Interview : Kevin Smith


The writer, director & Silent Bob of “Clerks II”

Writer/director Kevin Smith doesn’t even attempt to come up with an interesting answer for what inspired a sequel to his 1994 hit, “Clerks”. Quite simply, says the infamously amusing filmmaker, he “ran out of ideas”.

After the colossal failure of his Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez starring rom-com “Jersey Girl” – based on Smith’s own relationship with his daughter – Smith – best known for his slightly more edgier, significantly more infantile comedies like “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and “Dogma” – decided to return to where it all started: At a convenience-mart with sirs Dante and Randall.

Smith doesn’t see it as a step-back, and he’s not returning to his comfort zone because his last film tanked.

“Some people think that since Jersey Girl didn’t work I went back to this, but that’s only partially true”, explains Smith. “Yes, Jersey Girl played a role, just not in the way people think. About half way through filming that one I decided I didn’t want to work with famous people [anymore]. It’s not because of Ben and Jen, but all the weird baggage that comes with working with famous people.

“Whenever we were talking about the movie, the press only wanted to talk about the big pink diamond ring [that Ben had bought Jen]. They kept asking what it’s like to be with them. I was like ‘Ask them’! I don’t know the inner workings of their bodies or their minds. They’d ask me because they can’t get in touch with them.

“I spent two years working on a story I wanted to tell and people were more interested in the back story than the story itself. Maybe that’s because Jersey Girl didn’t work, but maybe it’s because those people were way more famous and it was a fairly conventional story. I decided next time that I want to work with unknown people because then people will concentrate on the movie itself. That turned into Clerks, which was a happy medium because unless these guys start screwing each other they aren’t going to be in US Weekly. If they were, it might be good for the movie in a post-Brokeback era.

Granted, Ben Affleck does have a role in “Clerks II” – but it’s very small, and initially, it was going to be even smaller.

“He wanted to be part of it, so he asked if he could be a background extra, but he wanted to get paid for it. I told him Gigli must have tanked harder than I thought”, Smith, who constantly takes the piss out of his friend Affleck, laughs. “I told him to come on out, but I knew he would want some dialogue. He came out and shot his scene, which was just him reacting in the background and we shot it twice and got it right and then he came up to me and said it felt like he should say something. I said, “Of course you do, here’s a line of dialogue for you.”

Smith, who says Matt Damon was also asked to appear in the film but had to decline the offer to do a role in a De Niro film he was doing, explains that the film would only have made sense if it were again headlined by the original stars, Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson as the slacker cashiers of the original film.

“I thought since Clerks is a story about what it’s like to be in my twenties, why not use Dante and Randall as the way-in again? It’s nice. There is a built-in poignancy of showing those guys 10 years later, especially if you open up your head, why not use the dudes who helped you the first time around, the characters particularly.

A slightly more familiar face, actress Rosario Dawson, joins the cast of the sequel. Smith says he never expected someone of Dawson’s – she’s starred in everything from “Men in Black 2” to “Rent” – calibre to even consider appearing in his rather immature comedy. It was a mutual love of everything ‘nerdy’ that had the attractive actress chomping at the bit to do the movie, though.

“Very few women know about comic books and no one who looks like Rosario knows black and white independent comic books. Even though she’s a goddess she makes you feel like she’s normal. The first conversation I had with her was about anal bleaching”, laughs Smith.

Obviously, considering his brand of humour, Smith hasn’t grown up too much – and he likes it no other way. He’s not at all pretentious, he says, and regularly questions whether he’s advanced at all in his storytelling skills.

“I was trying to figure out when and if I ever crossed the threshold to adulthood. I work in a business that affords you a very extended adolescence. I make pretend for a living. It’s not a real job like a mail man or a doctor. I had the first movie picked up when I was 23 so I’m not sure if I ever became an adult. I have a wife and kid and house, but I’m not sure I’m an adult. I realized I became an adult when I did Clerks. Becoming a man isn’t at a bar mitzvah, it’s when you make that decision to do that thing that you wouldn’t have done 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago, that changes your life forever. I wanted to give these characters that opportunity. I feel a great debt to Dante and Randall because they made my career. That’s why the movie is like it is. They see they’ve grown up. It sneaks up on you and happens.”

As a thanks to the many fans who have stuck with him through thick and thin – and “Jersey Girl” – Smith got to give a little something back this time, offering the viewers a chance to be involved in his film. Kinda.

“It was weird, we did this thing for the myspace people, where the first 10,000 people that signed up for the page got in the end credits for the movie – which is really cool, because when the movie ends, there’s this crawl with all the names, but it goes bloody fast. It looks like you’re looking at the Matrix code. The strange thing, as of the Saturday morning [after the release of the film], there were 10,000 new IMDB pages”, he laughs.

And is this the last Clerks? “For now it is, but I’ll never say never again after Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. If we somehow open huge and Harvey Weinstein wants Clerks 3 right away I would tell him I have nothing now, but if I hit my forties and have something to say I might consider it. I feel like these two are nice bookends now. Maybe one day, but I’m not ready yet. I have to get better as a filmmaker before I take something like that on.”

One of Smith’s big interests is comic books, and though he’d love to make a comic book movie one day – he was initially attached to write the film version of “The Green Hornet” – he says he doesn’t feel as if he’s talented enough to pull it off.

“I’m just not wired that way. I didn’t get into films to make comic book movies. I love comic books and watching those movies, but I had the opportunity to do the Green Hornet thing and I just couldn’t do it. I knew I would fail so why should I start? It would be like someone asking me to play a guy with a 10-inch dick. I’m not equipped to do that!”, he laughs.

“I was so flattered to be asked to do Green Hornet, but it’s like asking me to do Schindler’s List. I just can’t do it and I took a lot of shit on the internet about that. Green Hornet was a radio show and then later a TV show in the 60s so there is no built-in audience under 80 for that. The show was horrible too. It was really an uphill battle. People wanted Kato to be a girl, but Kato is not a girl. I met with the toy people and they showed me the toys they designed already and it didn’t look right at all.

Next up, the director appears in the comedy “Catch and Release”. “That’s with Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant. I’m just acting in it, I didn’t write it or direct it, or anything like that. So if you’ve heard it’s fabulous, that’s why – I didn’t direct it”.

CLERKS II opens 31st August 2006 across Australia