Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Kevin Smith

'Bob' Breaks the Silence

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Say what you will about 31 year-old filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith, but he loves Star Wars. I mean, really loves it. For his fifth and newest film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, (named for a Star Wars film) he shoehorned both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher back into the same movie together, their first since Return of the Jedi in 1983, though they don't appear on screen together.

"I think you'd be hard pressed to ever get them on screen together, 'cause they're very conscious of the whole thing," Smith says, celebrating his birthday in San Francisco in his comfy hotel suite at the Prescott. "I mean, how can you not be? They've been living with it for the past 25 years. Mark is happy to talk about it. You don't even have to bring Star Wars up. Mark'll bring it up. He was telling us these stories where your jaw just hits the ground. One of the greatest stories he told us was there's a moment in The Empire Strikes Back -- and it's a real weird thing but I thought it was kinda cool -- it's just a wide shot of the hangar, and you hear this voice going, 'the first transport is off.' And everyone goes, 'yay.' And he said, 'that was me and that's my favorite part of the movie, 'cause that's my voice.' And we were like, 'who would know that, except the guy who did it?' And to hear him say, 'that's my favorite part of the movie!' We're like, 'really? Not the lightsabre fight?'"

"Whereas Carrie is the diametric opposite. She doesn't even use the words "star" and "wars" anywhere near each other at the same time," Smith deadpans.

Like Star Wars, Smith's newest film concerns a kind of "call to adventure." His characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) who appear on the sidelines in his first four films now take center stage as the driving force of the story. Their mission? To get to Hollywood and stop the production of Miramax's new Bluntman and Chronic film. They not only deserved -- and didn't get -- a cut of the movie, but they hope to stop the horrible internet slander being spread about them. Smith says that this is the last audiences will see of Jay and Silent Bob, the live-action version anyway.

"We're gonna do a Clerks cartoon movie, based off the ill-fated Clerks cartoon we'd done last year on TV. And then also, I do these View Askew comic books. We've done a line of Clerks books and we've done a few Jay and Silent Bob things, and I feel free to use them there as well. But in terms of live action, yeah, this is it. It just seems like, 'get out while the getting's good.'"

Smith may be the most modest hot young filmmaker around. He never even uses the word "I" when referring to a project; always "we." He insists that movies are never made by one person. His modesty comes out best in a story he tells about Silent Bob's trademark trenchcoat.

"I bought that in, I think it was '89, and I got it for ten bucks in the middle of the summer at a store called Oak Tree," he says. "So I wanted to wear it in Dogma and the costume designer said, 'well, we have to triplicate it, because you need three of everything in case something goes wrong, you have a backup right away.' Like if you spill something on it or somebody burns it or something. So they made three, but to the tune of like $2400 a piece. A coat I bought for ten bucks!"

"And then, they didn't want to use that same coat in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back because it was too heavy. We were shooting in Los Angeles and it was kind of warm. So they made three new versions of the coat that look exactly like the original, but are lighter in material and easier to maneuver. And those wound up being a little cheaper, but they were still about $800 a coat. For something I bought for ten bucks. I felt so bad."

Another clue to Smith's humbleness is his approach to dealing with the message board postings on his website, View Askew. "The good thing about the fan base is that they're always there for you and they'll go see whatever you put out," he says. "But they'll also let you know if you're not living up to their expectations of you. If they come at me with something I can't really argue with, I'll try to explain myself out of it, of just cop to it. But if they come after me with something that's completely unfair, then yeah. I will."

"Affleck's always giving me shit. He's like, 'dude, why do you want to argue with a 14 year-old kid in Idaho?' And I'm like, because I don't think of him as a 14 year-old kid in Idaho. I think of him as a guy that buys a ticket to the movie and he's got an expectation, and I want to make sure he understands where I'm coming from. But it's true. I don't know why, but I feel the need to kind of get out there and talk to everyone. Like on a real one-to-one basis. It's like, 'do you get it? Do you understand? Are we cool?' As if that would matter if it weren't cool. But it does to me."

While Smith comes across as a pretty clear case of what-you-see-is-what-you-get, his Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back co-star Jason Mewes remains a mystery. Smith says that the two have known each other for 13 years.

"I used to work at the convenience store, and he used to come down to the convenience store with me and make papers on Sunday mornings. He was the only one of my friends who would get up at five-thirty on a Sunday to put the papers together. My other friends were like, 'fuck you! Five thirty Sunday morning? You're insane!' And one day I asked him. I said, 'you wanna come down Sunday morning and help me put the papers together? I'll give you two bucks.' And he's like, 'alright.' And then I eventually stopped giving him two bucks and he would just come anyway. And we'd put the papers together and watch TV. He would go to sleep at a certain point. Get there at five-thirty to make papers. Nine o'clock, he'd sack out on the ice cream case. He would go to sleep on that with all the papers in front of him, so you couldn't really see him when you came in. He was just buried by a mound of papers. As the papers got progressively lower, sooner or later, someone would get the paper and go, 'what the...?'"

So how does Mewes behave now that he's a big-time movie star? "I guess he is now kinda by default, though he doesn't really think like a professional actor. He pretty much does what we do and that's that. He doesn't really go out on auditions; he doesn't really try to play the game. He's not even aware that there's a game to be played. He does these flicks and then he goes 'roofing' for a few months and waits for us to do another flick. I was like, 'go out there and try.' Maybe after this flick, he will."

"But he's one of the biggest hearted people you've ever met in your life. Like, I think the reason he works as a character is the sweetness of him in general. Because he gets away with saying some shit that other movies would get tagged for. I think it's because the character of Jay, like his real life counterpart, seems to have no moral barometer. We all have this inner moral barometer where it's like, you just don't say this kind of thing because it's wrong. We have a filter for the id. And his character is all id. Doesn't even think it. Just says it as it's being thought. He's not saying it to be malicious. He's not saying it to get a rise out of somebody. He's saying it because that's what he's thinking. And it seems to work. It's one of those things that we get a pass on."

Something that Smith did not get a pass on this time around was the reaction of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. They fired off an angry letter calling Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back "homophobic," an accusation Smith finds baffling. "I've always thought we were very gay-friendly in the movies we've made, with Chasing Amy being the most obvious example. I mean, yeah. There are an abundance of gay jokes in the movie. But they're not gay jokes at the expense of the gay community. There are just as many gay jokes as there are straight jokes, as there are jokes about racism, as there are jokes about Miramax. Nobody walks away unscathed. And for some weird reason we wound up taking heat on this movie. But I just don't get it. I was really hurt and offended by it."

August 2, 2001

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