In 1994, writer/director burst onto the scene with "Clerks," a raw, black and white independent film about two convenience store clerks, Dante and Randal, with opinions on everything and some serious attitudes. The film's frank discussions and realistic dialogue made the film an instant hit and Kevin Smith's name was now widely known. Since then, he's written and directed many movies, including "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," and "Jersey Girl," but he kept finding himself coming back to the characters he created in "Clerks," the ones who helped launch his career. The characters that debuted in "Clerks" have appeared in a number of Smith's films since and were greatly expanded upon in the 2000 animated series. Now, 12 years later, Smith returns to Dante, Randal, Jay and Silent Bob in "Clerks II" as we discover where they're at 12 years later
CBR News was at the "Clerks II" press junket last week in Los Angeles where a relaxed and always affable Smith told us about the making of this film, on bringing Rosario Dawson into the cast, whether he'll be making "Green Hornet," his friendship with Jason Mewes and much more.
Note: The following interview includes adult situations and language.
How are you doing today?
I'm doing very, very well. No complaints. I know this sounds kiss assy because I'm in the room, but I love the round tables more than anything else. I wish they were longer.
The movie is opening during Comic-Con International, one of your annual stops, and you'll also be doing Q&A's during screenings in LA that same weekend, right?
Yeah, the movie opens on Friday and I'll be in Los Angeles at the Arclight. Originally we were going to do a Q&A after the prime time show, but it fucking sold out so quickly we added the 5:00 and they added the 10:00 and that sold out. So, I said let's do 'em on Sunday as well, I'll come back. So, we're go down to Comic-Con, I'll do my hour and a half in the big room, then I think I'm going to do a Q&A in a theater down by San Diego as well.
If I could basically Q&A every theater that's showing the movie, we'd have a killer opening. As it stands, I don't know that we're going to have a killer opening. I don't mind doing them. I love doing Q&A.
Any concern opening the show while Comic-Con is happening considering that's your audience? And certainly there are plenty of people out there who will see your movie that won't go to Comic-Con.
Right. I look at it in the reverse which is like I get there on the stage on Saturday for an hour and half with 6000 people and will say to them, "What the fuck are you doing here? Go see 'Clerks II.'" Of course, at their max they get what, 120,000 people? If I was relying on 120,000 people to open, well, that's not a big opening. But, I imagine they all have to do something when the convention closes. Once they take off that Klingon outfit … [laughs] they gotta go to my movie! After that comment, maybe not.
Can you talk about the jabs you took at "Lord of the Rings" and "Transformers" fans a little bit?
It's all in good fun. I don't even consider them jabs. It's just basically writing characters and giving them a point of view. For years people were telling me since we make all these pop culture references, I've had all these kids younger than me who were like, "Dude, you have to reference the 'Transformers.'" I did not grow up on the "Transformers," that was a cartoon that was after me. I didn't watch adventure cartoons like "Transformers" or "G.I. Joe," that was kids younger than me. I had this one dude on my Web site, this dude Omega, he's posted as Omega for years since 1995, was always going, "You need a Transformers reference in your movie." But I was like, "Dude, I have nothing to say about the Transformers." So, when I was writing this, and I was writing the Elias character I thought this is a mother fucker who would like the Transformers. It's fortuitous in terms of timing because they are now making that fucking "Transformers" movie and that trailer went live last weekend and suddenly, wow, what a timely reference.
In terms of the "Lord of the Rings" thing, in Q&A people would ask me what I thought and that bit kind of grew out of that. I love those movies. In terms of the craft of film making, they're wonderful, but they're still movies about people walking. [laughs] But they have their devoted, hard core following that divided people and made some people kind of hate "Star Wars" and say, "This is the true trilogy." That's ridiculous - it's three movies about people walking around, but it looks good though. [laughs]
That's a big question, do you have an hour?
I don't! [laughs] I don't know. I could point to any number of things. I really wanted to tell a story about what I thought it felt like it was like to be in my 30s. I tried to do that with "Jersey Girl," and I think to some degree I think I was kind of successful in what I wanted to do, but at the same time it's a movie that's a bit manipulative and a bit mawkish and what not. So, I wanted to do a version of what I felt what it was like being in my 30s that was a little more in touch with reality, which is odd because this movie does have a donkey show at its epicenter. [laughs] So, that's part of it and I thought that "Clerks" was a movie about what I felt it was like to be in my 20s, so I could use Dante and Randal as the way in and suddenly it became "Clerks II."
I talked about doing the movie back in '98. In the tail end of the "Dogma" credits it says, "Jay & Silent Bob will return in 'Clerks II: Hardly Clerking.'" Then I was like, "You know what man? Maybe I shouldn't fuck with the sacred cow. Do a sequel to the first film? What if it sucks and people retroactively go back and hate on the first film. Perhaps it's not the way to go." And it became "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back" instead. But all the ideas were there. The groundwork had been laid in my head, so that Dante and Randal story was always in the background. I figured one day I'd just do it in comic book form or something like that. Then, when I thought about telling the story, about what it's like to be in my 30s, I was like, "Shit, that's the story. It's all coming together. It's gelling."
Some people online have said it's obviously a reaction to "Jersey Girl," the film didn't do well and he went back to the well and he's retrenching. They've missed the target, but hit the tree. "Jersey Girl" played a role, but it wasn't that because I was already dialed into doing "Clerks II" while we were still working on "Jersey Girl." While working on "Jersey Girl" I was just like, "Man, next movie I don't want to work with famous people. I don't want to work with celebrities. I want to work with unknowns. I don't want to fucking worry about 'In Touch Weekly' or 'Us Weekly' putting them on their cover every fucking week." It's weird when you spend like two years of your life trying to put together and tell a story and then when you sit down to talk about it nobody wants to talk about the story, they just want to ask, "Did you see the pink diamond? Is it huge?" And I'm like, "Well, yeah, but what does that have to do with anything, man?" When the back story overshadows the story, it's just not cool anymore. As a storyteller it's kind of insulting. Either the movie is as bad as you say and you have nothing to talk about except these two, or you find these two more fascinating than the movie we put together. Either way you're kind of screwed.
Were you at all worried about casting Rosario, then? Because she's a pretty big star.
Not as much. It's not like I was casting Rosario and Jason Lewis her boyfriend.
We heard you were all over him!
Oh, I love him and I loved "Sex and the City" and I loved his character, but he made it real difficult for dudes who looked like me. The only way I ever got over was to say, "Look, I'm more sensitive than a fucking thin dude." Then they go and introduce the thin character, cut from God's own wood who also has a heart of gold! Ahh fuck! Suddenly it was like, "I have no play!" [laughs]
So, any trepidation about casting Rosario was more to like, "Oh shit, nobody's going to believe she'd fuck Brian O'Halloran!" She deserves a special Oscar of recognition because she makes you believe she'd fuck Brian O'Halloran! [laughs] That's a true testimony to her performance and the chemistry they shared. She's such an amazing actor, she's the good, man. I fell in love with her in "25th Hour." I had seen her in everything else, but in "25th Hour" shes fucking amazing. Putting her in this movie I thought we got really lucky. It's a hackneyed adage, but it's true: she doesn't execute, she totally elevates. She made the movie better just by being in it. Even as far back as rehearsals. The first day of rehearsals I was rehearsing with Brian, Jeff and Trevor and we did the first two hours with just the boys. Rosario was coming later. So, the guys were still on book and no one was doing optimum performance and shit, they were kind of walking through it and goofing around. Then Rosario walked in the room and suddenly it's like everybody has sucked in their guts collectively. Suddenly every one of these actors turned into Sir Lawrence Olivier! And I'm thinking, "What's the difference? Oh, a prettier actress walked into the room!" Suddenly these dudes were on fire. So, just by being there, everyone stepped up their game. Whether it was because they were out to impress her or whether it was because they all respect her. It all helps, man. I would cast her in anything. I'd worked with her in a heartbeat. I could cast her as a dude and she'd be convincing. [laughs]
You mentioned something about chemistry. How about the chemistry you and Mewes have? He said you two are great friends off camera as well.
Yeah, we better be great friends at this point. He's my boy, I love Mewes. We have this friendship, God, 16 or 17 years at this point, but at the same point our relationship has a paternal bent to it. Often times it's like a father/son relationship. We are contemporaries, definitely, and we do hang out, but I spent so long as a care giver to Jason or raising Jason, and probably doing a pretty poor job of it because he spent seven years buried in heroin and oxy contin, but it was weird being in a paternal role for that long. Now, for the last three years, it has been more of an equal relationship of friends. More so than me trying to clean the dude up and putting him into a methodone program and sitting on him while he went cold turkey. The dude had been living with me for almost the last three years. In the twelve years since I made "Clerks," that's when I moved out of my parents place, he's been living with me ten of those years. He finally went out and got his own place last week and it's so weird. We had a signing for Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" at the store last week and Mewes was going to come, but he couldn't make it because he was waiting at his apartment for a stove to be delivered. And I was just like, "Oh, you sell out!" [laughs] "You've drank the Kool-Aid and become a normal human being."
It's so much better being around him now. Some people who aren't very educated on substance abuse have said, "Isn't he boring now that he's not doing drugs?" I'm like, "Are you out of your fucking mind? Have you ever had a conversation with a junkie, where they nod out in the middle of a conversation?" That's not funny. Now he's fucking sharp as a tack and that's great. When he laughs, it's a real laugh. Back in the day when he was fucking doing junk, the best you could get out of him was a "hrmph" because his endorphins aren't firing, all the nerve endings have just sort of curled up and what not. Now, his endorphins are all firing and he's off the junk, completely clean and that dude laughs so hard that he's got this vein in his temple that always looks like it's going to fucking blow! [laughs] There's something wonderful about that.
It's wonderful you stayed by him through that.
What choice did I have? I love the dude. Not to mention the fact that we have a working relationship, but you can't let a good man go down and Mewes is a good man. He's got a nickel fucking head sometimes, but he's got a million dollar heart and you don't want to see that dude go to waste.
There's a lot of that happening in Hollywood.
Yeah, but man, I don't think most of those people are good people to begin with. This is a dude who was born predisposed to addiction. He was born to a heroin addicted mother and what not. He was raised in such a way that you're amazed the dude wasn't on the fucking roof of a bell tower with a sniper rifle taking people out. His mother used him as a bag man when he was nine years old, to drop off drugs and pick up money and shit. He would tell stories about him and his sister brought to a strangers house, locked in a closet while she went off to party and shit and you're just like, "I can't believe this guy is as good a guy as he is." He has the perfect excuse to become an asshole and never did.
Really, it comes down to I'm just not talented enough to pull off a movie like that. I'm really not. IT was between that and "Clerks II" and I drove towards "Clerks II" in a big, bad way. I almost had to fight Harvey Weinstein to do "Clerks II" as opposed to "Green Hornet." He said, "It's time for you to grow and stretch as a film maker!" I'm like, "Doesn't anybody fucking get it? After 12 years, I'm not that talented! This is what I do. This is why I got into film, to tell stories like this." I would love to watch a "Green Hornet" movie, but I do not want to be the guy at the helm of that movie. Number one, I make one of those movies, I loose the right to make fun of other people for making those movies. I learned that lesson harshly after making "Jersey Girl." [laughs] I can't go after shit like "Raising Hellen" anymore. [laughs] I raise one finger to "Raising Helen," and people are like, "Dude, you made 'Jersey Girl.'" [laughs] Number two, that's not the kind of story I like to tell. I like to tell stories about people sitting around and talking with one another. That's really that's all I'm good at. So, the notion of doing "Green Hornet" is not appealing to me. In comic book form? Wonderful. I love to write comic books. You can get into the inner life of the character, can deal with years of continuity, drawing up reference to stories that happened 15 years ago. Doing that in the mainstream on a feature basis? Nah.
Do you have any new comics work coming up?
Not really. I finally finished off that "Spider-Man/Black Cat" series and people got off my dick. [laughs] I did kind of a Clerks comic [to be published by Graphitti Designs] that comes out soon that takes [Dante and Randal] from the Quickstop to Mooby's, showing how they got their job. It begins where the Quickstop burns down and shows what happened for the rest of that month.
Do you have any advice for a young film maker?
It's lame, tepid advice but it's always worked for me, it's write what you know. I know that's kind of like simple and not always effective - thank God George Lucas didn't write about what he knew because I don't think George Lucas knows wookies in real life. [laughs] So, you need people who'll sit there and dream and come up with fantastical situations, but for a first time film maker it's like home close to the bone because your story is more interesting than something you could make up. Also, that's when you're at your purest. That's when you get to tell stories where you're not worrying about if it'll appeal to this demographic or what the test screenings will be like. You're telling a story for the sheer sake of telling a story. I wouldn't give that time up for the world. I still haven't given that time up because I still keep making movies of that same ilk.
M. Night Syamalan [Director of "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and the upcoming "Lady In The Water"] is currently being roasted for his very, very frank and honest responses in the new book "The Man Who Heard Voices" by Michael Bamberger. He tells everything. Nothing is held back, much like you have been your entire career. Why is it he can't get away with that attitude, yet you can?
I'm familiar with the book and I think there's something to be said for flying under the radar, something I've been able to do for 12 years whether by choice or whether by virtue of the fact that nobody gives enough of a shit about me above the radar, but I can get away with talking about the things I talk about and being frank and it's not a big issue because I haven't grossed 1 billion dollars. I think nobody expects film making giants or really successful people to kind of open up like that. Also, I guess when you've made that much money it sounds whiney to some people and some people are like, "Come on. Just fucking make your twist ending pictures, be done with it and stop talking about your inner feelings." That's much easier to do in my world where people don't expect that much of you. I guess they expect a lot more of M. Night Shyamalan ,where with me they say he's got nothing better to talk about but himself, as near as I can figure. [laughs]