Jason Lee

A Dude in Full

UPDATED 04/07/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/07/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

As a former pro skateboarder, Jason Lee has seen his fair share of blood and cuts—along with a broken wrist, cracked pelvis, sprained ankles and torn shins. But even for Lee, filming a gory scene in which he battles an alien in the new thriller Dreamcatcher was a bit much. "It was pretty intense because I had to keep up the heavy breathing and I had fake blood all over me and I was sweating," he recalls. Rather than toweling off between takes, though, Lee grilled the cameramen about technical aspects of the scene. "He was like a sponge," says director Lawrence Kasdan. "He couldn't get enough of it all."

Fittingly for a guy whose signature move was once the "360 flip," Lee, 32, always seems to be adding new tricks to his repertoire. A longtime favorite of directors Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy) and Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous), both of whom have repeatedly showcased his coffee-shop-hipster vibe, Lee "has this coolest-dorky-guy thing going," says pal Selma Blair. Adds Smith: "He's never been into the notion of marketplace domination or superstardom." But despite his slacker persona, in real life Lee is anything but, having tried everything from race-car driving to art collecting. "I fulfill something quickly," he says. "Once that's been fulfilled, it's done."

Including romantic fulfillment with fiancée Beth Riesgraf, 24, a photographer and actress with whom he shares his 1946 Spanish-style L.A. home. The couple, who like to cook and watch TV ("The two greatest shows are The Surreal Life and Joe Millionaire," says Lee), met in August '01 through pal Danny Masterson (That '70s Show). At the time, Lee was separated from his wife of six years, photographer Carmen. "It was just about realizing that you have to stay true to yourself," Lee says of the split. For her part Riesgraf was instantly smitten. At their first lunch date, "he just looked at me and smiled, and I was thinking, 'Okay, I love you,' " she recalls. Within hours the pair had decided to embark on a road trip together. "Then we [went] to the Madonna Inn and Big Sur and Monterey and San Francisco," says Lee. "That was our first date."

It's the sort of high-energy spontaneity that Lee has displayed since his childhood in Huntington Beach, Calif. "He was a little hyperactive as a kid," says Lee's brother James, 35, who now works as a Teamster driver in Hollywood. When Lee was 5, his mom, Carol, 56, a homemaker, bought him a plastic blue skateboard. (Dad Greg, 55, who manages a car dealership in Eufaula, Ala., was split from Carol in 1974.) The hobby turned into a vocation, and in 1988 the high school senior—voted "class clown" by his peers—dropped out of school to compete in pro tournaments. "My mom," he notes, "was a little upset about it."

After starting his own company selling boards and videos, "I got bored," he says. Plus, "it's the biggest workout ever." So in 1994 Lee began auditioning for acting roles, landing his big break in Kevin Smith's 1995 film Mallrats. "He was just a guy who wanted to act," recalls Smith. "There was no discussion of the mechanics or performance." Since then Smith has directed him in four films, including the forthcoming Jersey Girl (with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), and hopes to cast him in a planned prequel to the '85 Chevy Chase cult hit Fletch. "He's a real guy," says Chris Koch, director of Lee's January comedy A Guy Thing. "He's awkward, affable, goofy."

Not to mention easily obsessed—consider his passions for car racing (he founded a professional driving school), experimental music (he played in a band called Chiaroscuro) and art and photography, interests he takes so seriously that in '01 he started the Jason Lee Foundation for the Arts, with hopes of publicly displaying his extensive collection. He's also planning a photography show with Riesgraf—as well as a family. "I'll definitely have kids," says Lee. "I'll be a really good dad." And who knows? Fatherhood may even coax him back onto a skateboard someday. But for now, he notes, "I don't even own one."

Michelle Tauber
Julie Jordan in Los Angeles

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