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Clerks III filmmaker Kevin Smith is making the most of his new lease on life, and that includes phase two of his friendship with longtime collaborator Ben Affleck. The two met during the audition process for Mallrats in 1994, and at the time, Affleck credited Smith’s directorial debut, Clerks, for inspiring him to co-write his own screenplay that he’d just sold. That script was called Good Will Hunting. From there, the duo made six movies together, but in the late 2000s, a near decade-long estrangement unfolded for one reason or another.
In February 2018, Smith suffered a widowmaker heart attack, and his brush with death prompted him to completely change his lifestyle as he’s now become a devout vegan. The Jersey native was also reinvigorated creatively, and he got the ball rolling on Jay and Silent Bob Reboot later that year, with an early 2019 production schedule planned. A week into production, Fox 5 DC and ReelBlend entertainment reporter Kevin McCarthy happened to interview Affleck at the press junket for J.C. Chandor’s Triple Frontier, and he initiated the conversation by asking about his status on Reboot, to which Affleck replied, “They haven’t called me yet.”
After some convincing from his inner circle, Smith found four old numbers he had for Affleck, and he proceeded to text him a heartfelt letter and invitation to reunite with his View Askewniverse friends on Reboot. Affleck quickly responded to Smith’s first attempt to reach out, and not long after, he was back on set as Holden McNeil, shooting a backdoor sequel to Chasing Amy inside Reboot.
Fast forward to present day, Smith is just about to release Clerks III via Fathom Events and his own nationwide roadshow, dubbed “The Convenience Tour,” and the threequel includes yet another Affleck cameo.
“I actually felt like Reboot was the new beginning of a beautiful friendship. It was like, ‘Oh, we’re back. Now I can reach out to Ben anytime,’” Smith tells The Outne Reporter. “It didn’t seem like a big thing to be like, ‘Hey man, you want to come play for a minute?’ So he came and hung out with us for an hour and said some funny shit. We spent more time bullshitting than we did actually making the movie. But I was glad; it just felt like things were right.”
Smith is still trying to revisit the Mallrats world that introduced him to Affleck. He’s already written a sequel called Twilight of the Mallrats, but the rights remain tied up at Universal.
“We’re hoping to God that Clerks III is the Kaopectate or the Pepto Bismol, if you will, that loosens up the Mallrats bowels [via Universal],” Smith says. “I know the good folks at Lionsgate and our producers, Liz [Destro] and Jordan [Monsanto], have been having conversations to try to make that happen. Since the movie is neither fast nor furious, it’s not really a movie that [Universal] pays much attention to, but Clerks III might make things a little bit easier.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Smith also discussed the newfound relevance of Clerks II’s Anakin Skywalker commentary, as well as Cinema Paradiso’s influence on the ending of Clerks III.
Kevin, in case you were wondering, I’m still in the framing business.
(Laughs.) Well done, my friend.
So for the people who don’t know the story, you wrote a different version of Clerks III years ago. What prompted you to write a whole new script?
The version of Clerks III that I wrote years ago was obsessed with dying, but it was written by a guy who didn’t know what death really was. And then, a couple years later, I had a massive heart attack and almost dropped dead. So that gave me a clearer perspective of what death really is and what it means. And suddenly, I was like, “That other version was written by a poser. I can now write with experience about this stage of my life.” Clerks was about what life was like in my twenties, Clerks II was about what life was like in my thirties, and Clerks III was meant to be middle aged to the end or something like that.
In the first iteration of it, Randal (Jeff Anderson) has a nervous breakdown when he goes to a movie theater to wait in line for the opening of the Ranger Danger movie. Back in the day, people would wait in line to go see Star Wars or whatever, so he replicated his life in that line at the movie theater. He built a shanty, a lean-to version of Quick Stop that vended to this community that lived in the parking lot, waiting for this movie to open. So when I read it now, I’m like, “If we had made this, people would be like, ‘I don’t think the guy who made this movie ever saw the first Clerks. It almost has nothing to do with it.’” So we’re lucky that we didn’t get to make it. We got close. We were about two weeks out from production at one point. It was right after Creed had finished shooting. We had scouted in Philly. We were going to be based in Philly, and we were going to be using a lot of the crew from Creed. So they had just wrapped up, and then the whole thing fell apart. It didn’t wind up happening.
For years, I was sad or mad or depressed about it. Not depressed, I was just bummed that it didn’t happen. Then, after the heart attack, I was like, “Ooh, wait a second, there’s a better version of Clerks III to be done here.” I couldn’t do Clerks again because I don’t work in retail, but I now own a retail establishment. So my perspective is way different than when I wrote Clerks, which was like, “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” But as the employer now, I’d be like, “Don’t fucking say that shit. We need business.” So your perspective changes, and I can’t bring the authenticity of Clerks to it anymore.
If I was going to do a real version of Clerks III, like the first version, I would find that guy on TikTok. I forget his name [Scott Seiss]. He’s a comedian, and he’s funny as fuck. He has a mustache and he plays people who are bitching at him at IKEA. And then he brings the camera up close to himself, he changes the music and he starts dressing them down and shit like that. That’s a modern day version of Clerks. Motherfucker is in retail making jokes about how difficult it is having a public-facing job. So I’m the other guy now. I go out of my way to make sure the customer is taken care of, because the customer is always right. I don’t have a traditional boss. I work for the audience, and when you work for the audience, you don’t work a day in your life. But just like your boss, if they came by, you’d be like, “Hey man, how are you?” You’d go out of your way for the audience.
So the authenticity to Clerks III was going to be missing by virtue of the fact that I’m not in retail anymore, and I had to make up for it with authenticity in other ways. So that is where the heart attack came in. I was like, “Nothing’s more authentic than that fucking heart attack. Everybody knows I had it. I’m going to lend it to Randal, so it can become his heart attack.” Then I was like, “Well, what would Randal be like after his heart attack?” And then I was like, “Oh my God, maybe this is the moment where he would want to make a movie. And oh shit, they could make Clerks.” So it kept compounding. And the authenticity that I lacked from no longer being a guy who works in retail, I made up for it by being a guy who had a heart attack. I am also a guy who’s made a movie in a convenience store. So that’s what Clerks III ended up being about.
When you and Ben Affleck reconnected after a decade apart for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, did you assume that it was his last hurrah in the View Askewniverse? In other words, were you surprised that he was willing to come back for Clerks III just three years later?
No, I actually felt like Reboot was the new beginning of a beautiful friendship. It was like, “Oh, we’re back. Now I can reach out to Ben anytime.” In Reboot, he has a beautiful show-stopping scene, and he gives an amazing performance. Even if you don’t like that movie, that scene is bliss. It transcends the movie itself, and that’s all because of him. He doesn’t get that in this movie; he gets to make some jokes and then move on and stuff. But I know that he was always partial to Clerks. When I first met him during the Mallrats auditions, he talked about it. He was like, “Me and my friends went to see that movie, and it was fucking dope. It made us want to write, and we wrote this movie.” And I was like, “I know! You just sold that movie.” When he came into the Mallrats audition, it was like two days after he sold Good Will Hunting.
So he showed up for Clerks III. Ben was also there with us for a quick scene in Clerks II. And since we reconnected from Reboot forward, it didn’t seem like a big thing to be like, “Hey man, you want to come play for a minute?” So he came and hung out with us for an hour and said some funny shit. We spent more time bullshitting than we did actually making the movie. But I was glad; it just felt like things were right.
Clerks III wasn’t the kind of movie where I could say, “Look at all my famous friends!” That was Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. We needed a new face every scene. Each person is more famous than the last one, but this movie falls apart if you start thinking about famous people and stuff. It helps that Brian [O’Halloran] and Jeff [Anderson] are identifiable as Dante and Randal very specifically, because you get to go on that journey and not divorce yourself from the reality of this movie. If we put more famous people in there, other than the way we did in the cameo scene, I think it would’ve hurt the film. But the cameo scene, to me, was the trailer. The whole time, I was like, “You could just lift out these two minutes, and that could be the trailer for Clerks III.” Thankfully, Lionsgate is way better at cutting marketing materials than I am. They figured out a way to incorporate that plus more.
But being on a set with Ben Affleck is like being on a set with Brian, Jeff and Jason Mewes. These are the co-architects of my entire career and my dreams. A person that dreams alone and writes a script, that ain’t making a movie; it takes a village. And these were the people that made that movie for me. And so whenever I get to work with them again, even if it’s in a small piece, it’s like, “Yes, we’re still on mission. This is exactly what it was like when I was in my early twenties, and even though I’m 52 now, I’m still the same filmmaker at heart.” That’s what it feels like.
In Clerks II, Kevin Weisman’s character makes some pointed remarks about one Anakain Skywalker, and now, Rosario Dawson may or may not be working with one Anakin Skywalker on Ahsoka, currently. Have you expected Rosario to be confronted about this at some point in the Volume?
(Laughs.) I wonder! Look, I’m not throwing anybody under the bus, but I would say that Kevin [Wesiman] took a few more liberties with the scene, particularly with the Anakin bashing. And somebody told me at one point, they were like, “That really hurt his feelings.” And I was like, “Who?” And they were like, “Hayden Christensen.” And I was like, “Wow, are you kidding me? A Clerks joke?” And they were like, “Yeah, man.” So we went a little lighter this time around, of course. And also, I always stood behind the defense of Kevin’s character in the movie. Kevin Weisman’s character was clearly not a Star Wars guy, and sometimes, to be the Star Wars guy, as I am in movies, you also have to show the alternative opinion, the other side of the coin, so to speak. And that was one of those moments.
There’s a moment like that in this movie, as Randal throws a dig at The Departed, which is not my own personal dig. He brings up the rat at the end of the movie, and that was something the Internet was obsessed with. So a lot of people had thoughts on it, but I didn’t give a shit. I love The Departed. So the rat didn’t bug me at all; I thought it was cute. But Randal is different from me. Randal is very much the keyboard warrior who’d be like, “Scorsese ruined his entire legacy with that rat shot.” So he gets to make jokes like that, and even though I wrote the script, I feel like those jokes are not indicative of how I feel at all.
Brian O’Halloran has the monologue of his life towards the end of Clerks III, and it bowled me over to say the least. What can you tell me about that day?
Well, we rehearsed three weeks before we started shooting, and during the first rehearsal, we just read the script from top to bottom. No one was emoting, and everyone was on book just to hear what it sounded like. And I was in the God spot at the table because, generally, I don’t have a lot of dialogue as Silent Bob. So I got to watch the performers as they went through it, and I studied them, looking for things that might be useful during shooting. And right before the scene where Brian gives his big monologue, maybe half a page before the monologue began, I saw the quietest, most subtle thing that made me think, “Oh, we’re in for a show.” Brian closed his script.
Keep in mind, this is our first cold read, and so I was like, “Oh, it smells like Brian memorized his monologue,” which he did. And he dropped a version of the monologue on us, which was about 85 to 90 percent of what you saw in the movie. It was so shaped. And so right then and there, I was like, “Oh my God, you understood the assignment as the kids on the Internet say.” Brian took it so seriously because he knew that this was his big moment to shine, and he really does bring the house down with that. Dante and Randal having a fight in the third act of a Clerks movie is as dependable as a day of the week with a y in it for heaven’s sake, but you’ve never seen this before. If there was a five-minute Oscar category, Brian would have to be up for it this year, man, because he really did bring the thunder. Everyone in rehearsal put their scripts down and just watched Brian. All of them were just like, “Brian, are you kidding me?” (Smith mimics applause.)
So those of us in rehearsal — me, Jeff and Jason — knew what to expect, but everyone else on set was just there making the movie. And when people are making a movie, other people are doing shit [nearby] to get ready for the next shot. But they paid Brian the highest compliment because everyone stopped what they were doing and gravitated toward the monitors to just watch him do his tour de force. So it was really special as a guy who’s been a big Brian O’Halloran fan his whole career. This is a guy who’s played me in movies for heaven’s sake. So I was beyond ecstatic for him, but I also knew that he could do it. I wrote it for him, going, “He’s going to slay this,” and he absolutely slayed it, man. The motherfucker elevated it. He just took off and never landed. He just floats with that monologue, and I’m so happy for him.
As the guy who quoted Mallrats for his senior yearbook quote, I’m still holding out hope that Brodie (Jason Lee) can get his own version of Reboot and Clerks III. I know you’re spinning many plates these days, but can you offer any hope for Twilight of the Mallrats?
We’re hoping to God that Clerks III is the Kaopectate or the Pepto Bismol, if you will, that loosens up the Mallrats bowels, and suddenly, that shit starts flowing. I know the good folks at Lionsgate and our producers, Liz [Destro] and Jordan [Monsanto], have been having conversations to try to make that happen. It’s a Universal project, so Universal owns Mallrats even though they tend to forget they do. Whenever I bring it up, I’m like, “I want to make Mallrats,” and they’re always like, “Go ahead.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you guys own it.” And they’re like, “We do?” Since the movie is neither fast nor furious, it’s not really a movie that they pay much attention to, but Clerks III might make things a little bit easier.
Until then, I got a comic book series coming out called Quick Stops that we’re doing through Dark Horse, and the second issue is Randal and Brodie going to their cousin Walter’s funeral. This is a Brodie from 1990. So it’ll hold us over for a minute until we finally get to Brodie from 2022 or 2023 in the Twilight of the Mallrats screenplay. However, I will say this, me and [Jason] Lee sat down recently for a podcast when we did the Mooby’s Pop-Up in Los Angeles, and it was like a “this is your life” podcast. So we covered his career and stuff, but at the end, I had him read a scene from Twilight of the Mallrats. And for me, it was bliss. It gave me goosebumps. I was like, “Oh my God, we could pull this off.” So I still hold out hope, but I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Brodie Bruce.
Well, Kevin, congratulations on completing your Clerks trilogy. Clerks III feels like the Clerks take on Cinema Paradiso.
Don’t make me cry! The whole time I was making the movie, people were like, “What are you going for?” And I was like, “Look, long ago, I watched Cinema Paradiso and balled my eyes out at the last scene when he watched the montage of all the kisses that were cut.” You have to watch the whole movie to appreciate it, but once you do, it is one of the most moving scenes in cinema history. And I remember watching that going, “I will work my whole life, and I’ll never be able to do something as beautiful as that thing was.” I did work my whole life to get to that moment to try to do something as beautiful, but it’ll never be as beautiful as Cinema Paradiso. But I have my Cinema Paradiso moment for the kid who watched that on LaserDisc and balled his eyes out in his early twenties. I finally got to close a loop for him and give him his moment in a movie theater where a character is watching something unfold. Thank God Cinema Paradiso is not an insanely well-known movie as much anymore because some people will be like, “Oh, what you did in the third act is pretty amazing.” What they won’t know is that I stole it from a far better Italian film.
Clerks III opens exclusively in theaters from Sept. 13th – 18th, courtesy of Lionsgate and Fathom Events. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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