Kevin Smith on life after the heart attack, reconciling with Ben Affleck, and how 'Jay and Silent Bob Reboot' became his most emotional movie in years
- In the lead-up to Kevin Smith's latest movie, "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," the director sat down with Business Insider for a wide-ranging interview.
- Smith explained how failed attempts to make sequels to "Clerks" and "Mallrats" led to him making the latest Jay and Silent Bob movie (characters which he owns).
- Smith outlined the steps he took to feature the other characters from his movies that he doesn't own the rights to into "Reboot," even those from the Harvey Weinstein-owned "Dogma."
- He also talked about reconnecting with Ben Affleck for a cameo in the movie after the two hadn't spoken in years (a private jet and Snoop Dogg were big factors).
- And Smith said the movie's surprising emotional core came from him seeing his costar Jason Mewes become a father.
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Tucked away deep in the Hollywood Hills, Kevin Smith is completely in his element. He's sitting in a chair, with a joint in his hand, talking about his movies.The writer-director of 1990s classics like "Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," and "Dogma" is the first to admit he lives in the past. Literally. Walking into his office is the closest one will get to entering the View Askewniverse (the fictional universe most of the characters from his movies live in, named after his production company, View Askew Productions). His walls, shelves, and desk are completely covered with photos, posters, paintings, props, and movie swag from his 25 years of filmmaking.
But the setting is fitting, as he's about to release his latest movie, "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" (in select theaters starting October 15), which is a celebration of the wacky characters he's brought to the screen over his career. Now if you're asking yourself, didn't he do that already with 2001's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"? Yes. The movie is partly making fun of the reboot culture we live in by remaking that movie. But Smith also sees it another way.
"'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back' you could tell I ran out of original s--t to say because for the last four years I'd been making movies," Smith told Business Insider. "I took a victory lap way prematurely. 'Reboot' feels like the earned victory lap."
It's earned because Smith survived a "widowmaker" hear attack and also because this time he has something to say.
Though "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" has all the crass jokes, pop culture references, and celebrity cameos you would expect from a Kevin Smith movie, tucked inside is a touching story about a father's love for his daughter, as Jay (Jason Mewes) discovers he has a love child (played by Smith's daughter Harley Quinn Smith) and suddenly decides to do something important in his life for once: be there for her. The inspiration came to Smith after seeing Mewes, who has been sober for close to 10 years after struggling with substance abuse, being a loving father to his own daughter.The result is some of the most moving material Smith has written in years.
Business Insider sat down with Smith at his home in Los Angeles to talk about how failed attempts making sequels to "Clerks" and "Mallrats" inspired "Reboot," why being ghosted by Snoop Dogg led to a Ben Affleck cameo, and how he got a "Dogma" reference in the movie though he doesn't have the rights to it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jason Guerrasio: It hit me about halfway through this movie that "Reboot" has a lot more heart than the first Jay and Silent Bob movie.
Kevin Smith: We made a Jay and Silent Bob movie where you don't even have to be a pushover to be a little glassy-eyed once or twice in the movie. And that to me is the magic trick. In fact, it's all a magic trick! I should be dead from the heart attack. It's a magic trick we found money to make this movie. It's also a magic trick with the cast we got.
Guerrasio: I think all of these years watching your movies I've finally figured out your master plan.
Smith: Okay.Guerrasio: Kevin Smith can't walk into a room and pitch the heartfelt story. But he can walk in with a story about all the wacky characters he's created, sneak in a deep story, and someone will write a check.
Smith: Yes and no. Getting the check is always interesting. Early in my career, it was easy because we were in a place where it was, "What do you want to do? Go ahead." But after "Zack and Miri Make A Porno," I went out on my own and then I entered the world of true indie financing. I wanted to make "Clerks 3" but the whole thing fell apart because one of the cast didn't want to be involved. [Jeff Anderson, who played Randal, backed out of the movie but after this interview Smith posted on Instagram that Anderson had agreed to be in "Clerks 3" and the movie is now back on.] Then I thought I could gets the rights to "Mallrats" from Universal and make a sequel. I wrote the script and gathered the cast and then my agent told me, "Never in the history of Universal Studios has it ever given somebody back a movie so they could go off and make a sequel without it. And they don't want to make this movie."
So I got frustrated. I own Jay and Silent Bob, why am I banging my head trying to do these other things? So I hacked up the "Clerks 3" and "Mallrats 2" script for parts. The opening scene to "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" was the opening scene to "Clerks 3." The entire third act of "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" was almost the entire third act of "Mallrats 2," except Stan Lee was a major character [Lee died before his scenes could be shot].
Guerrasio: You're in full preproduction on "Reboot" and then you have your heart attack?
Smith: Yeah, I had the heart attack. When I was on the table I was fine with dying. The doctor said, "You are having a widowmaker, in 80% of the cases of 100% blockage, like you got, the patent always dies. But you're going to be in the 20% because I'm good at what I do." I'm lying there and I started examining my life and I was actually okay with it. I was totally comfortable. 47 is young to die but you had a great life. But then I realized if my life might end tonight the last movie I will have made was "Yoga Hosers."
Smith: That's not the way to go out. Luckily the doctor saved my life. We then double-timed our efforts to make the movie happen. One year from the day of the heart attack was the first day of shooting the movie. We scheduled it that way. It was a big f--k you to the heart attack.
Guerrasio: But what inspired you to tell the subplot about a father and his love for his daughter? Which is what Jay goes through in the movie.Smith: For the last four years I've been watching Jason be a dad. He's a better father than I was and I thought I was pretty good. I wish he had gone first because I would have learned how to do it. It's profound to me how great of a dad he is. And I just don't mean like he puts his kid to bed every night. He relates to that kid. There were times as a parent I would tolerate my kid, this guy has never tolerates his kid once. So I thought if you are that guy what about your alter ego, Jay? That would be fun story. Jay turned out to be a super dad so we came up with the long-lost kid story. There's a lot of "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" in the DNA of this movie.
Guerrasio: And "The Cannon Ball Run."
Smith: Yes. Even down to the Captain Chaos name check.
Guerrasio: Explain to me how you can include all the characters from the View Askewniverse in this movie. You only own Jay and Silent Bob.
Smith: You can do it through "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Originally, it was just going to be Jay and Silent Bob because I own the characters. Then I fell in love with the idea of just doing the same f---ing movie. That would be hysterical, they now have to stop the reboot. So now I would need everything from "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Miramax at that time was owned by Lantern Capital, so [Miramax CEO] Bill Block was like, "Go ahead, give us a credit and cut us off a piece of the money and go do whatever you want." So now that you have that movie you can do any character you want.
Guerrasio: But "Dogma" puts a wrench in things.
Smith: I don't own "Dogma."
Guerrasio: Right, it's owned by Harvey and Bob Weinstein. But Loki [played by Matt Damon] makes a cameo in "Reboot." How did you pull that off?
Smith: We put out word to them a long time ago, "What's the chances we can buy our movie back?" We never heard back. Then with "Reboot" we were in post and Matt got back from vacation and was like, "Don't leave me out, I want to do something." I felt I didn't have anything for Matt to do, but we were going to do a cartoon to highlight Jay and Silent Bob's journey to Chicago. Instead of that, we decided to have Matt come in and have him say, "Jay and Silent Bob head to Chicago." At the time I didn't have him as Loki, just as Matt Damon. Because he plays "Matt Damon" in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." I tell Jennifer [Schwalbach, Smith's wife] this and she says, "That's fine, but why didn't you think of using him as Loki?" And I said, "But Loki's dead." She was like, "Yeah, in the movie. They are just movies." And I was like, "Oh, you're right." So I thought this would be fun, give a "Dogma" update.
Guerrasio: Though you don't have permission to use Loki, is your thinking the Weinsteins have more pressing things to worry about these days?
Smith: They have never gotten back to us about wanting to buy the movie back. This is the 20th anniversary of "Dogma." I can't celebrate it because the movie is not owned by me. It's not available publicly. At a certain point, I felt I created Loki. It's not like we are building the marketing campaign on Loki, so I'm going to weight a certainty over a doubt and I'm certain including Loki is the right thing to do. The only thing that would be the doubt is he starred in a movie that you don't technically own.
Guerrasio: I knew a Ben Affleck cameo was coming at some point in "Reboot," but what you did with him - his character drives home how important family is which becomes the lightbulb moment for Jay - is another highlight of the movie.
Smith: Imagine if that scene isn't in the movie. There was no Holden scene. We're two or three weeks into shooting and I hear what he said at the "Triple Frontier" junket and I was like, "That's just some nice s--t you say at the junket. Don't read into that." [Affleck said he was available to be in "Reboot."] And a week later Jason was like, "You should reach out to him." At first I was going to tweet him and right before I sent it ["Reboot" producer] Jordan [Monsanto] was like, "Don't do that, it's so impersonal. Text him." I was like, "I got four numbers I don't know if any one of them work." I try to first one and it worked. He responded to it well. At that point we were cast up so I asked him if he would play Cocknocker. We don't have a Cocknocker (originally played by Mark Hamill in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back") and we had done the Bluntman and Chronic stuff. He said, "Yeah, that would be fun."
Guerrasio: Do you two from there start talking on the phone?
Smith: No. Just texting. The next day I text him and ask if he would be up for playing Holden (who Affleck played in "Chasing Amy"). The movie ends at BluntCon and he cocreated the characters. He said he would love to do that. Then he texted me and asked, "What kind of money do you have on this movie?" I tell him $10 million, and he goes, "You don't have a private plane do you?" Now there's no way we would have had private plane money other than that time and here's why: We asked Snoop to be in the movie and his people where like, "You have to get him a private jet, he doesn't fly commercial." So we made a side deal with the Kush Boys that we would reference them in the movie. They agreed, we put them in the movie, and they gave us money to get a jet. Then Snoop ghosted us. So we have this money but no one to use the jet. Three days later Ben asks about the jet so I was like, "Normally I would say of course not but I can actually get access to a jet." And he was like, "If you can get me down in a jet I'll play whatever you want."
I sent him the Holden scene and he was like, "That monologue, that's the kind of stuff I want to say right now." He came so prepared that most of the stuff in that scene is from his very first take. The only reason I had him do it a second time was because I was like, "You came all this way, let's do it again." He elevated the movie. Holden allowed me to put myself in the movie because Holden is the closest character to me.
Guerrasio: So are you and Ben staying in touch?
Smith: Yeah, we kept texting. He came over and watched the movie. It was like getting a piece of your heart back. Not only did it make the movie better but I got my friend back. Post heart attack everything means more and that's an instance where I realized that's why we made the movie. He was so complimentary of Jason. The last version of him he saw was a kid he couldn't trust. He comes to set and sees super dad who has been clean for nearly 10 years.
Guerrasio: Do you want to work with Ben again?
Smith: I wouldn't hesitate, but I'm sure he's busy working on his own stuff.
Guerrasio: You have reshaped your career a lot over 25-plus years. In the '90s, you were the indie star writer-director. You then lifted your fanbase to bigger heights when you started podcasting. You survived a heart attack. What's left to conquer?Smith: Post heart attack I'll do anything. I've learned to let go of myself as who I thought I was as an artist. My self-esteem is fine. I don't need the ego blow of, "Now everyone knows my movie is coming out." I made "Tusk," I got no ego. We're getting our handprints at the Chinese Theater, me and Jay. That happens October 14, the night of the premiere. I told my mother and she cried. In 1979, we did a family vacation on a train cross country and I still have the picture of my brother and me at Grauman's kneeling in front of the R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader foot prints. I was nine years old and now 40 years later I'm going to put my hand prints. Me and Jay. That puts us in there with not just the old-timey starts like Charlie Chaplin but the Avengers and Stan Lee. I feel like with that now I'm kind of done. That's dad famous. That's the kind of thing that if my dad was still alive that would blow his mind.