As Kevin Smith’s heartfelt ‘n’ hilarious Jay and Silent Bob Reboot gets set to hit home release, we caught up with this major genre fave to discuss his latest movie, his decision to revisit the View Askewniverse world of characters, making Reboot a sequel to all of his previous VA pictures, how he reconnected with Ben Affleck, his advice for 21-year-old Kevin Smith, and what lies ahead for Clerks III and Mallrats 2.
STARBURST: Firstly, as fans of the View Askewniverse and its array of characters, thank you for making this movie.
Kevin Smith: Oh my goodness, thank you for watching it. I’ve been on the road with it, on the Reboot road tour. We’ve done New Jersey, Chicago, Detroit, Grand Rapids. Every audience is full of hardcore fans. It’s not just a movie crowd going, “Hey, what’s playing this week?” It’s people who grew up with these movies, who know the dialogue and the characters. Watching it with them every night, it’s like being basked in absolute adulation. It’s so lovely. The movie is made for that audience. Chiefly, it’s made for me, as I’m the biggest Kevin Smith fan. But if you’re a Kevin Smith fan, this movie is made for you. It’s a dream come true for me.
The last time we saw this world in live-action was back in 2006 with Clerks II, so how long has this film been gestating for?
It’s something we’ve been trying to do for three years as Reboot, but technically this goes back five years to when I was trying to make Clerks III. Then that didn’t happen, so I was just, “Wait, we’re gonna make Mallrats 2.” When that didn’t happen, I was a little frustrated so just thought, “Why don’t we work smarter not harder?” We own Jay and Silent Bob, me and Jay, and we want to do it, so let’s pursue Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. And in that, I started doing sequels to everything else. I felt like it was the only View Askew movie I was going to get to make, so I put a Clerks sequel in there, I put a Mallrats sequel in there, a Chasing Amy sequel in there, and a Dogma sequel in there. For me, it was like, “Let me take the best parts of the two projects that I couldn’t make happen, throw them into this as starter courses, and see what comes of it.” Jason Mewes being a dad, that really put us on the right track. He’s been a dad for about four and a half years, and he’s this amazing father. You wouldn’t think it, because he’s this guy you wouldn’t trust with a carton of eggs, let alone a human being, let alone one that’s tiny and fragile. He turns out to be the greatest dad I’ve ever seen, including myself in the equation, including my father.
I was a parent who was like, “Don’t fall off that, you’re going to get hurt.” I was protecting the kid, keeping her out of harm’s way. Jason has a relationship with the kid where they relate to one another. It’s weird because he’s 45 and she’s four, but it’s this really beautiful dynamic. As I watched it, I was, “Go figure. The guy turns out to be the most adept at nurturing. Imagine what his character would be like. If Jason’s a great dad, what would Jay be like?” I started thinking in that direction, but it was, “I’m not going to give him a child, but giving him a long-lost daughter with Justice from the first movie…” It just started to click. We were making a comedy equal to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and the premise I would tell anyone was, “This is movie that makes fun of reboots, remakes, and sequels, while being all three at the same time. This is literally the same movie all over again.” Secretly, we were building a real movie. It starts off exactly like Strike Back and gets us on the road, and then about 25 minutes in we show our hand – and the real story is here’s this dude who finds out he’s got this long-lost daughter.
For those maybe expecting plenty of chuckles – of which there are many – there’s also a strong sense of poignancy to the picture, too.
It’s funny throughout, but it takes on these weird, touching moments. Not that we’ve not got nostalgia all over the place - so if you’re aching for the ‘90s, you’re well serviced by this movie - but at the same time all of us are getting older. I’m 49, I’ve had a family. Most of the people who like this stuff have kinda grown up with me and can identify, because they’ve got kids, too. So suddenly this storyline is more affecting than just, “We’re doing the same movie”.
Post-heart attack, it took on an even bigger significance. When the doctor was like, “You have an 80% chance of dying tonight.” I was laying there and examining my life, and I was happy, I was content. I was, “Well, if it ends tonight it’s my fault because I used to drink two gallons of milk a day, so fuck me.” I’d had a great life, a great wife, a great kid, great parents, great friends. To me, it was just, “If it ends, it ends. Be grateful and graceful.” In that pool of zen, suddenly I was hit by the only regret that I had as I shuffled towards the grave – which was, “If I die tonight, Yoga Hosers is the last movie I ever make!” Suddenly, I had to live. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was so close, and I was, “Man, that would be the one to go out on, because that really encapsulates my entire career.” The doc saved me, thank the Lord, and I went to work double-time on a) getting Reboot made, but b) making it even more substantial. I was like, “Look, my dad had two heart attacks. The first put him on warning, and the second one took him out.” I apparently have my dad’s heart, but my mom’s heart has got a bunch of stents in it as well. So I could change my life and eating habits and my health and lifestyle, which I did when I went vegan and lost a bunch of weight, but at the end of the day I’m at the mercy of genetics.
There’s a part of me that’s thinking if my dad had two and the second one took him out, then if I had another one then maybe it’s the second one that takes me out. I want to have something that I leave behind that’s, “This is what I thought about all of it. Life, movies, being a person. This is the stuff that mattered to me.” I kept referring to the movie as, “This is one big cinematic gravestone.” To me, it’s “Here lies Kevin Smith. This is what he did.” The movie really encapsulated this. I’m done with it and I love it to death, but I haven’t died yet, which really fucks with the plan. Now, everything I do I have to pour in this like, “Well this could be the last thing now! It has to mean something!” I’m working on Masters of the Universe for Netflix, and people are like, “Bro, it’s Skeletor. It can’t mean that much,” and I’m just, “No, it has to say something about who I am!!!”
The movie’s taken that dimension as well, post-heart attack. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I’ve just flat-out ripped off the sleeve and just put the heart on my arm. The movie’s just one giant, beating heart, while still being this dirty little movie. It has one of my favourite cum jokes that I’ve ever made in my entire life, the one that Jay makes in the third act. You should see it play with an audience – it’s religious, dude! Every night I watch it with the audience, I feel so clever. I’m like, “Oh, all the stuff I wrote years ago, it turns out it worked.” Then I feel clever because I designed this tour, so that I get to go and watch this movie with an audience that loves it, who it was made for, 63 dates in a row. Sometimes there’s three shows a night, sometimes it’s one show a night. And I watch it! It’s not even like I watch 10 minutes then go outside to smoke. I love watching it with the audience. This is what it’s all about for me. As a filmmaker, you dream about putting the movie up on the silver screen like the movies you saw when you were a kid. If you’re the Avengers, you get a month at the box office. If you’re Kevin Smith, you barely get a weekend. You get a day before it all collapses and falls apart, because I don’t appeal to a mainstream audience. Early in my career, I’d watch the box office on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That’s how we spent opening weekend, rather than, “Holy shit, we did it! We made a fucking movie, we did something very few people in this world will ever do!” Instead, we were always focussed on how much the movie made, who was going, how we could get more people to go. This part of the process, developing the approach of “I’m just going to take it out myself…” anybody could do this. [David] Fincher could do it, Spike Lee could do it, Quentin [Tarantino] could do it. Quentin kinda did do it when he toured The Hateful Eight. You just have to be willing to spend the time doing it. For me, making the movie is great, but enjoying the movie with the audience? That’s why I made it! I want to be in the room and hear them react and see whether I got things right and whether it worked. I jerry-rigged the system for myself. Now that we’re living in that model, it’s so gratifying to me as I don’t have an opening weekend anymore and I don’t have that one day. I got 62 days where every time I walk in that theatre I feel fantastic. The dream literally comes true. It used to be, “Oh man, theatrical fell apart. I hope home video works.” Home video would work out for us, but this, doing it this way, I have loved it. It’s a little frustrating for some people who just want to go and watch it in a movie theatre, but we’ve tried to tailor it that way so that wherever we tour the movie, the movie then opens behind us.
You’ve toured several of your movies now, but did this one feel a little more personal due to how it was a return to a world that people have been invested in for over two decades?
The aim here – and it’s nice to make money, don’t get me wrong – is to just sit here and enjoy this movie with everybody. Again, I’m the world’s biggest Kevin Smith fan, but being in a room of other Kevin Smith fans, I’m right there with them. When they laugh at every old reference, I’m just, “Right?!” I was hoping that if I just referenced the C.L.I.T. terrorist organisation from Strike Back that it would get a massive reaction!” If you just took this movie and put it in a normal theatre, it’s not the same experience. These screenings that we do are distinctly in my favour, the tables are titled, and I get to enjoy it. Every night so far, it’s been 1,500 people who were there for me from 1994 and they come out. It’s so beautiful and cathartic and fun. I sit there going, “Why would I ever do it any other way?” Jordan, who runs our company, who’s married to Jason, is just, “Look, next movie we’re not doing this tour stuff. Let’s get it to a place where they release it like they release other movies.” I’m just, “You don’t get it. I’ve been doing this for 25 years now. I don’t wanna do it that way, it’s fucking wasteful.” It’s one thing to spend millions of dollars, but then to spend double whatever you spend to just sell the movie to people and let them know it’s coming… we’ve got social media, man! Anybody that gives a fuck about Kevin Smith will find out about it from Kevin Smith, and that way we don’t have to spend that money. I love it, because it feels good and the movie works. Even when we toured Yoga Hosers, it was fun, but it didn’t work like gangbusters like this one does. And it spoils me to the point of, “Well, maybe this is the way that I want to do it forever.”
I love this world and model. For me, it’s insanely gratifying. It’s also economical. We haven’t spent anything in marketing, which means the money that comes in is real money. It’s fun, and it puts me at ground level with the folks – which is what I’m in it for, man. I don’t do this so that I can sit in Hollywood and hear from somebody how the movie did. I make these things for the same reason I did in the beginning. I just want to share it with people and hear what they think. Whether you like it or not, it’s all about expression. For a while, the movie business often became about the business. Now I look to square away the business right away so we can just concentrate on the self-expression and the joy, man.
Clearly Reboot relies on a level of nostalgia initially, but how was it for you to balance that nostalgia and the greatest hits element whilst also allowing this fresh story to breathe?
It’s weird, because when I watch the movie I’m like, “It’s not really a reboot, it’s not a remake, it’s not a sequel. It’s a requel!” We’re following up on breadcrumbs and storylines that were established years ago, and adding another generation. It’s very much the J.J. Abrams Star Wars reboot, where it’s, “Hey, here’s your legacy cast, but then here’s your new kids.” Finding the balance was tricky, and I was always scared of the new kid. I knew anyone coming to Jay and Silent Bob anything know what to expect, but then you’re going to introduce them to the next generation. When I made Yoga Hosers with Harley [Quinn Smith], some cats were really shitty about it. Then I was worried on some level that there’d be backlash towards Harley about this, so I was cautious about how to balance it out, how much old stuff to include in there, and how much new stuff to include. As I watch the movie with people, every night there’s still this moment like a trapeze act – where I’m waiting to swing from one bar to the next, and there’s this moment between bars where I’m like, “I could fucking fall and faceplant! This whole thing could die!” Really, I just got lucky with the blend, man. I did ten drafts of the script. This script was my best friend for three years. Whenever I was sad, lonely, happy, looking for something to do, bored, I would always turn to the script. It was like, “You know what, I’m gonna dive back into Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and maybe tighten the screws, maybe add a few more parts.” For a goofy-ass movie, it had the benefit of me drafting draft after draft. Even right up until production, the Ben [Affleck] scene didn’t come into the movie until way late. I didn’t include that in the first draft because I hadn’t spoken to Affleck in almost a decade – so I wasn’t going to presume to put him into the flick. That whole scene, the Holden and Chasing Amy 2 scene, was written in the last week of production of the movie and shot on the absolute last day. It was not a part of proceedings when we got started, and never in the back of my mind was I, “Man, I hope Ben decides to make the movie.”
Given the significance of Ben’s presence in the film, it’s nearly impossible to think of the movie without that scene being included.
We were making the movie without Ben, and when you think about the movie and you think about that scene, you’re just like, “What would’ve been the fucking point without that scene?” That scene really sums everything up. Like any good situation or any good thing that’s ever happened to me, so much of it just contained luck and timing. The luck of Ben being interviewed about Triple Frontier, the movie on Netflix, and Kevin McCarthy was interviewing him and said, “Hey, have they called you about Reboot yet,” and Ben saying, “No, they haven’t. And I’m not busy.” That started the spark. Jason was like, “You have to reach out to him,” and I was just, “You’re out of your mind. He didn’t mean it, that’s just some shit you say at the junket. What’s he supposed to say - fuck Kevin Smith?” So I didn’t call him, I didn’t reach out. Jason and Jordan [Monsanto – SModCo executive and Jason’s wife] kept bugging me about it and going, “It might be a coded message, man. He might be wanting to reach out to you.” Finally I thought, “You know what? I’ll shut you guys up, I’ll fucking Tweet him.” Jordan said not to Tweet him as it was so fucking impersonal, and that I should text him. I text him saying, “This you?”, and he said, “This me, who’s this?” and I said, “Who you?”, he was just like, “I’m BA, I’m your father.” Right there, I knew it was him as that’s the type of shit we’d say, so he asked who I was. I text back, “The conversation might end right now, KS.” Then he writes back, “Kevin?” and I was just, “Yeah.” It just started this thing with, “Hey man, how are you? We’re having a blast from the past down in New Orleans making Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and we wish you were here. Since the heart attack, I don’t wish anymore, I just ask. So will you come and play with us? It would be amazing, we would have such a good time, and I quote the good king Osric from Conan the Barbarian when I say, ‘There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, the gold loses its lustre, the throne room becomes a prison, and all an old director wants is to make pretend with his old friend’.”
I waited for a response, which didn’t come for five minutes, and I thought my stoner heart on my sleeve had scared him off. Then he wrote the most Ben thing I could imagine when he replied, “It’s so telling that you still think of yourself as the king.” Happy accidents like that, man. If Kevin McCarthy doesn’t ask that question, that doesn’t happen. That scene in the script is represented by a one-line moment where Jay and Bob are running around ChronicCon, and Jay looks over and sees a dad dressed like Silent Bob putting a lanyard around the neck of a little girl dressed like Jay. Jay would’ve looked at Silent Bob and said, “I haven’t been there for Milly her whole life, Silent Bob.” Because we got lucky, I got an eight-page scene where I got to sequalise Chasing Amy. I got to write a one-page monologue for Ben that he knocked out of the park. We get to make Batman/Bruce Wayne jokes, for heaven’s sake, and he gets to deadpan at the camera about Martha. All of this was a gift. None of it planned, nothing to do with creative genius, it was all luck and fucking timing, man. That’s the magic of the movies, that’s the one ingredient you can’t plan for.
These days, Kevin Smith is a filmmaker who’s been doing this for 25 years, who’s got 13 full features under his belt, has written comics for Batman, Green Arrow, Spider-Man, Daredevil, who’s the healthiest he’s ever been, who got to become friends with Stan Lee, who for better or worse got to work with Bruce Willis, and who saw Ben Affleck become Batman. What advice would this Kevin give to the Kevin who made Clerks in 1994?
Wow, what a great question. I don’t know if I have advice for that kid. I’m gonna get emotional. I don’t think I’ve got advice for that kid. I would love to go back and thank him. It was just so uncharacteristic of him to be like, “I’m gonna make a movie.” It was the weirdest fucking decision of that kid’s life. I grew up with that kid, I know exactly who he is, and everything leading up to that moment did not point to that. So in a completely uncharacteristic moment, that 21-year-old kid made a decision that made the rest of my life so much fucking better. I get to be Kevin Smith. To some people, it’s like, “Why’s that cool?” It really works out for me. It’s been absolutely amazing. When people meet you, they meet a friend. I’ve seen people where their face lights up when they meet you. It’s not like, “Oh, look at this piece of shit I’ve gotta deal with.” No, they’re happy to see you. And all that happened because that kid made a choice, because that kid was like, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” And he couldn’t. He didn’t have the wherewithal, he didn’t have the experience. I don’t know how the fuck he pulled it off, except that he was surrounded by friends who were like, “Alright, let’s give it a shot.” So if I could go back in time, I would thank the shit out of that kid. I’d be, “You have no idea how fucking brave you are. It’s going to change everything. It’s going to change your family. You’re going to have a kid because of this stupid fucking decision you made. One day, you’re going to put your hands in the cement at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood because of the decision that you made. So thanks, motherfucker.” Believe me, I got no advice for that kid. That kid knew exactly what he was doing in that moment of time. I could use some fucking advice from him, I can tell you that much.
To circle back to Reboot as we wrap up, Reboot is a perfect ending for this universe but you’ve got Clerks III now announced. What can we expect from that, and are there still any plans for a Mallrats sequel?
The good folks at Universal, who were the other half of this equation with Saban Films, thanks to them we had money to make the movie. I think they were very brave to actually throw in, and there was a lot of sentimentality as to why they liked Jay and Silent Bob. There was no real reason for this movie to be made – it’s not like this is a Fast & Furious movie that’s going to print money. This one was made by the skin of our teeth, and the folks at Universal are a big part of that. So they were like, “What do you wanna do next?” I was just, “Well, I wanted to do Mallrats 2, and that’s how we got to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. You guys have Mallrats. If we could do that, it’d be amazing if Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was the doorway to the two movies that we couldn’t make before that led to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.” It would reverse engineer the process. They just asked me to do a two-pager, so it looks like we could be doing Mallrats 2. Then two weeks after that, I met with Jeff Anderson to talk about making Clerks III. I told him that we wouldn’t do the old script that we were gonna do, because it was just too morbid. I’ve got this new idea that I wanna do, and I need Jeff, I can’t do this without him.
I saw the Michelle Williams speech where she won an Emmy recently, and she talked about how she won her award because she could do her job because she was not worried about being paid less. And payment was a big part of what went wrong with Clerks III. So I told Jeff, “Look man, we will find the number that makes you feel comfortable, validated, and what makes you feel like you can just step onto the set and do the magic that you do.” It went very well, and he asked me about the story. I told him, “The story of Clerks III is Randall has a heart attack at the top of the movie. In recovery, he tells Dante about how he has nothing to show for his life. He has no spouse, he has no kids, he has nothing. All he did was sit around and watch people’s movies his entire life, and now there’s not much life left. Goddammit, I’m gonna make a movie about my life.” So he recruits Dante, and Randall and Dante make the story of his life. Essentially, they make Clerks but it’s called Inconvenience. We bring everything right back to the beginning, and I get to tell all the stories of the making of Clerks, of the true characters who made it possible. I’ll be honest with you, this is the one I’m actually going to try to win an award with. You can’t plan for that sort of thing, but it’s a really strong, wonderful script. I feel like, “Alright, it’s been a while since I’ve ever shown interest in getting validated by my peers and stuff, but I feel like this one could be it.” I feel like this could be the script that gets a few nods or something like that, so I’m amped to do it. It’s weird, because I haven’t cared about that shit for so fucking long. I love the story so much. Maybe if you love it as much as you do, you should put some more skin in the game. Never mind protecting yourself, just put yourself out there, man. Clerks was a movie that won a couple of awards when I started my career. I ain’t gonna win those awards anymore because those awards were more, “Hey, where’d this guy come from?!” I’ve got 25 years of experience now, so maybe there’s a way for me to win an award like my other peers do. I guess it’s a weird way of saying I’m gonna try really hard with Clerks III.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is released on Blu-ray and DVD January 20th – and you can find our review of the movie here.
An abridged version of this interview appeared in STARBURST Magazine #467 to mark Kevin’s UK tour of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.