Definitely not one to hold back (note Smith’s recent PR war with Southwest Airlines); Kevin Smith, creator and director of huge cult classics like ”Clerks”, ”Jay and Silent Bob” and ”Chasing Amy”, spoke candidly to Moviehole about diving into his first major studio production as director for “Cop Out”.
The film stars Bruce Willis and ”30 Rock”’s Tracy Morgan who are long time NYPD partners on the hunt for a stolen baseball card, which lands in the hands of a major Mexican drug lord. Kevin has no trouble opening up about his nervousness working with Willis, and explains in great detail the moment Bruce Willis told him to “get behind the monitor”. But when Tim Johnson caught up with Smith in New York, he couldn’t help but begin by opening the floodgates to get the latest on the public argument with Southwest.
Q: Are the bad times over with Southwest (Airlines)?
Kevin: I hope so… I am fat and we all know this, I been saying this for fifteen years. That’s no surprise. The fact of the matter is though I am not too fat to fly on Southwest Airlines, I wasn’t, I got bounced, they lied, which is fine. But then, they hid behind a lie, with truth. This is what bugs me about the whole f*****g thing.
Q: Did you feel like you were dealing with Hollywood?
Kevin: No, worse. Corporate America. And I haven’t dealt with them in a while, and they’re f*****g snakes. These dudes, put the truth out to hide behind… which so bugs me, because I’m smarter than these pr***s, but they proved they’re smarter than me. They put out their blog going, ‘Yes he got thrown off the flight. Mr Smith always buys two seats and as we know, fat people need to buy two seats’. These are three facts, the middle one’s not even a fact, I did it twice, that apart are absolutely truthful. Put them together and it’s a lie. Because I didn’t get bounced for fat. I just got bounced because some f****r didn’t like me on the jet way. Which is fine. But then, don’t f*****g be like, ‘The captain said, the pilot’s bouncing you because you’re fat’. So I immediately went to Twitter. I was like, ‘Are you sure? You’re telling me the pilot, tell me the pilot’s name… are you sure?’ And they were like, ‘The pilot said it sir’. And I was like, ‘Ma’am, I literally was in my seat for five seconds before you came down the jet way. I saw you as I sat down, because I was sitting down, and went for my seatbelt and there you were’. And she was like, ‘Well, the pilot called me’. I was like, ‘Ma’am, the pilot can’t see me, where I’m sitting, I’m in the bulkhead, I’m in the middle seat. If I can’t see the pilot, how does he see me?’ And she goes, ‘Well, you were seen.’ And I was like, ‘Ma’am, you can’t stand me up like this, you can’t do this in front of all these people’. She was like, ‘You’re going to have to come with me’. And I was like, ‘Ma’am, just tell me how the pilot saw me. Tell me’. She’s like, ‘He can lean’. And I was like, ‘Okay, but I can lean, and I can’t even see’. And she was like, ‘Well, there are phones on the plane’. And I was like, ‘Ma’am I know there are phones everywhere! But that still doesn’t prove it’. And she’s like, ‘Can you please just come with me, we’ll deal with this on the jet way’, And at that point, I ain’t f*****g around on a jet, after 9/11, God forbid there’s a federal air marshal, let alone some f*****g passenger who’s just like trouble (*punch*). Now everybody wants to be Batman. So, I’m like, I’m gonna get up, get my bag, and as I get up and look I make eye contact with a dude double wider than me, sitting two, three rows back, in the middle, and I’m not going to be like, f*****g be like, ‘WHAT ABOUT HIM?!’ Because I’m never going to throw a fellow-fatty under the bus, or the plane as it were. But I looked at him, he looked at me, we made perfect eye contact and he was like, ‘Please don’t tell, please don’t tell’, but I won’t, your secret is safe. I get off, they just continue to lie, and they put it in their blog, about like, ‘Well, he got bounced, and normally he always buys two seats, and as you know, fat people need two seats. Absolute f*****g lie. I didn’t get bounced for it, man. And I’m fine with that. I’m fine with the whole world saying I’m fat, dude. It sucked, for two days, topical news, fat, fat fat, fat. if I had a lesser f*****g ego I would have been crushed and put a f*****g gun in my mouth. I am not kidding. Entertainment Tonight, these f******g pr***s, put a f*****g thin chick in a suit, and had her go and walk on an aeroplane and sh*t like that. In a fat suit! Then the next day, they got a doctor on, some quack trying to guess my weight and sh*t, like a f*****g carnival. And I’m like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, do it as much as you want, but also tell the story, it’s not about fat, it’s about a company that f****d over a customer’. But nobody wants to tell that story though, because it’s way funnier to be like, ‘Fat guy in a little plane’.
Q: Why did they take you off though?
Kevin: They won’t tell me, and that’s the point of the story. I mean, you go to my blog, I lay it out. I’m like, ‘Here’s their first lie, here’s the second lie where they don’t make up for it or apologize, they don’t print that it’s a retraction or that they changed anything’. They still won’t tell me, they just go, ‘An employee made a decision’. I’m like, ‘Who?’, and that’s why I put the blog together. Because I’m like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, if you weigh 200 lbs or more, I wouldn’t go anywhere near Southwest Airlines, because nobody is in charge. The pilot didn’t throw me off. And the employees don’t have the right to throw me off, especially if I fit between the armrests’. But they did, so that just means, if you’re fat, you just get profiled, you get pulled at the last minute… and that’s exactly what f*****g happened. Everyone’s like, ‘Why are you flying on Southwest, you’re rich blah blah blah’. Number one, just because you’ve got some f*****g money, doesn’t mean you want to pour it down a drain. If I could take an hour flight to San Francisco, or to Vegas for like, 200 bucks, I’m going to do that over spending fifteen hundred bucks and having to drive out to LAX. But after this, I’m always going to LAX, man. After this, I might go buy a helicopter… with a very big seat and a very wide armrest!
Q: Bruce (Willis) said earlier that you have been groomed for an opportunity like this for a while now, to go corporate and he hit it out of the park…
Kevin: Let’s not use corporate! But studio, yes. I don’t know if I was, but here’s my feeling on it. I thought about it going in to it, in terms of trying to make the movie, because I’m like, ‘Well, I’m gonna take a bunch of s**t from people that love Chasing Amy’ and don’t see why I would make a movie like this. I don’t know what to tell cats like that anymore, it’s just like, ‘I can’t make Chasing Amy every time, and you wouldn’t want me to because I would be a very unhappy person. And I’m a very happy cat now, you know? I’m married, I’ve got a kid and if you want me to make another Chasing Amy, start getting my wife to try and cheat on me or something, so I have unrest in my life. Now, after this (Southwest incident), I think that I’ve got enough unrest to write something really f*****g bad. But in terms of Chasing Amy, I don’t have that kind, I’m not 26/27 anymore. I’m 39 years old for Christ’s sakes.
Q: Do you feel the pressure of the box office on this one, are you worried about being labelled the Dennis Quaid of directors, he makes great movies, but doesn’t make a profit.
Kevin: I’m sure Dennis Quaid is like, ‘I don’t want to be the Kevin Smith of actors!’ Here’s the thing, Zack and Miri (Make a Porno, 2008) cured me of any interest in the box office ever again. Because I was so invested in Zack and Miri, that was the one that was supposed to take us to the next level because I had created a certain type of movie that had suddenly come in to vogue and become very profitable. So, hey man, I could do this in my sleep! Let me do it! And we had the guy, we had the man of the moment, (Seth) ‘Rogie’ Rogen, we had the dude from Knocked Up (2007).
Q: Elizabeth Banks was also pretty hot at the time…
Kevin: Totally. How could it not work? And then, it didn’t. And ultimately, it’s not like it didn’t fail. It just did Kevin Smith business. But it wasn’t supposed to, it was like a $25 million movie and should have done way more, it should have done $60 (million) and would up doing $31 (million) and change. I don’t know what it did overseas. It was so heartbreaking at that point. I compared it to carrying a f*****g Fabergé egg across the entire United States, then handing it to two guys who are like, ‘Thanks, whoo, whoa…’ and they drop it. And they’re like, ‘Sorry’. You’re like, ‘Agghhhh! I carried it three thousand miles!’ At that point I realized, just make the movie and find your moment of bliss. And that’s what I do from now on, so I had my moment of bliss in the second test screening. It couldn’t go better than that. The audience was on fire, the movie was f******g firing on all cylinders, Jeff Robinov from Warner Bros. was just like, ‘Alright man, what do you want to do next because we want you around’. That for me, was like it will never get better than this. I don’t give a s**t how much money it makes, like that’s up to them, because I’m a filmmaker and they’re marketers. That’s why I’m with a studio now.
Q: Would you want to see someone else do a sequel to this or would you want to do it?
Kevin: I mean, naturally of course if there was a sequel, I would want them to be like, ‘Hey, do you want to be involved? Or, what are you doing next week?’ Hopefully they would give me a little more notice than that, but ultimately when all is said and done, it’s a really good time doing it, and I think i grew, as a filmmaker, which is weird, because it’s Cop Out, it’s not like it’s Schindler’s List Cop Out, it’s just Cop Out. But because the movie was so about craft more than story for me, because usually when I direct them, I write them, so every pore of my being is, the movie is coming out of them, and I’m very invested in every frame of film. This is different, this is somebody else’s ideas and I’m just trying to take… it’s like taking an IKEA instruction book and building the desk. But, I built a really adequate looking desk. You know what I’m saying, like I didn’t have any parts left over or something. So, that to me is, for years, I haven’t really been the director that most people consider traditional director, and this was my chance to see if I could direct something traditional. Because I would never write something like this. Not because I would say, ‘It’s beneath me’, I write buddy movies all the time, but it would never occur to me to make Dante and Randal (Clerks, 1994) cops. Because I’m like, ‘I don’t know anything about the cop world’, the Cohen brothers are way more creative than me and s**t, so once I start reading it and getting in to it, I’m like, ‘Maybe I can try to do this, just for the craft’. Because after fifteen years of doing something, you kind of get better at it, even if you’re not trying to get better at it. Fifteen years I been calling myself a director and I think this is the first year people go like, ‘Yeah, you are one, now! The other ones, you know, not quite so much’.
Q: How did you manage the Tracy (Morgan) crazy?
Kevin: You what man, that’s the thing. I can’t take credit, Tracy knows how to f*****g bottle the Tracy crazy! Tracy was like a dude who came over packed for a vacation. In a good way. We were like, ‘Trace, you’re going away for a weekend’, and instead of packing two bags, he packed 26. So, we’d be on set and we were able to execute the script really well and then make three other movies on top of it with all the jokes Tracy had brought with him.
Q: With the death of Miramax, it’s harder to get any other kind of movie that isn’t ”Cop Out” made.
Kevin: Yeah, I’m seeing that right now with Red State. Red State is a movie that I’ve been trying to get made since I wrote, I wrote Zack and Miri and while I send that off to Seth (Rogen) to read, and while I was waiting for his reaction, I wrote Red State. So, we’re talking about the summer of 2006/07. It’s been tough.
Q: What about when you were looking at having fans finance it?
Kevin: Fans on Twitter have been like, ‘Hey man, what’s going on with Red State?’ and I said, ‘I can’t find money for it. It’s bleak, it’s dark, I get it, it’s not commercial’. And so they were like, ‘Well what if we paid for it?’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And they were like, ‘Well, what if we just did that fan-funding thing that all these little movies do?’ So I was like, ‘Well, let me look at it, it becomes more complicated because we’re more high profile, but let’s see’. We got some lawyers to look at it, and it’s a f*****g nightmare to accept donations to make a movie. A tax nightmare, it sounded so good in theory. And we were like, ‘A people’s studio!’ And a people’s studio could work, but you can’t get money from the people, it has to start with this nut, and then work from there. That was an area that was looked at briefly, and was kind of let go, and you’re right, with the death of Miramax and specialty film in general, so it’s a lot more difficult for a cat like me to get his work funded. That’s why this is not the happy-go-lucky, ‘Wow! It all worked out!’ I’m sitting there going, ‘What’s my future like? I know what I did for the last fifteen, who is going to pay for my next fifteen years worth of movies? Because it may not be these cats any more’. So I had to sniff around. I was like, ‘Let me see if I can swim in their pool, without s**ting in it. And you know, I was able to do that.
Q: So, do you feel like, if ”Cop Out” is successful, it will clear the way for you to be able to make your films? And if it isn’t, then the odds of them funding your next movie…
Kevin: No, you see, that’s not true. Everyone thinks that, but if people like you, you’ll work forever. I mean even if you don’t make them cash and s**t. Because I’ve made movies that returned people a profit, but not enough to like retire… Bu they let me keep doing it, because they’re like, ‘Hey man, people like what he does, I get f*****g pats on the back from strangers I don’t know because I make movies with him, and he doesn’t cost that much. Let’s do it’. And this was cheap, this movie was under $40 million. This was cheaper than Jersey Girl.
Q: But not under $35 million?
Kevin: No, but about $35-$37 (million). After the rebate and s**t. But it’s a decent mid level.
Q: They’ll recoup their investment.
Kevin: They’ll get it back. But they liked me when it was all said and done. Shockingly, because I had imagined it was going to go poorly, and I’m so not a studio guy. But these cats are like Miramax man, they’re just like, ‘Do what you want man, come back’. They get involved in post (production) a little bit, but generally speaking they are like, ‘Go ahead, go ahead’. They were involved in casting too, they were very, ‘How about this? How about this? We got to put together our moves in order to sell this movie later on and s**t’. But once we went to make the movie, those cats weren’t even involved in the least, they were like, ‘Well, that’s what we hired you to go do. Go do it’. It was weird, it was kind of like working with Miramax to some degree. Then because of the money thing, like I feel like, if the movie does well, great. I hope it does well for them, because I like all those people involved very much. But, I maintain a certain bit of distance because I didn’t write it, I’m not the creator so, I still feel like I was invited into somebody else’s party. And I don’t have enough ego to be like, ‘It became my party bi**hes!’ It’s still our party. But at the same time, I can step back from the party and go home and go to sleep, other people might want to party on to two or three in the morning. After Zack and Miri I will never party until two or three in the morning, I will find a decent hour to go home.
Q: Did you know Bruce (Willis) before this film? How was directing Bruce?
Kevin: I had worked with Bruce on Live Free or Die Hard as an actor. And we had a really good time doing it, but working with Bruce as an actor, and working with Bruce as a director are two very different things. When I worked with Bruce as a director, in my first week, I approached Bruce the same way I approach everybody that I’ve ever made a movie with. Like Ben Affleck, typical way i make a movie, I go up to Ben Affleck on set and be like, ‘Ben, put that d**k in your mouth’. And he’ll be like, ‘Alright’, and he grabs it, and he puts the d**k in his mouth. And he trusts me, he knows that he’s like, ‘I don’t want to have this d**k in my mouth, but Kev’s usually right, except on Jersey Girl, so I’m gonna hold it here until he f*****g figures out what he wants to do’. And then, he sees the movie and goes, ‘That’s why he had me put the d**k in my mouth’. I went in to this movie the same way. I was like, ‘Bruce, put that d**k in your mouth’, and he was like, ‘What?!’ I forgot. I hadn’t worked with him, there was no trust factor. He didn’t know where I was coming from. This dude’s like, ‘I been Bruce Willis for 25 years, man’, and when you’re Bruce Willis you’re not just the actor Bruce Willis, but you’re the persona of Bruce Willis as well. And the persona of Bruce Willis doesn’t just put a d**k in his mouth, because you want him to. I was like, ‘Really? Because Ben Affleck would’. And that’s when I learned, the difference between working with somebody, he’s got longevity on his side, you know what I’m saying. That dude’s not just going to instantly trust you. And after a week, two weeks, totally built up that trust. But at first, I went in as a fan. I went in directing David Addison from Moonlighting, and I wasn’t the adult, the 38 year old Kevin Smith who had made a bunch of movies, I was the 12 year old who would lay on my parents couch and watch David Addison on Moonlighting on Tuesdays. And Bruce was smart enough and had dealt with that personality before to be like, if you’re like this the whole movie, we’re not going to get anything worthwhile accomplished. So, Bruce would just be like, ‘Snap out of it! You’re a grown up, I’m not David Addison’. He kind of shook me out of it, and we were able to work on it as collaborators rather than me kind of just like, ‘Can you do this, because I loved when you did it in Moonlighting’. There was one take when we were doing this sequence where Tracy tells Bruce that he looked at the nanny-cam, and Bruce has to be supportive, be there for him. So, we did it four times, perfect. Every one of them usable and s**t, but I was looking for something specific from Bruce that just didn’t quite happen naturally, and I was still kind of intimidated by him so I didn’t want to go ask for it. So, Michael Pitt the AD (Assistant Director) was like, ‘You wanna check the gate?’ meaning should we move on? ‘Or you want to do another one?’ And I said, ‘You know what man? Aggghhh. Check it, just check it we’ll move on.’ I’m sitting in my chair behind the monitor going, ‘I’m such a puss’. Back in the day, I would’ve been like ‘No! We’re going to go again, because I’ve got something in my head, and we’re going to get there’, but I didn’t do it because I’m scared, I’m scared of Bruce. And I was like, ‘You know what, I can’t be scared of Bruce, I can’t make a whole movie with Bruce and be scared at the same time. I said, ‘F**k it, Michael, hold on. We’re going to go one more’. He said, ‘Yeah?’ And I said, ‘Yeah’, and I go over and I talk to Bruce, Bruce leaning on the wall by the set, just chilling out. I say, ‘Hey boss’, and he goes, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And I said, ‘I’m thinking about going one more on that’, and he goes, ‘Why? What’s the matter?’ And I said, ‘It was good, nothing wrong, it was totally good.’ And he goes, ‘What are you looking for?’, and I said, ‘Well I’m looking for something but i just don’t want to tell you’. And he goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I was like, ‘I’m a little scared to tell you’. He goes, ‘Kevin, don’t be scared to tell me, just tell me’, I was like, ‘i know but you might get mad at me’, and he was like, ‘I’m not going to get mad’. And I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure you’re going to get mad’, and he goes, ‘I’m getting mad now, tell me’. And I said, ‘I was looking for you to deliver this line in the way you delivered that line, a similar line to Mattie Hayes in the second season of Moonlighting, in an episode called Every Daughter’s Father Is a Virgin’. And Bruce, f*****g, he just stared at me. And Bruce looks away, just so he can look back with that Bruce Willis look. He goes, ‘Did you just ask me to give a line reading from something I did twenty five f*****g years ago?’ And I said, ‘To be honest, Bruce it was season two, so it was twenty four years ago’. He goes, ‘Kevin, I don’t know where you’ve been making movies, but in my world, you never walk up to and actor and ask him to give a performance he already gave’, and I was like, ‘I know, I don’t even know what I was thinking, I’m sorry, I was thinking maybe I could approach you like Affleck’. He’s like, ‘I’m not Affleck!’ I was like, ‘You’re right’, and he was like, ‘Get behind the monitor’. I was like, ‘I will boss’. I walk behind the monitor and apparently we were going to go one more anyway. So we do the take, and I’m sitting there watching it, and I’m scared that I was going to get yelled at when we move on to the next thing, because I still have that adult fear in me. And I’m watching the monitor and all of a sudden Bruce Willis disappeared and Jimmy Monroe the character he plays in the movie disappeared. And for one, brief, shining moment, there was David Addison in frame. And I was just like, I welled up, it was like Christmas. And then when the take was over I could barely utter cut. And Adam Weisinger was sitting next to me, and Adam was just like, ‘Wow man, that seemed like a little like David Addison’, and I was like, ‘It was David Addison!’, he goes, ‘How?’ I said, ‘Because I went over and asked him to do David Addison?’ and he goes, ‘You asked him to do David Addison?!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I mean, I didn’t ask him, I went over and said do David Addison motherf*****r’. He’s like, ‘You did?!’, I said, ‘Totally, I’ll tell Bruce Willis what to do’, and then Bruce was coming and I was like, ‘Shut up, here he comes’. And then we both looked at the ground and then Bruce walks by us and he looks over and makes eye contact with us, and goes, ‘That was for you Kev’, and I was like, ‘I love Bruce Willis’.