Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran

Jeff Anderson Meets Jeff Anderson

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Every once in a while I receive an e-mail from a reader asking me if I'm that guy from Clerks. I'm not. In fact, he's the reason I incorporated my full given name and my middle initial in my byline.

Jeff Anderson, along with co-star Brian O'Halloran, became known to a cult of film fans in 1994 when they debuted as the heroes of Kevin Smith's first film Clerks (1994).

The film's popularity endures; it was chosen in 2003 by Entertainment Weekly as one of the Top 50 cult films of all time, and the actors still receive fan mail to this day.

Both kept working after the film, but nothing really reached the same kind of audience. Anderson, who never took acting very seriously, turned to directing, and O'Halloran has appeared in films with titles ranging from Vulgar (2000) to Moby Presents: Alien Sex Party (2003).

They found their most reliable source of income with cameos in other Kevin Smith films, or in the short-lived, but much-beloved, "Clerks" animated TV series (2000).

They reprised the characters live for Smith's short film The Flying Car (2002) and met once again to work on extras for the 3-disc Clerks Tenth Anniversary DVD set.

It was around that time that talk of a sequel sprang up. With the film complete, Anderson and O'Halloran came to San Francisco to promote the new film, and the two Jeffs met face-to-face.

Embarrassingly, I showed up to the interview wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and black canvas Chuck Taylor Converse shoes. Anderson was wearing virtually the same thing. "You could use my plane ticket and finish out the PA tour," he joked. "I can stay here. No one would know the difference!"

I told him we could switch, but that he'd have the drawbacks of sitting through bad movies and dealing with e-mail from irate viewers with differing opinions.

"That's okay," he laughed and proceeded to ad-lib a few of his potential responses to these hypothetical readers, none of which can be repeated in a family newspaper.

Fortunately Anderson never had to make any such movie critic decisions; his biggest conundrum was whether or not to reprise his character Randal Graves in Clerks II. O'Halloran was initially interested, but Anderson was troubled.

"What do you do? You can't do black and white 'cause then you're trying to do the same thing," Anderson says in his throaty, ironic tone. "You can't do color because then it's too different. I needed a little convincing that it was the right idea. Even [Kevin's] wife told him it wasn't a good idea. Lots of people close to him told him it wasn't a good idea, and he said, 'no, I really think we can do this.'"

O'Halloran, who definitely plays straight man to Anderson's loon, says he was convinced for three reasons. Smith promised to include three things in the film: 1) It would start in black-and-white, go to color and end in black-and-white; 2) Jason Mewes, reprising his role as the drug-dealing slacker "Jay," would "tuck," which is easier seen than described; 3) It would have a musical number, set to "ABC" by the Jackson Five.

O'Halloran says, "it's written in the script: 'dance scene number with local area folk, a la 'The Blues Brothers,' where everybody comes out of the chicken restaurant.' It was a whole half a day with all these dancers," "Everybody in the crew came around to pick out their favorite dancer and watch the whole number."

"It was a fun day," Anderson agrees. "Pick your favorite dancer day. I had several favorite dancers. When I first read that dance scene, I almost thought he put that in as a joke. 'Let's see if we'll get Anderson with this.'"

The actors described the new movie like "summer camp," saying that the vibe from the first film was still there, but with a bigger budget. They said the first time they felt anything different was the day Ben Affleck showed up to shoot a cameo.

"You could definitely tell Ben Affleck was coming that day," Anderson says. "Brian and I and Kevin and Jay [Jason Mewes] were just regular schlubs out of New Jersey and the crew quickly realized that. But the day Ben Affleck was coming, I had to park my car in the next lot over, but Ben parked next to the store."

"Lunch was very funny," O'Halloran says. "Usually, we have this or that or ham sandwiches. That day we had sushi brought in -- this whole big table of sushi, which is one of my favorite foods. Meanwhile, we shot Ben's stuff first thing in the morning and he was done and gone before lunch came. He got this friggin' sushi and he didn't even stay for lunch!"

On the set of the original Clerks, Anderson says that the cast and crew ate out of the convenience store and kept a list so that Smith could pay for it later.

The filmmakers got a big surprise when they showed up to the same convenience store to shoot the new film's wraparound sequences.

"Oddly enough, this time around -- budget notwithstanding -- they still wouldn't allow us to close the Quick Stop while we filmed," Anderson says. "There's the scene where Brian and I go back to the store and it's boarded up, and we open it up and there's supposed to be cobwebs and everything else. The first take we did when we opened it up, two customers walked out. Brian and I were both like, 'how long have they been in there?'"

"Stuff like that just kills me," Anderson continues. "We're in New Jersey, here's this quick stop that they're lucky to do $200 of business a day, that said, 'no, we can't close for our customers.' Just when you're sort of think you're a movie star, stuff like that will pull you right back."

The interview draws to a close and it's time for the Jeffs to part. I mention how much I enjoyed Clerks II and that it was the funniest film I've seen so far this year.

Anderson takes the line and runs with it: "We got that quote. But everybody'll think I said it. 'Jeff Anderson says,' Well of course! He was in it! We can't put that on the poster. Sorry. Hell! What does Brian O'Halloran think?"

June 15, 2006

(This interview also appeared in the Oakland Tribune.)

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