She’s 17, she’s got a famous filmmaker dad, an increasingly more famous namesake, and now she’s starring in her own film opposite her real-life bestie, and said bestie’s own superstar dad.
Yes, you could say that life is pretty surreal for Harley Quinn Smith.
The daughter of writer/director/geek icon Kevin Smith and journalist/personality Jennifer Swalbach Smith, the actress — named, of course, for the Joker’s feisty better half — is currently headlining her father’s latest film “Yoga Hosers” alongside her closest friend Lily-Rose Depp (herself the offspring of film legend Johnny Depp and actress, musician and model Vanessa Paradis).
The movie’s an offshoot of a scene in the senior Smith’s 2014 film “Tusk,” in which the teenagers briefly appeared as Canadian convenience store clerks. Now, their characters Colleen M. and Colleen C. are headlining their own offbeat adventure amid dead-end afterschool jobs and dark mystic forces.
The younger Smith recently joined CBR for a rollicking and revealing look at her first foray at co-helming her own film, the lessons she’s learned from her dad, and how on set her already surreal life took an even more bizarre turn.
CBR: You’ve been around this business your whole life, so you’ve seen it from a certain perspective. Was there any particular surprise or interesting reveal in working on this project, especially carrying so much of it?
Harley Quinn Smith: I didn’t really fully understand what it meant to be in this business until we filmed “Yoga Hosers,” or filmed that scene in “Tusk,” actually. I mean, I’ve been on sets my whole life, but I had no idea the extent of how much fun it was.
There’s nothing I love to spend my time doing more. I kind of was used to the environment my whole life, but I never thought of it as something I could do. I just thought of it as something that my family did — it just felt like somewhat of a home. But then I realized that I could [act] as well, and it’s so fun.
It is a job, as well, which blows my mind, because it’s like the most fun job I feel like, maybe, ever. I really didn’t understand the extent of how much of a good time it was, until “Tusk.”
Seeing your dad at work and spending that much time watching him be his professional self must have been eye-opening for you, too.
Yeah. I don’t know where my mind was when I was younger, but I didn’t understand, like, any of it… I didn’t think of it as, this is my dad’s job, because I didn’t really understand what it all meant when I was younger. So when I actually got to work with him, I was like, “This is what you do — I understand now! You make movies.”
I always knew that; when people ask, “What does your dad do?” I would say, “He’s a filmmaker.” But I got to fully understand what that meant when I got to work with him, and saw how hard he works, and he writes, and directs, and edits. It’s like full time — even when we go home, he starts to edit. It was kind of surreal, actually, getting to fully understand what it is that my dad does for a living. So I don’t know, it was very weird, finding out and understanding.
Was acting something that you always sort of had in the back of your head? Or was it a thing that your dad said, “Okay, why don’t you come do this…” and it snowballed into an acting career?
I wanted to play bass in a rock band for a lot of my teen life. It wasn’t until we filmed that scene in “Tusk” that I was like,”This is so much fun!” “Tusk” was just meant to be kind of for my dad, because it would be cool to see his daughter behind a convenience store counter, like he first started, putting his friends behind a convenience store counter. It was just kind of meant to be like a cute family thing.
But once it happened, I just realized how fun it was. I got this craving for it, and I just wanted to keep acting all the time. I started going to classes, I got an agent and started going out on auditions all the time. It just clicked, and I got the acting bug, you could say.
And to have your best friend Lily-Rose Depp with you there from the beginning, from “Tusk” all the way through this — how vital was that to your experience, to have your partner in crime right there with you?
It was very, very special to get to work with your, basically, lifelong best friend. We got to start our careers together, which is something that will never change. We’ll both go on and do plenty of other things, but that will never change, that we started our careers together and that was our first movie. That’s very special, and something that we’ll always have.
It was definitely a very unique circumstance. No one really gets to do that, so we both are just so thankful, because it was to the extreme, such a seamless and comfortable introduction to a very uncomfortable and chaotic world. It is intimidating because people, you have to prove that we deserve this movie.
I mean, we are here because our dads put us here. We wouldn’t be able to be doing this as our first movie if our dads weren’t the people that they are. But we felt like we needed to prove that we are here because we can act and we deserve to be here, not just because of our families.
We felt a lot of pressure on us, although other people weren’t putting pressure on us. We felt like we needed to prove ourselves, under those conditions. It was very nice to have a best friend there and our families there, and just be in the most comfortable possible environment.
Also on the family note, it’s one thing to do an acting scene with your friend’s dad — but your friend’s dad also happens to be Johnny Depp, who’s also playing one of his craziest characters.
Yeah, definitely weird!
How was that from your point of view, watching him do these riffs as Guy Lapointe and see where he takes things, improvisationally?
I have never thought of him as who he is, because he is my best friend’s dad. I grew up in their house, so I was always there, and we always ate breakfast together and stuff. So it was never like, “Oh my gosh, I get to work with Johnny Depp,” even though that is kind of crazy that I worked with one of the most talented actors on the Earth.
It was never like that to me, which is weird, because to every other person on the world, it would be like, “Holy shit, this is, like, as good as it gets!” It was incredible, because I got to learn so much from him. I just feel so thankful that I had that opportunity to work with such amazing actors, who I was able to watch and learn so much from as this, as we continued on this journey. It’s pretty freaking cool that I got to work with such talented people.
Both your mom and your dad have had multiple creative endeavors, and they’ve explored a lot of the different sides of things they’re interested in. I’m curious about the other things that you’re interested in on a creative level, besides acting.
I love to write. I’ve always loved to write, since I was little. I would love to write. I mean, similar to my dad, I would love to write my own movies or TV, and then act in it, and hopefully direct, also. I think that it’s very important that if you don’t see yourself represented, and my dad always says, “If you don’t see yourself represented in the world, to go put that piece of work out there that would represent you best.”
I mean, there certainly isn’t enough movies or TV or anything involving women, and they’re clearly not represented as much as men. I think it’s very important for me to go and put positive pieces out in the world that empower other women.
Do you have that same sort of interest and taste in genre and pop culture that your dad does? Or do you go into an entirely different direction?
I mean, I honestly love it all. Like, I would love to be involved in all types of different genres. My heart has always been in comedy. I’ve been watching “Saturday Night Live” since I was so young I can’t even remember. That’s where I’ve learned everything I know about acting from, basically, besides teachers and my dad and everything.
Watching those actors is where I’ve picked up everything from, so I would love to be on something similar to “Saturday Night Live” or “Modern Family.” One of those shows that you watch and you just feel happy after because you’re watching such amazing actors do their thing, and making you laugh so hard you want to cry.
I would love to have a positive impact on anybody’s life, and I feel like any entertainment is an outlet for any pain that you may be facing in your life. It’s important to have a distraction from your life sometimes, and I feel like comedy is most often the best distraction. I would love to be able to make that positive impact in anybody’s life.
When you were born, Harley Quinn was a character known to people like your dad and me and a small subset of pop culture, comic book and animation addicts, plus kid viewers. Now, she’s this hugely popular character, just as you’re kind of coming into your own…
That’s weird. It is very odd. No one has ever known what my name meant until now. Everyone always thought I was named after Harley-Davidson, and that my parents were huge motorcycle fans. So for people to now recognize what my name actually means is pretty cool.
It is kind of weird because I always say, “This is the year of Harley.” Not meaning myself, but meaning the character. But I feel like now I’m kind of like getting out there as well, so maybe just Harleys in general. This is the year!
Have you always been a fan of that character growing up and knowing where your name had come from?
If I wasn’t, it’d be a little awkward! Yeah, I definitely think she has the most interesting backstory of, in my opinion, any comic book character. To be able to portray her in any type of film or TV show is my lifelong dream, because it’s such an interesting character development. Going to a psychiatrist to a psychopath is maybe the most fun thing to ever play on screen. That would be a dream, to be able to show that to the world one day.
What have you learned from your dad in the way he conducts himself in the public eye? He’s been right in the center of pop culture for a long time, and he’s still a very well-loved figure. That’s not an easy thing to maintain for as long as he has. What have you learned about that side of the equation from your dad?
He definitely has a good attitude about life, and about criticism. He’s taught me a lot about criticism, because he has received a lot of mixed feelings from critics and audiences throughout his whole career. He’s definitely a pro on how to handle negativity, and I feel like I am one of the most positive people, perhaps in the world.
I cannot deal with negativity. It crushes me when people are negative. So it was definitely hard to enter this world and see how much negativity and criticism exists. Although you can go on to any website and see criticism, you don’t really know the full extent of it until you are the one being criticized.
It’s definitely been hard to see all that stuff, but my dad has given me so much advice, and just made it so much easier on me because no one wants to see someone bash them or their family. It’s not a good feeling to go on the Internet and see hate to you, or your family, or friends, or anything like that. My dad has taught me to just not engage, but instead to just use that as motivation to put more positivity into the world in creation. Just — you have to kill them with kindness and look away from that kind of stuff, because it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen to you if you have any slight bit of fame.
Even if you don’t, people are just going to be mean in life in general, but when you are kind of in this spotlight of some sort, no matter who you are, people just take that as an opportunity to share any sort of opinion with you, whether it’s good or bad. You kind of just have to come to terms with it and know that it’s there, but just not let it get to you, because it could really, really hurt seeing that stuff. You just have to look away and continue on with your life, because it really doesn’t matter.
Away from the industry, what are some of your favorite aspects of your life? What do you just enjoy doing in your everyday life?
I love hanging out with my bunny — she’s my entire life! Her name is Cinnamon Bun. I love volunteering at animal shelters. I love volunteering with rescue bunnies. That’s, like, my favorite pastime. I love going to arcades where you win tickets and stuff and get to go cash them in. I’m at Dave & Buster’s, like, half the time. And I love going to Disneyland. I feel like I’m there the other half of the time.
I’m not really much of a party person. I’m more of like a — I like to hang out with a small group of people and go to fun places and eat fun vegan food. I don’t know — I feel like I’m an extrovert, but a very weird, sheltered extrovert.
In your life, you encounter a lot of surreal things that are normal to you because of the people you’ve met throughout your life, but what’s one where you remember where you were genuinely blown away?
The most surreal thing that I think has ever happened to me was, I used to be very emo. My hair was black, and my whole room was black, and I was sad all the time — I was like a little grumpy monster of a teenager. That was when I was, like, 14 or something, so not that long ago!
But during that time, I found My Chemical Romance, the band, and they had the biggest impact on my life that any band or actor or anything has had. I was truly obsessed. I had a picture of Gerard Way, the singer, over my bed, like a picture of God, and I wrote their lyrics on my wall with a Sharpie. It was, like, an extreme obsession.
One day, we were on set and we had just finished filming a scene, and we go over to the monitor to watch what we just filmed after on my dad’s sets, because he believes in letting you learn from watching your mistakes, I guess. He’s not pulling you over to be like, “Look at what you did wrong.” But, like, actors are very self correcting, so it’s easiest to just kind of see the flaws in your acting and correct them yourself.
So I was going over to the monitor after we filmed the scene, and Gerard Way was there, and I was like, “Wait, were you here the whole time? Were you watching me do what I like?” That’s so surreal, because for the longest time, he was everything to me. I still look up to him so much. I think he’s the most amazing person, but he was my everything, and I would die for them at that point in my life, let alone die to meet them. Then he was there, watching me act.
It was the most surreal thing that I think has ever happened to me. If my past self had known, you’re going to be filming your own movie with your best friend, your family, and all these actors that you’ve looked up to for so long, plus, your biggest idol in your entire life is going to be there watching you, I’m like, “You’re stupid. That would never happen.” It was just so weird to see that, and have him see me doing what I love to do.
At that moment, I was like, “My life is very weird. I’m sure this does not happen to a lot of people.” I would say that’s definitely the most surreal thing that has ever happened to me.
“Yoga Hosers” is in theaters now.
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