Kevin Smith loves to make references to the number 37 in his movies, but the New Jersey filmmaker had his busiest year ever at age 36.
From writing and directing "Clerks II" to co-starring in this month's "Catch and Release," Smith said 2006 left him "bushed." Given the chance, though, the man they call Silent Bob loves to talk. Smith recently spoke with MTV News about his new life as someone else's sidekick, the future of the View Askewniverse and what he just won't do with his shirt off.
MTV: What was it like performing a script that wasn't yours?
Kevin Smith: It's heaven on earth, sir. No responsibilities except for your performance. You're never worrying about where the camera is, you're never worrying about [when to] cut. But sitting around, waiting to act sucks. 'Cause when I'm working on my stuff, I'm on set all the time. But being an actor, you shoot a master and then you're off camera pretty much all day. Or you go back to your trailer when they're setting up shots. There's a lot of downtime. I wound up watching a lot of f---ing movies on "Catch and Release."
MTV: Would you say experiencing that downtime is something that'll change you as a director?
Smith: Absolutely. We went into "Clerks II" maybe three or four months after we finished "Catch and Release." I took that lesson with me — I'll never let the actors sit around. If they're not shooting, they're home. They don't need to be sitting around the set. I tried to work them harder and quicker, so I could get them out of there earlier. Other than that, I'd been doing this, what, 11 years at that point. So there wasn't much to learn that I hadn't [already] learned. Although, I sat there on "Catch and Release" and was just like, "God, [director] Susannah [Grant], first-time filmmaker, better visual director than I am already, 11 years in." She really knows what to do with the camera.
MTV: You talk about the film as if the whole thing was made easy for you. Was there an aspect that was most challenging?
Smith: Squeezing into those f---ing tie-dyed shirts without layers. I'm a layers guy, man. I'm always wearing a top on top of a top, or an overcoat just to hide everything. It was a rather naked performance for me.
MTV: Interesting, because on IMDb it says you picked out your own wardrobe. So that's not true?
Smith: Not really. There were one or two times I asked them, "Could I wear a jersey over one of these shirts?" But other than that, no. You concede to whoever's in charge. I mean there are some times where you'll kinda draw a line in the sand, where you're just like, "Look, this is going to make me way more comfortable in the performance if you allow me this." Like Susannah in the massage scene was like, "I'm gonna need you to take your shirt off." I told Susannah that I don't take my shirt off for my wife, and we've been married almost eight years. You think I'm going to do it here on camera? Forget it, man. I'll never live it down on the Internet. That sh-- lives forever.
MTV: That scene is hysterical, can you talk a little about it?
Smith: Juliette Lewis, one of the best f---ing actresses on the planet, it's real easy to just sink into a scene with her. She was just sitting around, talking on set and then all of a sudden she'd say something not apropos to the conversation and I'd realize we were in the middle of a scene. She's just so natural. She can take anything on the page and make it sound like it's coming from the top of her head.
You know what's really weird about [the scene] too, she's crawling on my back and I just can't help but think, you know, this is the chick from "Cape Fear." I saw that movie in theaters years ago, before I was ever a filmmaker. Never once in a million years did I think, "One day that broad is going to be kneeling on my back."
MTV: You still have moments like that?
Smith: Oh, all the time, sir. Those moments never go away. They go away with the people that you came up with. Like, I'm never standing opposite Ben Affleck and going, "I can't believe I'm talking to the 'Bounce' guy." I've known that dude for a while. But the people I watched before becoming a filmmaker, you still feel kinda weird. There's still this "You're famous" thing going on.
MTV: You recently did work on "Live Free or Die Hard" (see " 'Die Hard' Sequel Gets More Action With ... Kevin Smith?") and directed a sequel yourself this year (see "Dante, Randal, Jay, Silent Bob Are Back In 'Clerks II' — But Does The Old Kevin Smith Fire Still Burn?"). Is there pressure to always make the follow-up film better?
Smith: No, no, because I think that sets you up for a big fall. Some others will tell you different, that you should try to always strive to be better. With "Clerks II," I just wanted it to be an excellent companion piece to the first movie, 'cause you'll never be better than that first movie. Me, I just wanted to bookend that series very nicely. I wanted you to be able to sit down, watch "Clerks" and then "Clerks II" and, aside from the obvious color difference, not be like, "Oh man, one was made by a dude who lived in his parents' house, one was made by a dude who lived in Ben Affleck's house."
MTV: It almost sounds like you're saying that you peaked with "Clerks."
Smith: Some people will tell you that, sir. I mean, jump on the Internet. Some people will tell you I peaked with "Chasing Amy," then there's a small portion who'll tell you I peaked with "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." I don't feel like I peaked with "Clerks," but that movie was significant and special. There are movies that are more special to me, and I can understand why they're more special to the audience.
There's a big identity factor working in "Clerks" ' favor. Because you look at that flick and you say, "Sh--, I could make that movie." You root for it a little bit. You get that the first time out. You don't get that again.
MTV: How much does fear play a part in your creative process?
Smith: Big time, absolutely. You're always kind of second guessing yourself to some degree. Like, making "Clerks" — it was an absolutely fearless place to make a movie from, same with "Chasing Amy." I find it's always best to make a flick after you're coming off an unsuccessful flick. Like "Clerks II" was so f---ing liberating because we came off of "Jersey Girl," and there was no place to go but up. I think the failures are just as useful. It absolutely blows and feels horrible and hurts your feelings, but something good always comes out of it. I tend to be a lot more fearless coming off something that not everyone liked.
MTV: And, of course, "Clerks II" was a big success.
Smith: I think that's what might be daunting about doing another movie. Do you do more of the same?
MTV: And yet you've created this universe very much like "Star Wars" mastermind George Lucas ...
Smith: Although not nearly as lucrative. It's provided me a healthy living, but George Lucas is insanely wealthy and created something from scratch. Really, all I did was just hold up a mirror to my own universe. This dude created Wookiees and sh--.
Check out everything we've got on "Catch and Release."
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