Writer-director-podcastser Kevin Smith is, and forever will be, one of my favorite people in the world to interview, not only because he makes my job easier by giving great answers to any question I can dream up, but he’s just a really nice, self-effacing guy who can take a (verbal) punch better than just about any filmmaker out there. And believe me, he’s taken quite a few. And he may soon again when his newest work YOGA HOSERS, who had its official premiere yesterday via Fathom Events, and officially opens in theaters this Friday, September 2. The movie is the middle chapter of Smith’s “True North trilogy” (with 2014’s pure insanity TUSK, which I happened to really like, being the first part).
The two young female sales clerks from TUSK, played by Lily-Rose Depp and Smith’s own daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, are back as the leads in YOGA HOSERS, a decidedly PG-13 affair, which also sees the return of Johnny Depp’s TUSK character, Guy Lapointe. The film involves an ancient evil being released into the world in the form of “Bratzis,” little bratwursts that have Nazi-like qualities, which threaten the girls’ invitation to a big party. I caught the film at its world premiere at Sundance in January, where I also interviewed Smith about the film.
I’m guessing most of you know Smith’s filmography, recent additions to which include his new AMC series “Geeking Out,” an already shot film called HOLLYWEED, and a handful of announced projects including the third part of the “True North trilogy,” MOOSE JAWS; the third part to the “Clerks trilogy,” CLERKS III; a recently shot episode of the new season of “The Flash”; and the 10-episode MALLRATS sequel, “MallBrats.”
I should mention before we dive into this interview that one of the plot points of YOGA HOSERS is that the Bratzis want to kill critics for reasons I won’t go into. Granted, part of the girls’ mission is to save the endangered critics, but it seems to be a continuation of the on-again/off-again feud that Smith has been having with critics about his films, particularly since RED STATE, which I happened to really admire. Smith claims this new film is his apology for taking such an anti-critic stance. So after you see the film, you make the call. Please enjoy my lively discussion with Kevin Smith…
Capone: So I almost hesitate to open this can of worms, but killing critics? Really man? Come on.
Kevin Smith: [laughs] The girls save the critics, dude. That’s the point. You’ve got to look at it the right way! That’s my apology.
Capone: That was your apology?
KS: Yes. I always felt bad for the fucking critic shit, so I threw this in as a little valentine for the critics. My girls save their lives and shit. But some people are like “He’s fuckin’ going after the critics again.” No, I’m not!
Capone: I acknowledge it’s the bad guy with the plan.
KS: Yes. But that was a concerted effort to be like, “Love you, guys.” And hopefully, they read it that way.
Capone: As someone who gave TUSK a very good review, I was like “Good lord!” Do you feel sometimes that you are compelled by fans to open up your diary and say “This has been a big thing in my life, I should throw that in the next movie”?
KS: I used to do that for the movies, and that’s why people liked them because I ripped them out of my life. But lately now I’m just making up shit, and people have a harder time with that.
Capone: Do you have a harder time with it?
KS: To make up shit? This is fun. Honestly, this is so much fun. The other stuff I think about you too much and I think about him and her and the audience. I’m like I’ve got to deliver something satisfying. These movies, I’m just satisfying myself. I hope people can go along for the ride, and I know some people will love it passionately, but I know for some people it’s like “What are you doing?” But I don’t know, that’s kind of where I am right now. I want to fuck around, make shit up.
Early in my career—CLERKS, MALLRATS, CHASING AMY—that’s the stuff I could do. I didn’t have enough ability to say “Let me fucking make a walrus out of a man.” Now I’ve got the ability to tell the story visually better, and I don’t tend to talk about my personal life as much in the movie as much as I used to, because I do that on the podcasts all the time, and what am I going to write about? A guy who fucking everything went well in life except occasionally some people don’t like his movies? So I’ve turned to making that shit up. So TUSK and this and then MOOSE JAWS are just me making the movies that I would have made at the beginning of my career if I’d had the ability to do them. And they’re fun, and I get it. Some people fucking hate them, and that’s absolutely fine.
These movies, since they don't come from my life, my personal life, like it doesn’t matter. I used to bristle when motherfuckers would say something about CHASING AMY, and I’m like “That’s not just a movie. That was my life, and that was me, and when you condemn it, you’re doing that to me.” With these movies, people will come up to me like, “I fucking hated TUSK.” And I’m like, “I know, it’s so fucking weird, isn’t it?” And then I just go a different way like, “But it was in focus.” And they’re like, “What?” But for the ones who love it, they will fucking remember you until the end of time.
Capone: It’s not more insulting that the things that are coming from your imagination might not be clicking with some people?
KS: No. I’m a 45-year-old man. Forty-five-year-old men don’t really make mainstream entertainment, and shit, let’s be honest, I never made mainstream entertainment. So no, not at all. It makes me happy, it makes people around me happy, it makes the hardcore audience who are into this kind of thing happy. So I see it through. At a certain point after TUSK, it was like “Do we keep going?” I was like, “Yes, because you’re having a good time. Right now, maybe people don’t dig it, but this is all part of your fucking mythology. It’s all part of your very long tale. Do it, because you’ll be talking about it forever. Good or bad, whether people like it or not, just give people fucking something to talk about.” The good news is, film hasn’t been the only thing that I do in a long time. So it’s like, if I’m in film and I whiff, and people are like, “Fuck you and your walrus and shit,” I could just jump over to TV and do that, or jump online and do fucking “Fatman and Batman [podcast],” or go out and roadshow for a while.
So it’s not like “God, I need them to like it.” I don’t any more. I want them to like it desperately. Naturally I want everyone to love what I do, but I don’t really need it. We keep the budget low enough, we make sure everybody’s covered financially, and then you just fucking fuck around, man. We try to do some shit that you loved when you were a kid. I didn’t love movies like CLERKS or CHASING AMY, because they didn’t exist. I loved movies like this—rubber fucking monster movies, like RE-ANIMATOR or fucking FROM BEYOND and shit like that. So now I get to try that shit out in weird ways. I mean, it’s weird to do it as a kids movie, but you go where your muse takes you.
Capone: You’re right, if you were just starting out today, you would be doing the genre stuff.
KS: Exactly. I got lucky, but also unlucky at the same time. The first flick we made, all of a sudden they’re like, “You’ve got a job. You’re hired.” And I was in. So I never got a chance to be experimental or do genre, so this is fun for me. I know it’s not fun for everybody. I get it. I’m not mad or fucking upset when people are like, “Fuck you and your movies.” I get it. I totally get it, but I’ve got to go where I got to go, and if I didn’t, then I would be the people they’re saying I am. I wouldn’t be an artist.
Say what you want about this shit, but it’s like original. Point to another Bratzi flick, point to another TUSK movie. So I’ll do it for a while, I’ll get it out of my system, and then fucking do stuff people like or maybe not. Maybe I’ll never do shit that people like again. And not in a way like “Fuck them.” Honestly, dude, I would love it if they all loved it. My dream has always been, and it’ll never be fulfilled, just like some hockey players all dream of lifting the Stanley Cup, but not everyone gets to it. And I’ve made all my dreams come true, so you’ve got to create fucking new ones all the time and shit. CLERKS was my dream that came true, and suddenly you’re like “Well I’ve got to create another dream.” But my fucking secret dream all this time has always been to have one of my movies would make an arbitrary $100 million, but it couldn’t be something I directed for somebody else. It had to be like a stupid idea that came out of my fucking head.
Now, I know that will never happen, because my tastes are not in line with the mainstream, and they never have been. But I look to the Coen brothers all the time for inspiration. These dudes are brilliant filmmakers, and I’m not in their league at all, but you’ve got to look up to somebody, and I look up to them. They did whatever the fuck they wanted to do their whole fucking careers, and they never tried to do what everyone wanted, and slowly the business just gravitated towards what they did, so they never had to go and be like “What do they want us to do? Let’s do that.”
So for me, I don’t think the world will ever gravitate towards TUSK or YOGA HOSERS the way they have towards the Cohen brothers’ movies, but that inspires me. “Do your thing, because that’s what they’ll remember you for.” Right now, some people are like, “Fucking YOGA HOSERS.” Five years from now, they’ll be like, “Oh my god. Remember he made those weird Canadian movies and shit like that?” It’s all part of your mythology, man. It’s all part of the long tale.
Capone: When you’re writing the characters of young female clerks, do you notice a difference in the way you treat them than you did 20-some years ago?
KS:Yeah, certainly they don’t fucking say cocksucker, or anything like that. We knew we were making a movie for kids, so they don’t curse as much. But generally speaking, I found my maturity level is pretty damn close to that of a 15-year-old girl, so I was able to write within the zone, and the girls took it the rest of the way. So anything that sounded inauthentic, they just fucking didn’t say or said something else. So they were helpful. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them co-writers, but Jesus, they really fucking developed those characters simply by being 15-year-old girls. How am I supposed to teach a 15-year-old girl to act like a 15-year-old girl? Who knows better than her? So if there was anything that was clunky, they took care of the rest.
Capone: But just because they’re girls doesn’t mean they have different attitudes than men might about certain things. I guess what I’m wondering is, did you try to take the gender element out of the things they were focusing on in their lives?
KS: I think you’re giving me far too much credit on a movie like YOGA HOSERS, my friend. [laughs]
Capone: Well you made the point last night about working with so many women behind the scenes, so I’m wondering if you extended that into the writing too.
KS: Absolutely. The whole movie is centered around little two women. All the production team was grown up women. My household is three women, two men. We’re outnumbered. My wife is a pretty hardcore feminist, so naturally whenever I think about making filcks, she’s like, “What’s the girl part?” I’m like, “It’s good.” And she’s like, “Is it someone’s fucking girlfriend?” “It is.” And she’s like, “That’s not good.”
Capone: So it is factoring in.
KS: Yeah, a little bit. So she’s been there my whole career saying that in the back of my ear. It’s a little Iago. So when it came time with YOGA HOSERS, I was like, “It would be nice to do a movie with two girls standing in the lead. That would be a challenge.” It wouldn’t be a challenge to make another movie like the kind that I used to. I can do that. I know how to do that very well, but this is a challenge.But how do you fucking write for two girls? How do you make a movie with two girls when you’re not a fucking girl? And how do you communicate the joy of being a 15-year-old girl when you’ve never been that? So I had a lot of help from the girls.
Capone: I realized when you had Harley in TUSK that it was a smaller role, so it didn’t necessarily feel like you were pushing her into something. It was just like a fun little thing for them to do. But with this, was there any pressure on her in terms of performance.
KS: No. I mean, it was easy.
Capone: You’ve seen it done wrong, though.
KS: Totally. For me, all I had to do was take their scene from TUSK and put a plot behind it. I needed from them that exact same performance. I could build a movie around that level of performance. The good news is when we went to make this, they were far better than that. I really thought they would be puppet mastering their performances and working with them the way I work with Jason Mewes on CLERKS, where I fucking had to line read everything. “Say it like this, say it like this.” Puppeteering and stuff. From day one, the girls like cognized their own delivery and way to say it. My job was to remind them to say “oot and aboot” instead of “out and about.”
But other than that, we were there because they were natural on TUSK, and I was always like “I wonder if they’ll crack under the pressure of a feature,” but both of them were so enthusiastic everyday. Movies are broken down into tiny pieces, so they were never looking at it like “Oh my god, we’re in charge of this whole movie.” They were just like, “What are we doing today? Okay, we’re going to do this scene where we wear orange jumpsuits and talk to Johnny.” They were oddly composed the whole time, and we kept it calm for them. I feel like the more information you give people, the calmer they get.
So we didn’t like rehearse as much as I gave them a mini-primer on film school, in terms of set etiquette in terms of “This is who you’ll meet, these are the jobs, treat all these people insanely well. I don’t care if they’re getting you a fucking coffee or they’re putting you on film, because all of them are trying to make you look good.” It was shit like that. Because the talent, the ability, was there enough for me to start the process, so I didn’t feel like I had to groom them to be better. I just wrote for that. The good news is, once I put them on camera, they were better.
Capone: With TUSK, the framework of the story came from the podcast, but here it really was out of your head. What was the germ of the Canadian Nazis?
KS: Honestly, I had two friends J.C. and Andrew, and they wanted to do a movie called TEENAGE HITLER HUNTERS, and they were telling me about it one day. I was like, “What is it?” They were like, “These teenagers encounter all these little Hitler clones. They’re very small.” I was like, “Oh my god, that’s brilliant, dude, because you can kill them all over and over again like roaches. That’d be fantastic.” After six months, he hadn’t done anything with it. I was like, “Are you doing anything with that?” Originally, I was going to write this camp movie for the girls, because she was wearing Camp Antlers shirt, and that features a MOOSE JAWS. But I was going to do YOGA HOSERS as the girls go to camp, because Harley was going to camp at that time for this like outdoor thing where they make them go. It’s mandatory. I was like, “That’s fucking batshit.” So there was going to be a serial killer in the woods, or something like that.
But then of happened to find this thing on Wikipedia about Adrian Arcand, the Canadian Fuhrer. He was a real guy—Haley Joel Osment’s character. And I was so taken by that I was like “I’m going to put that in the story.” And then since Ralph [Garman] was in it—we do “Hollywood Babble-on” all the time, and he does impressions every fucking week. So it was like he could be German, but he could be a guy who could speak in English, but imprssion and voices.
I’m trying to think what my model was when I was writing, because you’re right, the structure for TUSK was laid out in the podcast. But here, and I always said that I was trying to make STRANGE BREW, but it doesn’t really follow the structure of STRANGE BREW either. I don’t know. Even TUSK though I could be like “It was like in fucking MYSERY, or it was like in HUMAN CENTIPEDE,” but with this I didn’t really have anything. I was just trying to make a teen movie, and then my version of a teen movie where fucking weird shit happens. But yeah, it’s weird. I can’t remember how I arrived not he plot. I asked JC if I could use his miniature Hitler thing, then when we got close to shooting, I was like “That might offend somebody. Somebody might be like Hitler is still Hitler. I don’t care if you shrink him down. Could be. Maybe we should do something to him.”
And I called up [make-up effects guru] Bob Kurtzman and I was like, “Dude, I feel like we should do something. Instead of it being little Hitler we should just do something to him.” We called them Hitlands in the original draft of the script. I was like, They’re from the Germany, so maybe like Black Forest. Maybe they could have tree bark for skin, or something?” And Kurtzman was like, “Well, I don’t know. When I think of Germany, I think of bratwurst.” And I was like “You’re a genius. Do me a favor. Draw me a Nazi bratwurst.” And he did. He texted it to me, and I was like, there’s our character. So that changed and shaped it a bit as well. It became a lot more absurd when the Bratzis were on board.
Capone: The black-and-white sequences are great, because you went for the historical footage look, which is why I figured the Canadian Nazi might actually be real.
KS: Real dude.
Capone: You are doing something new with television now.
KS: Just before we came up here we shot a pilot called “Hollyweed,” which is actually for all the folks who are like, “Why won’t he do the good shit like he used to? Or at least shit at least I can watch?” That is more along those lines. It looks like CLERKS, because it’s set in retail. It’s set in the weed store. But if we go to series, it’s CHASING AMY. It’s my modern version to CHASING AMY. It’s what I would do if I was doing CHASING AMY today. So there I’ll be able to like service the folks who are like, “We like your earlier, better stuff.” It’s very much in line with what I do. In movies though, it’s going to be Canada for a little while. One more. We’ve got to go to MOOSE JAWS.
Capone: Did you do that with a specific network?
KS: No, we just made it. Fremantle [Media], which produced it and they’ll sell it. They’re a sales company.
Capone: I’m still digging “Comic Book Men.” For some reason, AMC sends me the press links, so I’ve already seen the Stan Lee one that hasn’t aired yet.
KS: That’s my favorite episode.
Capone: It’s a great one. If it was just him for like a second it wouldn't have been, but he’s on for that whole fucking episode.
KS: He’s wonderfully natural and warm. He’s on, dude. He’s behind the counter giving people shit. He’s really fucking good.
Capone: That really moved me when he brings that guy back to the comic book fold. That was really, really nice.
KS: Yeah, I’m shocked we’re in Season 5B [The show has been renewed for Season 6] of that show. I’m delighted every time they renew it.
Capone: As soon as I get a message that a new one is available for preview, I’m on it. It’s short, it’s quick, I can watch it while I’m eating lunch.
KS: It’s so digestible. Total toilet watcher.
Capone: It was great to see you again. Best of luck with this.
KS: Good seeing you. You’re one of the good ones, man. Thanks.