, it was Tim Allen’s name that was instead thrown into the mix. Ultimately, the subplot was dropped, and along with that, an appearance for Stifler’s dad. Even in the assorted spin-off movies, the character of Stifler Sr would be one of the few never to be mined.
As for Chris Penn, his scenes from the movie have never been released. And tragically, of course, he would be taken from the world prematurely on January 24th 2006, at the age of just 40, leaving behind a body of work in film and TV that offered testament to his talents, but the sense that there was even more quality work to come.
The American Pie saga continues later this year, heading back to its run of direct-to-DVD and on demand sequels. American Pie Presents: Girl’s Rules was filmed at the end of last year, with none of the original cast or crew apparently involved, and certainly no obvious Stifler Sr either. You can read the latest on that, here.
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