Beyond Bob: An Interview with Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith. His name alone can ignite passionate hatred or fanatical fanboy-ism, depending on who you talk to, so he must be doing something right. Sadly, his name can also evoke a blank stare. That is, at least, until you say, “You know … Silent Bob?” That’s when people will smile and nod. Love him or hate him, or even if you don’t recognize him, get ready for his latest film, “Jersey Girl” (Miramax). The Hatchet recently spoke with Kevin about “Jersey Girl,” his maturing as a filmmaker and daughters of Motion Picture Association of America members. (See www.gwhatchet.com for a full review of the film)

Ending Jay and Silent Bob

I wanted to see if I could move forward, without a net, and just stretch a little bit. I wanted to tell a story that didn’t rely on Jay and Silent Bob or reference back on another part of the Askewniverse (films made by Smith’s “Askew productions” company). And the other part of it was that (Jason) Mewes (who plays Jay) was just so knee deep in heroin and OxyContins post- “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” that I had just kind of reached a breaking point. I was tired of spending six months cleaning him up and sitting on him all through production to make sure he doesn’t use, and then only to watch him slip back into drug abuse the moment I step inside an editing room. It was a weird year where I wasn’t working with Mewes. We wanted him to be in a small role in “Jersey Girl” but he couldn’t even travel to Jersey to do it because he was wanted by the authorities. So the good news is that he has cleaned up. April 6 it’ll be a year of sobriety. Thankfully he’s gotten and stayed clean.

Losing fans by making the softer, more mature “Jersey Girl”

Yeah, I figured I was going to lose some of the hardcore 13-, 14-year-old boys who are big Jay and Silent Bob fans. But hopefully the fan base seems wide and varied enough where there are people who are fans of “Chasing Amy” who I’m sure this is more up their alley. And people who like “Dogma.” You know, stuff we’ve done that’s a mixture of comedy and drama. I mean, even people who’ve been around since “Clerks,” hardcore fans who have grown up with us, some have kids. I knew there was a certain section that probably won’t dig it because no one is running around yelling “cock smoker” and “snoogins.” But I felt pretty good about everyone else coming along. People find it very sweet and people are, I guess, connecting with it, not unlike the reactions we had kind of along the lines of “Chasing Amy,” which is kind of nice.

Filming “Jersey Girl”

It wasn’t nearly as fun to make as “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was. That movie was just a constant party to the end. We had a revolving door of cameos coming in and Mewes was at the top of his game and fun to be around and whatnot. So I can’t give it that much. It’s not like it was hell to shoot; it was fine. It was comfortable. It was nice. I got to work with (Ben) Affleck again. I got to meet Liv (Tyler), which was great, and Jennifer (Lopez) was really sweet to be around. I got to work with George (Carlin) again. Vilmos Zsigmond taught me a lot about lighting. I remember after the first day of dailies, Affleck came up and said, “Did you see the dailies dude? For once I actually look good in your movies, not like I was hit in the face with a fucking shovel.” But “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie. So it doesn’t quite take that top honor.

The Script

I started writing this movie for Bill Murray. He didn’t know, but that was the dude I was thinking about when I was writing it. I’d written 50 pages back in 2000 and then we went on to “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” So I hadn’t really given it much thought until 2001 when I was at a barbecue at Affleck’s house and he was bugging me to write another “Chasing Amy,” something that was all about the dialogue, all about the character. So I told him there’s this movie that I started writing a year and a half ago. He read it and loved it and encouraged me to finish it.

“Jersey Girl’s” initial R-rating

They gave an R (rating), based on what we heard, (because of) the sequence with Ben and Liv in the diner. The guy at the MPAA felt like, “I wouldn’t want my 16-year-old girl going to the movies and listening to Liv Tyler talk about masturbation.” He felt uncomfortable with the notion of his daughter sitting there, (and) I don’t even want to get into how weird that is. It’s like, “Dude, your daughter is 16? She’s masturbating!” But once the MPAA gives you a rating you don’t agree with, you ask for an appeal screening. Those dudes overturned it. They gave us a PG-13. Some of the guys that came out after had actually been at the “Clerks” appeal when we got that overturned from an NC-17 to an R. One of the guys was just like, “I just couldn’t see how they wanted us to put this in the same category as ‘Clerks.'”

Smith’s favorite moment on set

Affleck was shooting with one of the infants. He’s kind of apologizing to the kid for being a shitty father up until that point. And he’s talking to the kid, acting with him, and suddenly the kid just projectile vomits all over Ben. You never saw a dude move faster. He didn’t even move that fast when he was wearing fucking tights as Daredevil.

How about getting an Oscar?

First off, I’m never going to make an awards movie. That’s just not going to happen. I don’t have it in me and I don’t really think about it. That shit’s nice to win, but I’m not the kind of guy they give it to. After Dogma I was just kind of like, “Look, that’s about the most original screenplay I think I can write, and if I don’t get recognized for that, then I don’t think I’m going to get recognized for anything.” I’m still too much of a chicken shit at this point to go that direction, to make a movie where I don’t rely on humor at least a little bit.

Getting personal

Well, there’s always degree. With “Clerks,” I did work a convenience store and I hung out with my friend and those were the kind of conversations we had. “Mallrats” – not so much – although when I was a kid I used to bum around the mall a lot. “Chasing Amy” – I never fell in love with a lesbian, but I was the very sexually insecure guy in a relationship with somebody far more experienced than me that Holden is with Alyssa. So that movie was kind of like therapy at a certain point. “Dogma” – I’ve never run from a poop monster or tried to stop two angels from ending the world, but it’s all about my faith. It’s all about growing up Catholic, to some degree. “Jay and Bob” – nothing really personal in that movie, although in a weird way it may be the most personal movie up to that point, just because it touches back on all the other movies we made. It’s kind of a greatest hits of sorts. But “Jersey Girl” is kind of the most personal because it’s really my feelings and thoughts about being a father and how you kind of start to appreciate your own father once you become one, and how important my wife is to me and how much I lean on her in real life. It’s because of Harley (Smith’s daughter) and because of Jen (his wife) and because of my dad that I did it in the first place. Just make the movie you want to make. Chances are, it’s going to be interesting because it’s your voice. Nobody else can tell your story.

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