Interview with Kevin Smith aka Silent Bob
For fans of Silent Bob out there, find below an interview with the actor behind the character – you won’t find this in many locations ;)
WARNING! Some swearing ahead!
Talking on the phone to ‘Silent Bob’ (the cult character he plays in many of his movies) might seen like a doomed venture, but as many of you will know, Smith is far from quiet. Indeed, he makes some great noises throughout, as he has the hiccoughs (yes, I spell it the proper old-fashioned way), and apparently that makes him yawn too. Takes all sorts.
The reason for this chat is My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith, essentially a compilation of blog posts from his own message boards. It’s out now, and is a pretty interesting read. To be honest, there were a lot of insights into the fella that I wasn’t expecting.
Kevin Smith: Really?
Tom Mayo: Yeah. I must admit, I hadn’t been following the posts on your boards, so it was all new to me. It’s a big chunk of your life!
KS: It’s almost two years, man. It starts off in the diary format and switches to more of an essay format, but it covers a lot of ground. I have no interest in reading it right now, but I do want to read it in like ten or fifteen years.
TM: It’s like a little time capsule?
KS: Yeah, that’s kind of how I got into it in the first place – when somebody asked on the board ‘What do you do every day?’, and I wrote down everything I did. I was like ‘This would be great to read years from now’.
TM: You certainly come across as a man of contrasts. You seem to represent both sides of many coins, so to speak. The potty-mouthed slacker hero, on one hand, and the devoted family man on the other. The moviemaker, and the genuine movie fan.
KS: Yeah, I’m kind of an enthusiast. In fact, it would be tough to pick one if somebody was like ‘You could only do one for the rest of your life’ because I enjoy watching as much, if not more, than making flicks.
TM: You are also quite the hardcore geek hero, yet you have a big soft spot for slushy romantic movies.
KS: Yeah, I am kind of a romantic comedy geek. I’m the kind of guy that will pop in Somewhere In Time with Christopher Reeve, and have the wife kind of look at me like ‘Really, are you serious?’. I do flicks like that as well.
TM: It’s a secret shame of mine, but I love films like Step Up.
KS: Oh, that’s the cutting edge, stuff like that, where you’re like ‘Wow man, that’s totally watchable!’
TM: It’s like ‘That was really entertaining but I can never tell my geek friends…’
KS: Well, there’s something nice and comfortable about knowing where it’s eventually going to wind up. You know, I don’t think any of those flicks would make the top ten if I had one, but man, they’re totally watchable. If somebody gave you a choice between roast turkey and mashed potatoes or, you know, a Big Mac… sometimes you just want a Big Mac.
TM: Sister Act II: Back in the Habit gets me every time.
KS: Right [laughs].
TM: Maybe I should stop right there. [KS laughs]. You’ve got a life I’m sure many would envy. Fantastic wife and family, movie star mates, you make a good living doing what you love, and yet despite all this there are definite moments of self-doubt and scathing self-deprecation in the book. Will you ever shake that off, do you think?
KS: No, I think that will always be there, and it comes with the territory of limited training, for one. You know, I spent four months in film school and it wasn’t even an accredited film school programme. It was more of a hit and run type programme. There was no degree for it. And then the first flick we make, straight out the gate gets picked up, and suddenly I go from being a guy who wants to make films to having a career in film.
So I think there will always be that kind of self-doubt in the sense of ‘maybe I didn’t deserve this’ and, you know, I fully acknowledge that Clerks getting picked up was more luck and timing than talent. But you know, it’s like even beyond the first flick, you think maybe they’re just being nice and you know, continuing to fund my bullshit. So yeah, there will always be kind of insecurity and self-doubt, which is a toxic relationship inasmuch as the web is concerned because God, those people love to attack your insecurity and self-doubt all the time.
TM: Speaking of which, during the course of my research I came across a forum thread about one of your upcoming projects, in which you actually joined in and responded to criticism. That’s so rare to see from a filmmaker.
KS: I used to do it a lot more because I used to get in there and defend myself, and now I tend to only jump in if there’s factually inaccurate information. Like if somebody is expressing an opinion, you know, if they’re just like ‘he sucks and all his movies suck’, there’s not much I can say to that because film viewing is so subjective, and taste in film is so subjective. But if somebody prints, or you know, posts inaccurate information, whether intentionally or not, that’s when I tend to jump in and kind of drop the real information.
TM: Do you ever regret getting involved in any of these flame wars?
KS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, almost all of them. You know, it’s the whole ‘who is the tallest midget?’ thing. You are still working in high deficit, no matter who you are taller than.
So it’s in the moment, and you get to save the rage, so to speak, but then afterwards you’re just like ‘why did I do that?’ It’s like getting laid for the sake of getting laid, you know, where you’re just like you f*ck somebody that you really have no interest in f*cking just because you want to get it off, and afterwards you’re just like ‘I really should have just jerked off’.
TM: [laughs] Yeah, hindsight is 20/20.
KS: Very much so.
TM: Well, that’s another thing about the blog/book I guess. I mean, reading it, at times I felt like a dirty pervert. [KS laughs]
KS: You feel that way because I’m complicit, like maybe if you were reading my diary that you stole out of my home library…
TM: Well, I do that too. (Luckily he didn’t hear that bit.)
KS: Putting it up here, you know, really the dirty pervert is me.
TM: Well, I do feel like I know things about your wife that I really shouldn’t know.
KS: Right. I’m sure she feels the same way.
TM: [laughs] How much say did she have in what went in and what got cut out?
KS: Mercifully she never reads the blog. I think she’s taken this position of, you know, ‘if I’m not looking then I won’t know that there’s stuff that I might object to.’
TM: What she doesn’t know doesn’t hurt her.
KS: Yeah, exactly. So she tends to not read them unless I specifically point her to a blog. But she’s not my biggest fan by any stretch of the imagination because of what I do professionally. She seems to like me an awful lot as a person, but like as a filmmaker and, you know, as a blogger and as a – for lack of a better description – a personality, she’s just not really into it.
She’ll go to a Q&A of mine and kind of be there for the intro, but then kind of go f*ck off and meet up with other people, you know, from the website. She won’t sit through the Q&A’s anymore. She’s like ‘I’ve heard it all, and in most cases I’ve lived through the stories with you, so why do I want to hear you retell it?’ I think she was like the eighth person to read Zack and Miri (Smith’s latest movie, Zack And Miri Make A Porno), even though, you know, I share a bed with the woman. She didn’t get around to reading it right away. She still hasn’t read Red State, which I’ve been done with for like, I don’t know, a month, two months now.
TM: Ah yes, Red State, the horror film. As a little aside, I’m curious to hear your views on the recent horror trend of ‘rorture porn’. I’ve interviewed Eli Ross and he’s a really clever, charismatic, passionate film fan who is making the films he wants to see. But sometimes I feel like his movies don’t quite match up to what he sees in his own head.
KS: I’ve seen Hostel, but I didn’t see Hostel II. I thought it was a good idea in terms of xenophobia, like total paranoia or fear of foreigners or a foreign country. But in terms of the torture porn aspects of it, you know, I don’t need a lot of blood to scare me, because at this point I’m so inured to it by growing up, you know, watching movies over the last 37 years, that cinematic blood doesn’t really frighten me. I mean, the shit that scares me is shit that is unsettling, like Rosemary’s Baby. That still works to this day.
TM: And The Shining.
KS: And The Shining, absolutely. Those two little girls in The Shining, you know, not even the image of the mom butchered, but just like just turning that corner and seeing those creepy twin girls, I think it’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen on film. It still kind of bugs me to this day.
TM: Back to your early days, apparently you sold quite a lot of your comic collection to finance Clerks.
KS: Yeah, I sold off my collection. I’d done an appraisal, and even a kind appraisal, not over-pricing shit, came to about $10,000 worth of comics. I sold it for $2,000 worth of store credit, which doesn’t really help you finance a flick, but I was able to sell my store credit off to my friend at a discount. So if he’d buy $100 worth of stuff, he’d give me $80 and that money I would put toward my credit card minimums, to payments.
TM: So did you get your stash back?
KS: Afterwards, I started recollecting, and then around ‘96 I stopped collecting and bagging and boarding. David Lapham, the guy who does a book called Stray Bullets, came to visit the Chasing Amy set and he gave me a run of his book, and I was like ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to bag and board this as quickly as possible!’ He was like ‘Don’t do that. They’re meant to be read. Don’t fetishise them.’ From that point forward I was kind of like ‘hey, you’re right’, and I stopped buying for collection and more buying just to read. And then, you know, later on down the road I got my own comicbook store, and that was like buying an instant massive collection.
TM: [laughs] That will do the trick, won’t it?
TM: I’ve got a sizable book collection, but I’ll just bash the crap out of them when I’m reading them.
KS: Totally, yeah. Like people come up to me with dog-eared copies of the screenplay books or Silent Bob Speaks [his first book] and I always enjoy that more than the people that come up with pristine copies.
TM: You get people who open it a fraction of an inch and try and read down, like looking at sort of a weird perspective just so they don’t crease the spine.
KS: As a comic guy for years, it’s like even if I bought a trade paperback or something, you’re trying to read it, you know, at a kind of 12 degree angle [TM laughs] without fully opening the book.
TM: It could reduce the value by thirty cents or something.
KS: [chuckles] Exactly.
TM: Have you ever considered creating a superhero, not part of like the ‘viewaskewniverse’ [View Askew being Smith’s company] but something entirely new?
KS: Yeah, I mean, not so much for print, but I know there is this movie we’ve talked about doing for a few years called Ranger Danger that we’ll eventually get to. You know, it’s definitely a little more tongue in cheek. It’s not strictly sci-fi. I mean, it’s very sci-fi oriented, but it’s more humorously done. But I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about kind of creating my own superhero from the ground up. I like playing in the DC and Marvel sandboxes because all the heavy lifting has been done for you already inasmuch as the character has been created and there’s tons of back story to work with. And every once in a while introducing a new villain is kind of fun, but I’ve never thought like ‘I know, I’ve got this dude that the world has never seen before!’
TM: I guess in one sense that it’s difficult to think of anything that hasn’t been done before in the world of superheroes as well.
KS: It’s true, and it’s like what was the last great comic book character to come down the pipe. I mean, it’s a matter of taste, I guess. Some people would say like Gambit, but you know, I guess for me it’s either like The Punisher or Electra, the last creations where I was like wow, you know, I can’t believe these characters didn’t exist before. It’s tough to find a come book character or superhero that’s been created in the last ten years that kind of blows your doors off that isn’t some variation of what’s gone before.
TM: And they’re running out of decent names.
KS: [coughs] They would have to, right? You can’t just put something in front of ‘man’ anymore.
TM: Yeah, like blue lightning, black lightning, yellow lightning…
KS: Right [chuckles]. When I did Green Arrow, I went with Onomatopoeia for a villain, just because I loved that word, and it kind of formed the character inasmuch as he would say sounds out loud. It only kind of works – I think – on a comic book page because if you have a gun going off, they usually write BLAM! and then you can have, you know, the character saying “BLAM!” in a word balloon, but like if you tried to do that cinematically you can’t really rock it. A gun in a film sounds completely different. It doesn’t read as BLAM! and so to have a dude say BLAM! after a true gunshot, all these people would be like ‘he’s just retarded’. [TM laughs]. I think it works great in print and on a comic book page. I don’t think that character would translate very well outside of that.
TM: Yeah, that’s fair enough. Now, do you think that indie credibility and making a lot of money in the box office are mutually incompatible?
KS: I don’t think so. I mean, Chris Nolan, I would imagine will have indie credibility till the day he dies based on Memento, but he’s also had substantial box office success with stuff like Batman Begins and The Prestige and Insomnia. So, you know, this dude has it both ways. The same thing with Robert Rodriguez, you know, he’ll always have his indie cred from El Mariachi, but has certainly had box office success with, you know, Sin City and The Spy Kids movies. Richard Linklater to a lesser degree. I mean, he’s got infinite indie credibility based on Slacker and Dazed and Confused, but you know, also has box office clout with School of Rock. So I think the two can mutually co-exist. Steve Soderbergh is another great example. You know, the dude goes from Sex, Lies and Videotape to, like, ten years in chains later doing all the Ocean’s movies. So, I think the two can happily co-exist, I’ve just never found that formula for myself [KS laughs].
It’s also kind of weird because I’m in this bizarre netherworld where, you know, they still refer to me as ‘indie filmmaker Kevin Smith’, and it’s really not true. I’m more of a cult filmmaker than anything else. The only flick I’ve ever made that’s been truly indie was Clerks. Everything else was paid for by the studio.
TM: I think sometimes people get a little confused about the definitions they’re using.
KS: Totally, and it’s also just like I think a lot of journalists tend to be lazy inasmuch as they look up what somebody else has called you last and they’ll just go with that.
TM: It’s self-perpetuating.
KS: Very much so. I mean, I think I have been at times guilty myself, like I’ve done so many interviews where I’ll take shots at my visual style and be like ‘yeah, not really visual style, oh, I’m not a really good director’, and because I’ve said it enough, [chuckles] people just start writing it, even without thinking about it. I thought the last two movies that we made looked pretty good. Like, you know, definitely really good for me but pretty good in general compared to stuff that other people have done, and yet I’ll still read like ‘oh, his movies look flat, they look like shit.’ I think it’s because I’ve said that for so long that it’s just become the norm.
TM: Yeah, I was interviewing Lloyd Kauffman recently. Well, not so recently. Do you know Lloyd Kauffman?
KS: Yeah, totally.
TM: Of course you do, sorry. He is obviously a very, very passionate advocate of indie filmmaking, and he got quite worked up, you know, he was talking a lot on tape about for example I think was it the Warner Brothers independent label?
KS: Yeah, WP or whatever.
TM: Yeah, and he’s like ‘that’s not independent’.
KS: I agree.
TM: That’s a Warner Brothers independent, which doesn’t count.
KS: It’s more of a boutique label, you know, like going as far back… Even Miramax. Once it was bought by Disney, they were no longer indie filmmakers. You know, that was Disney’s art house label. But part of that, they were kind of the lifeblood of indie cinema in terms of the big guns in independent distribution, but that went away when they were bought.
TM: Yeah, exactly.
KS: Just making classier films that aren’t necessarily meant for the mainstream.
TM: It’s kind of like they’re just adopting the indie persona…
KS: The formula that [Miramax boss] Harvey Weinstein created, which is to take offbeat cinema, alternative cinema, art house cinema, and bring it to the mainstream, you know, put some famous people in it and get it into multiplexes. And once the studios figured out how to do that, they started doing it with regularity, opening up their own boutique arms to do so. So, you know, calling them independent is a f*cking joke.
TM: As soon as there’s a market that’s clearly profitable in some way…
KS: Totally, and also, it’s just a label that kind of fits because nobody else wants to bother doing all the work. It’s like rock and roll. You know, when you look under rock and roll, you see so many different bands where you’re like ‘I don’t think that’s rock and roll at all’, but it’s a catch all, and that’s kind of what indie film is as well. It’s a catch all for anything that’s not, you know, mainstream driven, anything that’s not ‘let’s open it on 3,000 screens!’
TM: Yeah, if it’s not Harry Potter or James Bond it must be indie.
TM: Which is quite a large category.
KS: Very big category.
TM: Here in the UK, we at SCI FI had the exclusive premiere of Heroes…
KS: I bet that worked out well for you guys, right?
TM: You could say that!
KS: Did it do well over there as well?
TM: Yeah, huge, huge. It was the highest-rated programme in our 12 year history.
TM: Anyway, this segues into Heroes: Origins, in which you’ve been involved. Can you tell us a bit about that?
KS: Yeah, a guy called, Jeph Loeb, who is one of the producers over there, and I know him a little bit from the comics world as well. But they said, you know, we’re doing this series, it’s kind of a spin-off, but not really, because a spin-off is traditionally where you take a character, or a few characters from one show, and use those characters to launch another show.
They said ‘what we’re doing with this Heroes Origins thing is we want to basically create a series that is tangentially connected to the parent series, to Heroes, but we can’t let you use any of the characters because we need those characters on the main show.’ It came about, I guess, from practical reasons. When the first season of Heroes went on a brief hiatus for about a month so they could do catch-up work – in order to keep the fresh episodes coming uninterrupted with no repeats – I guess they lost a bit of their audience when they came back to air a month later.
So they said, you know, we’re going to run into the same problem next season when we come to a hiatus point. So, rather than put repeats of season two on for that month that they predict that they’ll be down, they said well, let’s create new content, but let’s do it outside of what we do on the show all the time because that way we can concentrate on what we’re doing and keep the episodes rolling, and this will fill the gap, rather than running a different show in that timeslot, or just running Heroes repeats.
So, it was kind of a creative way to answer a kind of commercial question, which was like how do we keep people involved with the show and not risk losing people when we go away for a few weeks? So Tim and Jeph, and Jess, who works on the show, came up with this idea:let’s do a show that’s kind of like tangentially connected inasmuch as it’s in our universe but won’t feature any of the characters, and give them to people that don’t normally work on the show, or maybe go to some movie people.
I’m pretty sure I was the first person they went to, I would say maybe the first person they announced at ComiCon this year, and I had just gotten into the show pretty hardcore. I didn’t watch it from its first airing. I think it was probably like right after the show concluded, right after its season finale that I downloaded all the episodes from iTunes because I have an Apple TV. So I hooked it up, and me and the wife started watching it, and kind of fell in love with it. We just kept going with it, one episode after the other, and watched the entire season one over the course of three or four days. So then when they called me I was like ‘I’m so in!’, that sounds fun to me, especially because they were like ‘you get to write and direct it.’
Basically you get to play in the sandbox and we’re not going to give you a script to direct, you’re going to come up with your own script and kind of go nuts with it. And, you know, if the ideas of any of these characters from these Heroes Origins episodes work, they’ll weave them into the main show next year.
TM: It’s almost like a mini competition between a bunch of filmmakers.
KS: A little bit, and it’s also like kind of getting to do a few issues of a comic book. That’s why it was kind of a no-brainer because, you know, I’ve done something like this when I went and wrote for Daredevil or wrote for Spider-Man or wrote for Green Arrow, where you’re playing in somebody else’s sandbox. The only difference is that would be like doing Green Arrow without being able to use Green Arrow. So you’ll be more creative I guess, and also what’s nice about it for me is it exorcises any demons I had about not doing the Green Hornet [movie], because this is a way to do a comic book movie without doing a comic book movie.
KS: You’re not going out blindly hoping that people see it – there is a pretty high tune-in on Heroes, so you know there’s an audience that’s going to show up.
TM: Another interesting aspect of the book is your description of your time on Susannah Grant’s Catch & Release; your first major acting role.
TM: I didn’t really know what to expect, I went in fairly neutral, and I thought you were actually very good.
KS: Thank you, sir. Yeah, I was kind of happy with what I did, but to be fair, you know, it wasn’t very far removed from who I am in real life. To me, good actors are people like – in that movie – Tim [Olyphant] and Jennifer [Garner], because they can take the words that are in the script that Susannah wrote and perform them in such a way, without changing them, that they sound fresh and they sound like they’re coming off the top of their head. I couldn’t do that. I would take the script and I just couldn’t do the lines as written. They just sounded kind of stilted and bad coming out of my mouth. So Susannah was nice about letting me colloquialise my stuff and put into my own patois, and it winds up sounding more natural because it’s just the way I would have said it as opposed to reciting the words that were on the page. So I have a hard time considering it a true acting performance because I cheated a little bit, you know.
TM: Nevertheless, you were convincing and funny, and I think improvising and being able to kind of personalise the script in that way is a skill in itself.
KS: It’s also kind of the easy part, like in terms of here’s a guy who has got all the funny stuff in a movie where everyone else is in pain [TM laughs]. So you are the comic relief, and it’s kind of like if you’d handed me Tim’s role, it would be a whole different story [laughs], where people would be like ‘first off, I don’t buy Jennifer Garner would f*ck that dude. Second off, he’s just not a romantic leading man.’ But being the funny fat guy is just kind of… that came natural.
TM: Your self-deprecation coming into play once more, clearly.
KS: Right. It’s always tough for me to take a compliment.
TM: I guess it’s the same with everyone. But, you know, I’ve seen your wife and she’s on a par with Jennifer Garner, surely?
KS: Yeah. But that’s where, you know, some people will go ‘wow, he never would have got that wife if he didn’t have this f*cking career and shit.’ You almost want to correct them, like ‘dude, she don’t like my movies!’ [TM laughs]. Honestly, for whatever reason, she likes me for me, but I wish she liked the shit I did. I think if she was going to have a relationship with a filmmaker whose body of work she respected and really enjoyed, she would have went after Wes Anderson.
TM: [laughs] You were actually at a disadvantage when you started.
TM: Good work there, sir. In fact, it’s strange that I’m using your colloquialisms now. Speaking of which, does it strike you as odd how many of the fans on your message boards have adopted your vernacular? I see “sir” on there a LOT.
KS: I don’t know, it’s kind of nice. I’ve always dug the word sir, in print especially, because it really enables you to utilise the comma more, because you know, you kind of put your main sentiment out there and then you have to kind of throw a comma and then you close with sir. Or if you are opening with sir, you know, you write it and then you kind of throw a comma afterwards. I’m a big punctuation fan [TM laughs].
That’s what drives me nuts about the Internet. It’s like… never mind grammatically incorrect, it’s just the people that refuse to capitalise or use punctuation just drives me apeshit. And their defence is always just like ‘hey man, it’s the Internet’, and it’s like ‘yeah, but it’s written’. If you are writing you should really start a sentence with a capital, capitalise all names and places and whatnot, and learn to use your f*cking commas and periods, people. So, I enjoy using sir for that reason alone. It lets me rock more commas than I normally could.
TM: Another little insight to the life of Kevin Smith.
KS: Yeah, it’s the one bizarre little pet peeve of mine. Punctuation. You know, even when people are attacking me, I’m like ‘do it with punctuation.’ If you’re going to call me a c*cksucker spell c*ck right.
TM: [laughs] Exactly. ‘I’m not a cook socker.’
KS: Yeah, or it’s usually ‘coksucker’. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Where c*ck is not spelt with an additional C.’
TM: And on that bombshell – thank you very much, Kevin!
Filed under: Television