An Interview with Kevin Smith – By Brian Morton

 In the land of the independent film there are people who toil for years and never get noticed and then there are people who make a great film, it’s seen and their career takes off. Most of the time, these people become pretentious celebrities, but there is an exception to every rule, and that exception is Kevin Smith. Kevin began his career with a little movie called Clerks, you may have heard of it, and has become (in my opinion) one of the best storytellers in the business. Recently I had the chance to talk to Kevin on the phone about the upcoming release of Clerks 2 (July 21) and anything else that popped into my mind.

*****

BM – Hello, Mr. Smith, I’m a big fan and I’m really happy to have the chance to speak with you.

KS – Thanks, I would be there in person, but unfortunately weather conspired to keep us apart. I was trapped on a tarmac at O’Hare yesterday for about four hours, so it kept me from getting to your fine city until early, early in the morning.

BM – Well, I’ve seen the original Clerks about ten times, and I’ve seen the online trailer for Clerks 2 and it looks every bit as funny as the first one. Can you tell us a little about it?

KS – Well, it was kind of a daunting effort to sequelize something that so many people hold so dear and kind of elevate beyond any position it really deserves. I mean, when people say, ‘hey man, it’s a cult classic’ it’s kind of daunting to follow that up, but I had a fun storyline I wanted to tell, a kind of moving story I wanted to tell so I decided to go for it and I have to say that I’m so pleased with the result. I had hopes that it would be really strong and it kind of exceeded all my hopes and dreams.

BM – Aside from the budget, how was it different filming Clerks 2 as opposed to the filming of the original?

KS – You know, thankfully between part 1 and part 2 I has about 12 years of experience making other movies, so I brought a little more education to the proceedings this time around and it winds up being a visually stronger movie than anything I’ve done to date. I can get even better performances out of the two guys because they know how to act better and I know how to direct better than I did 12 years ago. Like the guy, Jeff Anderson who plays Randall gives an insanely wonderful performance that I don’t think he would have been able to give in 1994 and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to pull it out of him, or I wouldn’t have been able to write the part in the first place, so, you know, time helps.

BM – Now, I have read in a few places, including your own site, that after Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, you were retiring the characters, yet here they are again in Clerks 2.

KS – At the end of Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, I was so frustrated with Jason Mewes because he had a really bad, hardcore drug addiction, oxycontin and heroin, and it got difficult to clean him up between movies and try to sit on him during the movie to make sure that he didn’t use and fall off the wagon, only to watch him fall off the wagon the moment I went into a editing room to start cutting the movie together. So, I just decided that, that’s it, I’m done, I can’t do it anymore, if I can’t include Jay and Silent Bob in the movies, I might as well not make movies that are set in this little View Askew-niverse that we’ve created that interconnects all the films. But, Jason has since cleaned up, he’s three years clean and sober under his belt, it’s three years of total sobriety. So, as a kind of a thank you to him for that, I said to him, dude, now I’m open to the notion of doing more Jay and Silent Bob type movies

BM – That’s excellent, I know that he had a really bad problem for while, we’re all glad that he cleaned up and it taking care of himself, he’s a very talented guy.

KS – Yeah, he was hardcore. In fact, we thought we lost him once or twice, the press even thought we lost him too. There was one period where it was reported on the wire service and in People magazine that he had died, and I was like WHAT??!!

BM – We’re all glad, because he is a very funny guy. What about plans to use him in other roles besides Jay?

KS – There’s a movie that I want to do in the winter and he’s gonna play something else for me, other than Jay, but for me, he’s always been Jay. I’ve made seven movies and in six of them Jay and Silent Bob are featured either in small parts or rather prominently, but next time I’m going to use him as a different character because he is a naturally funny guy.

BM – I’ve seen An Evening With Kevin Smith at least twice, and I saw on your web site that there’s a sequel to that coming out, Evening Harder?

KS – Yes, Evening Harder comes out the first week in August or something like that. An Evening With Kevin Smith was this DVD of me going to speak at five or six different colleges. This one instead of five or six different colleges, it’s just two shows, one in Toronto and one in London. It’s still four hours long, four hours of watching a fat bearded dude sweat in front of a bunch of kids, but it’s some funny stuff, I think.

 BM – An Evening With… is one of the funniest things I’ve seen, if people haven’t seen it, they should really check it out! You tell stories about working with Prince, and being asked to write the script for Superman Returns, are the stories in Evening Harder just as good?

KS – The stories in Evening Harder go even deeper and we have tag ups and P.S.’s to stories on the first DVD, like the Prince story and whatnot. Doing An Evening With Kevin Smith was great, I’ve always done college gigs and somebody had the idea, why don’t you tape it. So, I was so happy when it came out because it gave people an opportunity to see it if I hadn’t been to their college, but the weird, back-handed compliments I always get about that movies are things like, Dude, that’s your best work, and I’m like, Oh I guess the other six movies didn’t hold a candle to me standing around talking about making the other six movies! You know, the PS story to the Prince thing was that his producer called me at one point about a year later and said, hey would you like to take a crack at editing the documentary footage because I went out and shot this documentary footage with Prince in the summer of 2001. I told them that if I could cut it in Jersey I would love to do it, but I didn’t want to go out to Minnesota and do it again. His producer said, no, he’s gonna want to do it here so he can supervise. So, I told her that I can’t imagine that you guys are having a hard time finding editors and she said well, it’s been difficult and I said why and she said the trouble was religious disagreements. Well, I said, what do you mean religious disagreements? And his producer told me, just between us that Prince had taken the documentary footage that I had shot and turned it into a recruitment film for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, I was like, boy that Prince is a wacky dude!

BM – Yes, he is! In An Evening With, you tell a story about being asked to script Superman Returns, do you have any interest in doing your own comic movie using an established comic book character?

KS – Not on an already established character, number one, I’m not talented enough to make movies that visually interesting. And number two, I had the opportunity a few years ago to write and direct a Green Hornet big theatrical feature and at first I was charmed by the notion and kind of into it but the more I thought about it, I thought, I’m not talented enough to pull this off. I like to watch those kinds of movies but I don’t know how to make those kinds of movies and it’s not the kind of movie that I got into filmmaking to make in the first place. So, right now, I can’t conceive of myself doing it. If I was ever going to do it, though, a kind of comic book-y affair, it would have to be a character that I created, I think, because that’s the only way I could feel tied into the material.

BM – But, you’ve written comic books, you revived Green Arrow, you wrote story arcs for Daredevil and Spiderman.

KS – Yeah, that stuff’s just fun. You can write a massive big budget movie in a comic book and it doesn’t cost you anything because somebody’s just drawing it, just visually realizing it for you on the page.

BM – Staying with comics for a minute, you took a lot of ‘geek heat’, when you killed off Mysterio and Karen Paige in the pages of Daredevil, what was that like?

KS – Yeah, I thought I was gonna have to go underground like Salmon Rushdie when I killed off Karen Paige, man. There were people calling for my blood. And it was really weird, because up until that point, it was a character that nobody really cared about anymore, but you take them away and I was hearing things like, who do you think you are, Stan Lee?!

BM – Alright, Clerks 2 hits theatres on July 23, I’ve seen the animated series with is great, but I’ve also heard about a feature called Clerks: Sell Out. What can you tell us about that?

KS – Yeah, Clerks: Sell Out will be a straight to DVD feature. It’s about Dante and Randall are so bored working at the convenience store one day that they decide to make a movie about working at the convenience store, which if final proof that I’ve just run out of ideas.

BM – What about a Clerks 3, any plans for that?

KS – Definitely not on the horizon, but, if one day, I have an idea for a story about Dante and Randall again, I wouldn’t rule it out. I’d probably wait until they were in their forties. Maybe I could do it like a Michael Apted, Seven Up kind of thing and revisit them every few years.

BM – And keep going until you get to Clerks: Retired.

KS – Exactly!

BM – You always seem to work with the same core of actors. Is that because of a comfort factor for you? Or are these just people you like to work with?

KS – It’s definitely a bit of both, I mean, the people that you see return film after film are people that I love being around, they’re friends, they’re people that I get along with really easily. But, there is a built in comfort level, a short hand, because you don’t have to go through that whole getting to know you period, you know each other very well, you know your strengths and weaknesses, I know how to write to their voices because I’m so familiar with their voices, so it’s lazy really on my behalf and also, I’m one of those no new people kind of guys.

BM – Okay, you write, direct, act, you’ve done TV, movies, comic books, cartoon, what will you NOT do?

KS – Uh, I won’t take my shirt off in public, that’s for sure!

BM – As a fellow fat guy, I’m totally with you on that!

KS – I definitely have a line and that’s it. If they offered me a couple million bucks to just take my shirt off, I’d be like, you know what, I’d rather just work for it. (laughing)

 BM – (laughs) Going back to comic books for just a minute, I read that after you revived Green Arrow for DC, you were scheduled to revamp the Batman team up book, The Brave And The Bold, but after DC planned on launching it with another title you got mad and walked away from the project, is that true?

KS – No, I didn’t get mad at all! Basically, I am really terrible when it comes to keeping on a schedule of any kind, particularly when it comes to writing comic books. What happened was, we announce The Brave And The Bold and they wanted me to get to it within a couple of months of the end of my Green Arrow run. So, I kept saying, I’ll totally get to it, I’ll totally get to it, but I was in the midst of a mini-series for Marvel, a Spiderman/Black Cat mini-series that I did three issues of and then it was supposed to be a five issue mini-series and then three years went by before I finished the mini-series. Unfortunately I can’t view comics as my day job, you know, it’s just something that I kind of do for fun so it always winds up getting the back burner. So, based on that, I told them, if you guys want to do The Brave And The Bold, you should hand it to somebody else because I’m not going to get around to it any time soon, but there was no ill will on either side whatsoever.

BM – This may be a tough question, of all your own movies, which is your personal favorite?

KS – Well, of all my movies, it had always been Chasing Amy until I finished Clerks 2 and then Clerks 2 superceded it. I don’t know if the movies going to be for everybody, I really love it dearly, it’s a movie that really speaks to me, especially right now where I am in my life. Now, I know it’s kind of fashionable to love the movie that you’re currently promoting, but it really has gone beyond Chasing Amy in terms of being my favorite.

BM – Well, I have to admit to having seen Clerks at least ten times, and I can’t imagine how revisiting all those characters can’t be a ton of fun! I’m really looking forward to Clerks 2.

KS – God, I really hope you like the movie, I hope you’re not one of the people who’ll be like, he dropped the ball, what did he do?!! But I really did feel like there was more mileage to those two dudes, Randall has always been one of my favorite characters, if not THE favorite character that I’ve ever created cause he’s a nihilist who’s a closet dreamer and that’s something I really identify with.

BM – Well, I personally can’t wait for opening night, and I’ll be there with my popcorn in hand and my shirt on!

KS – You and me both, unless it grosses a hundred million, then I will take my shirt off in public!

BM – Alright, we’ve got a deal, and I’ll join you, we’ll stand shirtless, back to back!

KS – Yes, we’ll stand back to back and reveal our man-boobs and frighten the children! (laughing)

BM – Thanks for you time, sir, I hope the movie makes that hundred million!

KS – I just hope people like it, and we can keep our shirts on! Thanks.

So, there you go, Kevin Smith, a big budget director who’s still low budget at heart. Clerks 2 opens July 21st and I for one can’t wait! I’m very happy to have had the chance to speak with Kevin and we here at RC wish him all the best and hope that he keeps making movies for years to come!