Twelve years ago, writer/director Kevin Smith appeared on the scene, wait, no, catapulted on to the scene with his first film, the indy hit "Clerks," becoming an instant comedy classic. Produced on a shoe string budget and filmed in black and white, the film was raw, to say the least, but that was part of its appeal. A new, untested director with a handful of unknown actors delivering vulgar, yet intelligent humor in a way that hadn't been seen before. Smith's fanbase grew immediately, with a string of films to follow from "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy" to "Dogma" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and others.
This Friday at theaters everywhere, Smith returns to the characters that made him a star in "Clerks II," which Smith wrote, directed and starred in as the familiar Silent Bob. Last week in Los Angeles, "Clerks II" got the pres junket treatment and the stars assembled for round table interviews and we've got them for you. First up are stars Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson, who play Dante Hicks and Randal Graves respectively, former Quickstop employees who now find themselves in the employ of Mooby's, a fictional-McDonald's style fast food restaurant. Brian word a green striped over shirt with a t-shirt underneath and a gold cross around his neck, while Jeff wore a T-Shirt with a picture of Vice President Cheney with the caption "Cheney's Got a Gun" underneath. Note, the following interview contains some adult material as well as spoilers for the film.
Originally, when you guys heard about the script I heard you were a little hesitant to reprise the characters again, but then after you read it you were comfortable with the idea. Talk about that.
Brian O'Halloran: I was quick to jump on the yes bandwagon. [Kevin] approached me about doing it after we had just got done doing the 10 year anniversary DVD. He said he wanted to do it, I asked him what he had in mind and he gave me a quick synopsis of what he wanted to do and I was like, "Yeah, absolutely." This gentleman, on the other hand… [points to Jeff Anderson sitting to his left]
Jeff Anderson: A little hesitant is putting it mildly. [laughs] I think Kevin and I, when he first approached me, went out to lunch at Koo Koo Roo, of all places, and I tried to run out of there…
Brian: Big spender! Koo Koo Roo, huh?
Jeff: I was buying! [laughs] It was odd. I didn't quite understand why he wanted to go back to "Clerks." I think "Jersey Girl" was still in theaters at the time and I know he got kind of beat up with the reviews of "Jersey Girl" and I just sort of questioned why he was going back to it. "Clerks" was such a unique movie because it was small budget and I think a lot of the success was the back story of "Clerks" – the budget, the black and white look – how do you go back and replicate that? What are we going to do, shoot it in black and white, sit around and talk again? But then I read the script, I liked what he did with the script and his enthusiasm to do the movie is what really brought me on board.
Was getting back together to do this movie like, say, a high school reunion in some way?
Brian: Well, over the years we've portrayed these characters amongst Kevin's other projects and then we worked together in 2000 on the animated series where we were able to expand wildly on these two characters. And then again we did a short film for Jay Leno not too long after that, so we've visited these two characters quite often throughout the years. So, coming back to do a feature length version of these characters proved not too hard to get together and I think that's the easiest part – getting us together and just spitting out Kevin's dialogue.
What about the rhythms you guys have as actors, as you say, "spitting" out Kevin's dialogue? He gives you a lot to work with. Is this something you have to kind of psyche yourself up for, or does it come naturally?
Jeff: We are just spitting it out! [laughs]
Brian: There's a lot of saliva involved. [laughs]
Jeff: That's Kevin's writing. Once I've memorized it, it's easy to get it out, but the trick is memorizing it all.
Is there room for improv at all?
Brian: The first one there wasn't. The second one …
Jeff: Yeah, this time around it was definitely more collaborative than the first one. I had never acted going into the first movie, so I wasn't about to stray from the script. "Oh, watch what I do here!" [laughs] But this time around it was definitely more collaborative. Like Brian said, we had done the animated thing and played these characters in "Jay & Silent Bob" and we had film this time around. We could do a couple of takes.
Have you guys ever gone out and had any smart aleck clerk try to pull some stuff on you guys?
Brian: Yeah, we get the occasional thing, people asking, "Are you even supposed to be here today? Hrmmmm?" [laughs] "I don't know officer, you tell me. Am I supposed to be here today? Yes, I know the drill." [laughs]
Jeff: I don't get recognized a whole lot outside these types of things where you all know who I am. [laughs] Usually, it's the voice they recognize, but I don't really get it a whole lot.
Brian: We've been doing a press tour – 12 cities in 16 days – and we're traveling from airport to airport together.
Like rock stars!
Brian: Yeah, but without the hookers and cocaine of course. [laughs]
Jeff: He hasn't been to my room. [laughs]
Brian: Now I know what's been going on! [laughs] So, in doing so, going from airport to airport, it's then when people will recognize us. We were in St. Louis for a weekend and went to a Black Crowes concert. So we were at this outdoor festival type atmosphere and having beer with the PR people we were with and these guys come up, "Like, dude, what's up? What are you doing here?" And [Jeff's] standing right next to me and the guys ask me to sign stuff, [totally not noticing Jeff]. [laughs] They had no idea who he was.
Jeff: It was fabulous.
Brian: So I told them they'd probably want to get [Jeff's] autograph as well and they said, "What? Holy shit, man!" It's very funny, even when we were sitting on a plane and waiting for drinks! The woman asked me, "Can I take your order?" I said, "I'll have a vodka tonic" and then she walks away as though [Jeff's] not even there! [laughs] It's like he has a super power of invisibility!
Did you guys ever think that doing this sequel would mean you'd be forever cast in these roles and never be able to do anything else?
Jeff: We never do anything else anyway! [Laughs] So, that wasn't a concern, no! [laughs]
Brian: I'm still on the east coast and in the New York area and I do a lot of theater and do a lot of independent films and don't have a problem. Once I shave this [points to his goatee] off, I completely have this big fat baby head that doesn't look at all like Dante.
Jeff: Let's shave that off now! [laughs]
Brian: Let's save that for the TV outlets. [laughs] So, no, it doesn't really affect me at all. If anything it's a nice thing to have that recognition.
You talked about the back story of the first film being a big part of its success. Was it weird at all filming this film out in Orange County, California?
Brian: It was kind of odd not filming in Jersey, but we know the machine of the beast. We were down here for the fabulous, sunny weather, which during one week of shooting was non-stop rain for three days straight. We had this one scene where I'm making out with Kevin's wife [Jennifer Schwalbach who plays Dante's fiancé Emma] and we're outside on the swing and the beginning of the scene was fine, we're shooting OK and then we start changing angles and clouds come in and start to rain. The scene ended up on the schedule for three days straight. There was so much making out! And I started thinking, "Something's going on here? Why is this the longest scene to shoot? Kevin?" "I have no idea!"
Jeff: Also, that was a blessing in disguise. The last week we went back to New Jersey and filmed at the Quickstop and the Quickstop wouldn't let us close the store. So, here we are filming and some things never change – we had to let customers come in and out between takes. There's the one scene where the place is boarded up and we finally reopen the store and on the first take when I reopen the door, two customers walked out! [laughs] I was like, "I wonder how long they've been in there." [laughs] That'll make for a great DVD extra. It was kind of random. So, I guess it wasn't a bad thing that we shot [in Orange County] after all.
My first thought when seeing the movie is in that first scene where you lift the door to the Quickstop, there's all this fire behind the door and I thought two things would happen in addition to what we see in the film: one is that maybe a little smoke would be leaking out from somewhere and the door would be hot, you know?
Jeff: Well, you are a "Clerks" fan! "In the first one, there was gum in the locks…" [laughs]
Brian: And, of course, as anyone knows a good convenience store has bullet proof glass which is heat repellant! [laughs] That's the question you always get and you have to throw out an uber nerd reply! [laughs]
Did you guys ever have jobs like those?
Jeff: Just jobs, period? Nah! [laughs]
Like a job at a convenience store or working retail.
Brian: I worked at a fast food chicken place – not the major fast food chicken place that we all know.
Jeff: And not a real chicken place based on what you said earlier. You said, "It wasn't a real chicken place. It wasn't real chicken!" [laughs] That's quite an advertisement.
Brian: Instead of "We do chicken right" it's "It's not real chicken!" [laughs] And I once worked for a supermarket chain like at the deli counter and fish counter.
Jeff: My summer job in High School I worked on a fishing boat, which didn't sound all that interesting until "The Deadliest Catch" came out, so suddenly it sounded like I had a dangerous job. Which it wasn't.
There seems to be a series of films coming out right now like "Clerks II," "Last Kiss" and "You, Me & Dupree" about guys in states of arrested development in their mid 30s, which I think is an echo of something that's actually out there. Is that why they're being made, because that's real?
Brian: Well, these film makers are reaching that age. When "Clerks" came out and Kevin and us were in our twenties, it was the emergence of independent film being taken to a mainstream level. You had "Pulp Fiction," "El Mariachi" and those that followed. I think that first segment of film makers are coming up again in their 30s and have something to tell about being in their 30s. It's kind of scary because these guys really haven't moved much. Sure, they've grown financially and family wise, and here they are in their 30s where life is putting those decisions upon them. They're not making the decisions, because that's what I think life is I think eventually. If you're not going to make the decision, life's going to say, "By the way, here you go, you now have a disease! And now you have a child!"
Jeff: "And now you have a disease." Wow, let's talk about that a little bit more, O'Halloran! [laughs]
Could I get your take on that?
Jeff: On diseases? [laughs]
No, are there guys like this out there?
Jeff: I think there are and you can include me in that group. I'm barely in my 30s and trying to figure out what I'm going to do. [laughs] [gets quiet] So, yeah. [laughs]
Did you guys have any déjà vu moments making this film?
Jeff: Today, plenty! [laughs]
Brian: From the first film? Yeah. The last week of shooting was in Jersey at the store so there was a lot of that going on. It was kind of fun. It's déjà vu where you're having fun. We're working with Kevin again and it's a laid back, summer camp type of feel. Definitely not a feeling of a Scorsese or Soderbergh, serious type of script. We're doing good old humor.
Jeff: This time around, budgetary wise it was hard to get déjà vu because there were all these extra people around! [laughs] The first time, on a good day we'd have six people there. I'd have to clap the scene open myself! So, it was hard to get déjà vu in that respect because there were a lot more people around, a lot more equipment and you were able to do a lot more takes.
How many were on the crew this time around?
Jeff: It wasn't even that big of a crew because we shot basically in one location, so our crew was small, but relative to the original it was an enormous crew.
Brian: I think the crew was only 35 people. It was only a $5 Million dollar budget. It was one location, very simple, we're not a special effects heavy type of outfit here.
Jeff: It was hard to get used to things like "the union." "You say I'm not allowed to move that? What are you talking about?!? [laughs] "In the first one, I was the camera man for a while, buddy. Move over!" [laughs] Things like that got a little hairy!
Brian: Even something as simple as this [brushes his hair back]. "Woah, that's hair department!"
Was there a scene you guys had to shoot over and over because you couldn't keep a straight face?
Jeff: Maybe not because we were laughing, but because I couldn't get the lines out. [laughs]
Brian: Well, there was the kissing scene that for some stupid reason went on forever.
OK, well, what was the funniest moment on the set?
Brian: We did a prank. That was pretty funny.
Jeff: Yeah, that was pretty good. We had this scene, we're up on the roof and we had a power saw and we're supposed to be rebuilding the store and I cut this piece of wood that's like this big [about one foot wide] and hand it to Brian – anyway, that's a whole separate thing. I always get a kick out of that, what are we doing with that little piece of wood? So, during that shoot when I saw there was a power saw up there, I immediately yelled down to somebody, "Throw me up a bottle of ketchup!" I think we all know where this is going. So, we did the take and Kevin was sitting at a monitor underneath us and I shot ketchup all over my hand. It was a really quiet moment after a scene and I just hit the saw for like 30 seconds and … [screams] "Holy fuck!"
Brian: I was like "Holy shit!" And I start screaming, "Medic! Medic!"
Jeff: The medic was in on it and she ran up the ladder and she screamed, "Get a cup of ice for his finger!" [laughs] It was great because we had a documentary crew there, too, and I told them I was going to do it, so they were on Kevin and there he is, sitting at the monitor, smoking, smoking and all of a sudden he runs – he puts the cigarette out mid-run and he's fucking tapping it out with his foot. It was kind of funny. [laughs]
Brian: At least he's responsible! [laughs]
Jeff: So, he runs into the Quickstop, gets a roll of paper towels and comes running out with it! [laughs] It's classic! Then, someone started screaming, "Call 911, call 911!" And I was like, "Oh shit, we hadn't thought of that!" [laughs]
Brian: Yeah, everybody has a cell phone on them and next thing you know we have cops all over the place! [laughs] We had cops there anyway and they were in on it.
Jeff: The best thing is watching the footage of Kevin run through the store and I was like, "Shit, you really did work at that store! You knew exactly where the paper towels were!" [laughs] It was pretty funny.
You guys talked about how there was more improvisation in this film. Is there a particular scene where you guys went off on your own?
Brian: I don't know about going off on our own, but there was expansion. The "Lord of the Rings" scene got bigger. [There's a very funny scene in "Clerks II" between Mooby's clerk Elias (played by Trevor Fehrman], Randal and a customer played by Kevin Weisman about the relative merit of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy versus the "Star Wars" original trilogy.]
Jeff: Yeah, that scene got a lot bigger. We were all throwing out things for Kevin Weisman to say, who's the actor who played that guy who came in.
Brian: Earthquake and Wanda Sykes, that whole thing was improv. There's a conversation behind us as we're having a conversation and they were told to just mime some conversation behind us. So, while the two of them are waiting for their food we're noticing this silent laughter behind us and the next thing you know the whole crew is busting out laughing. Apparently, they had been going on with this conversation, so Kevin turned the camera around and shot an entire mag of film, which is 11 minutes, right on them. There's this improv for 11 minutes about what's taking them so long, discussing what we're saying and stuff like that. That's probably going to be on the DVD.
Jeff: Bits and pieces of it wound up in the film, but if you watch that 10 minute take that's the funniest 10 minutes of material. Just great.
Later today we bring you a chat with the one and only Jason Mewes, as part of our ongoing "Clerks 2" coverage.