Jason Lee, last seen as a hip rocker in Almost Famous, admits that the role was a breeze compared to what he faced in his new film,

Heartbreakers (opening Friday). "I had to play a really middle-of-the-road person, and I wasn't sure if I was going to pull it off," confides the onetime skateboard champ. "I surprised myself by discovering how sweet, forgiving and understanding I could be. I sort of became the guy-next-door."

Lee — whose resume also includes roles in Chasing Amy and Dogma — says that he drew on memories of his youth to get into the mind of his Heartbreakers alter ego. "In junior high, I was this scrawny nerd," he confesses. "I remember my girlfriend dumping me for the football jock. I didn't protest because he would have pounded me into the ground."

Ironically, in Heartbreakers, Lee gets taken in by the quintessential girl-next-door, Jennifer Love Hewitt, who is playing an image-shattering role as a super sexy con woman distinguished by her micro-miniskirts. "I had never imagined Jennifer doing anything like that," he marvels. "We had to do a lot of love scenes, which you come to dread after a while. It's not like real life. You're wondering, 'Does my breath stink?' So you pop another mint. Then, when it gets really hardcore, everybody has to leave the set except the director, who says, 'We're going to make it more comfortable for you.' And that makes it even more uncomfortable."

Next up for Lee is his first starring role in Stealing Stanford. "I play a normal guy who gets a little off track," he says. "I become a criminal to finance my niece's college education. It's a little twisted, and the fact that my buddy is played by Tom Green helps a lot. He's definitely twisted."