Clerks III landing in theaters is a big deal to writer-director Kevin Smith.
“I love touring my movies,” he mused as we chatted in a suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “That’s my model, and I’m happy doing it and stuff, but being in a movie theater on a Friday night when your movie is opening? I haven’t experienced that breath of rarefied air in a long time.”
“I’m not Marvel or Star Wars, so I’m grateful for whatever real estate I get in a movie theater.”
Initially only intended to have a limited two-night run, Lionsgate, in partnership with Fathom Events, extended the engagement to thirteen dates due to demand.
The threequel draws on Smith’s own life experiences when Randal, played by Jeff Anderson, survives a heart attack and enlists Brian O’Halloran’s Dante, and Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Smith respectively, to make a movie about life at the convenience store where it all began.
I caught up with the filmmaker to discuss the movie, the parts of a heart attack movies don’t tend to show, and Ben Affleck’s “Boston John” character cameo.
Simon Thompson: I think we should talk about the fact that more dates have been added to the theatrical release for Clerks III at a time when it is difficult to get people into theaters. That’s a massive vote of confidence in this. How did it feel when you heard that?
Kevin Smith: Honestly, we’ve worked with Fathom in the past, most recently on Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and going into it, one of the things you always know is that you’re not going to get a Friday or Saturday. You’ll get the days that are open in theaters, and I’m grateful to have them. I’m not Marvel or Star Wars, so I’m grateful for whatever real estate I get in a movie theater. At one point, there was talk of doing one day, and then they were like, ‘Oh, we’re going to do two days.’ That’s what we did on Reboot, but once we started going on sale, I guess they felt like, ‘This is strong enough for us to stretch it.’ When they gave us a weekend, I’ll be honest with you, I got emotional because that’s meaningful. I love touring my movies. That’s my model, and I’m happy doing it and stuff, but being in a movie theater on a Friday night when your movie is opening? I haven’t experienced that breath of rarefied air in a long time. So far, so good. It just means that people are buying tickets, which is really cool.
Thompson: Let’s talk to you about the first day on set. It’s taken a while to get there. When you got there, what was going through your head, and was it different from previous movies?
Smith: It felt very different this time around. It was the night before my 51st birthday, and the first thing we were going to shoot was the audition scene stuff. I remember reading the script incessantly. I kept doing drafts, all through production, I kept rewriting scenes and be like, ‘Well, I’m going to add this, I’m going to add that,’ and we went into Second Salmon or something in terms of drafts. I don’t really pray any more. I was raised Catholic, as we all know from Dogma, but I’m not a man of faith anymore; however, I tend to pray or say some version of a meditation or prayer in two situations. One is when the plane I’m on is about to take off. I get real Christian right about then. The other is when I’m about to go on stage. I say this quiet thing where I’m like, ‘Please let me be honest. As long as I’m honest, everything will be fine.’ The other thing I say is, ‘Don’t let me embarrass George.’ That’s for George Carlin. The night before Clerks III, I was like, ‘Please let me be honest. As long as I’m honest, everything will be okay,’ and the movie is nothing if not honest.
Thompson: It’s the honesty I wanted to ask you about because, like you, I’ve had a heart attack.
Smith: Oh s**t!
Thompson: I had mine last year.
Smith: Our hearts can’t kill us even if they try to. Isn’t it weird? It’s like your significant other trying to kill you in your sleep. You’re like, ‘I’ve been with you for years.!’
Thompson: Something you treat with absolute honesty is the pube shaving bit. Many people don’t know that it happens as part of a procedure and never gets mentioned on TV or in films. I didn’t realize it was a thing and was not expecting it. That seems to have stuck with you too.
Smith: I was going to say I have small d**k syndrome, but I don’t know if it’s a syndrome, so let’s just say I have a small d**k. I’ve been in many emergency rooms, usually with people but never for myself. So I’m in the ER, and they’re like, ‘You’ve got to take your pants down so we could shave you,’ and I was like, ‘Bro, not even if I wasn’t Silent Bob. It could be somebody being like, ‘Look at Silent Bob’s little d**k. I don’t need that. I just had a heart attack, man. That’ll give me a second one and stuff.’ I was very concerned about that to the point where the doctor told me, ‘You almost died because you wouldn’t let us shave your groin because you were afraid to take your pants off,’ and I was like, ‘That’s the kind of d**k shame I’m talking about, Doc. It goes deep.’
Thompson: Unlike your penis.
Smith: Yes (laughs). I’m going to steal that. Where were you before, man? We could have used that in the movie. That was a damn good f**king joke, man.
Thompson: Clerks III takes place over a month and not a single day, like the first two movies.
Smith: That’s an excellent observation
Thompson: Were you worried about that change? People want something different but they also want more of the same.
Smith: I was very concerned with that. It was a thought where I was like, ‘Well, wait a second.’ At the end of Clerks II, we stretch time a little bit, but I was nervous about this because it’s a more extended period of time over which the story is happening. People are familiar with one day at work with these guys. Because I had these two hooks, Randal’s going to have my heart attack, and they’re going to make my movie, which I knew would take up a lot of real estate in this flick, I knew I would have the audience’s attention. At that point, I felt safe, and I was like, ‘You can’t make a movie in a day.’ I mean, you could, but I didn’t. We took 21 days to make ours, and I was trying to honor that, so I felt like we would have to live in this time. What I loved about that was my characters are often action figures, they wear one outfit, and that’s what you view them as forever. I see Brian O’Halloran as Dante wearing the same outfit from Clerks as the same outfit from Clerks II, but here I got to give Randal 20 t-shirts. I started designing t-shirts long before we started pre-production on the movie because I was like, ‘I have so much chest real estate in this movie.’ And they’re not wearing just one outfit, man. It’s going to be like when you get Batman in scuba gear, Batman in winter gear, not just Batman in the standard outfit. That was one of the side benefits of stretching the story out, but it did give me pause where I was like, ‘Does that go too far flung from the formula or what someone would expect a Clerks movie to be?’ We had experienced that on Clerks II because we couldn’t do Clerks because that magic trick comes out of nowhere, and I wasn’t working in retail anymore. So I didn’t have the public-facing persona of, ‘Oh, I deal with Karen’s and Kevin’s all day.’ We had to find different authenticity to pump that movie up instead. We’re back at the store this time around, but I can’t tell you what it’s like to work at Quick Stop anymore. I haven’t done that for nearly 30 years. I can tell you what it’s like to own Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, and it f**king rocks. I’m no longer the employee. I’m the employer and stuff like that, so I couldn’t lend it that authenticity that Clerks had. What I could lend it was the authenticity of saying, ‘I had a heart attack and I did make a movie.’ That gave it a very strong structure on which I could hang it. At that point, I stopped worrying about like, ‘Well, if it’s not exactly like the first movie, in as much as it didn’t take place over a day, don’t worry. It’s also not like the first movie in as much as it’s in color. It’s not like the first movie in as much that you’re 52 years old.’ We’re far removed from the first movie. We’re an echo of that flick at this point, so I let myself off the hook a little bit, but what a great pull.
Thompson: On authenticity, you get many people from the original movie, the little characters who give the audience these moments they loved from Clerks. How many of those did you know where they were? How many did you have to track down?
Smith: I didn’t write them all into the script because we were never guaranteed to shoot in New Jersey. We were going to go wherever it was cheapest. Thankfully, the good folks in the New Jersey Film Commission made it worth our while, and we got to stay and shoot in state. It’s the first time I’ve made an entire movie in New Jersey since Clerks. Doing it and making this movie right where we made the first one opens you up to putting people in the flick that you wouldn’t do if we were shooting the movie in Burbank, Los Angeles, or Minnesota. I wouldn’t fly in somebody who was in one scene in Clerks III because it’s just cost-prohibitive. I would have been flying in 20 to 30 people. Once we knew we were going to be in Jersey, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to write to people I know are still alive.’ For example, Donna Jeanne and Joe Bagnole own the First Avenue Playhouse, where we did the auditions scene in the movie. In Clerks, he was the cat shit-watching guy, and she was the ‘ruse’ lady. They’re both still kicking in and above ground. When we were making that first movie, Donna Jeanne was like, ‘I do a great Lucille Ball. Can you put that in the movie?’ And I was like, ‘I certainly cannot. I have no place for Lucy jokes in this movie.’ Here I am all these years later, and when I handed her the scene in Clerks III, I was like, ‘Donna Jeanne, can you still do Lucy?’ And she was like, ‘Of course, I’m an excellent Lucy,’ so she finally got to do it years later. Then there was Thomas, our roofer from Dunn and Ready Home Improvements. We knew he lived in Leonardo and were looking for him but couldn’t track him down. So we’re at Quick Stop doing a scout, and a kid comes in. He’s like, ‘Oh, Kevin Smith, my father was in your movie,’ and I was like, ‘Who’s your father?’ His father was Thomas Burke, and he says, ‘Oh, he won’t shut up about your movie my whole life. He still has the hat and the shirt. He tells me every damn story about being on a flick.’ I told him we’d been looking for his Dad so I spoke to him for five minutes, and he’s very colorful, so I was like, ‘Look, do you want to be in the scene with your dad?’ He said, ‘F**k yeah, I want to be in a Kevin Smith movie!’ So not only did we get Thomas to come back, but Thomas’s kid was also in the scene.
Thompson: You mentioned the audition scene, and there are many cameos from well-known people. How much of that did you shoot, and how much was scripted? Did you shoot like 25 minutes with Ben Affleck just riffing?
Smith: Absolutely, and that’s the best time when you have your friends come over. I gave them all scripts and stuff but then of course, while you’re playing, you’re like, ‘Do this.’ Ben’s piece plays a character called Boston John. When we were kids with the View Askew website, they had a message board. I’ve been online since 1995, and Ben was fascinated by it at the time. He was like, ‘What do you do?’ so I told him, ‘I’m on a message board. I’m talking to people who bought tickets. These are real people.’ He got into it because he’s a writer, which was fun. There was a guy on our website, his name was Boston John, and as happens on the internet periodically, people are like, ‘This ain’t what it used to be,’ and they judge it and want it changed. Boston John had this thread where he goes, ‘Kev, the board ain’t what it used to be. Shut it down.’ That tickled Ben’s delight. He was like, ‘This total stranger is telling you to shut the board down because he doesn’t like it anymore?’ Everyone gets the internet now, but this was 1996, so Ben playing Boston John is an homage to his time online.
Thompson: Is this the end of the line for these characters? At the end of Clerks III, I spotted your daughter checking expiration dates on the oat milk. Is that to set up the next generation?
Smith: I think we discussed it when we’re on set because things happen in the movie that would make one go like, ‘Well, I guess you’re done now,’ but as long as there’s breath in my lungs, there will be a Clerks in the future or some other iteration. Somebody online recently was like, ‘Skip Clerks IV and just make Clerks XIX,’ and I was like, ‘That’s a good hook, man.’ You’ve got to find ways to make people interested in this shit, and if I wait another ten years and make Clerks XIX, people would be like, ‘What happened to Clerks IV through XVIII? And I’d be like, ‘Well, you got to see the movie. Come find out.’ Hopefully, we’ll find a way to keep them interested because I’ll never leave these characters behind. They’ve got to yank me off this planet before I stop playing with Quick Stop.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonthompson/2022/09/13/kevin-smith-talks-clerks-iii-and-what-they-dont-tell-you-about-having-a-heart-attack/ Kevin Smith Talks ‘Clerks III’ And What They Don’t Tell You About Having A Heart Attack