Edinburgh 2016: Kevin & Harley Quinn Smith Part One - Cam-Girl Controversy!
Regardless of what you think of his movies, Kevin Smith makes one hell of a festival guest. Before I even sat down with him for this interview I'd seen the man put in several performances around Edinburgh; at his sold-out show, before each of his movie screenings, and I even heard he turned up at the retrospective screening of 1966’s Batman: The Movie. Going beyond the call of duty, Smith commonly went well over schedule as he talked movies and answered questions from fans. Covering the length and breadth of his career, from production tales to comic books, Smith made a point of ending every appearance with an inspirational message on self-expression and creativity.
The films brought to the festival were, of course, his two latest, Yoga Hosers and Holidays. Teen-comedy/creature-feature Yoga Hosers sees two teenage convenience store workers face off against an army of foot-high Nazi soldiers made of Bratwurst, or ‘Brazi’s’ as he calls them. Holidays is a horror anthology in which nine directors put their own horror stamp on the major American holidays. Smith directed the Halloween segment in which three cam-girls exact a painfully ironic revenge on their cruel boss after he refuses to let them have fun on Halloween. Both movies star Harley Quinn Smith, the director’s daughter, who joined us for the interview.
In Part One of this interview, we talk about the Smith family’s working relationship and the possible final appearance of Silent Bob. In Part Two, the extremely talkative man behind the extremely untalkative Silent Bob talks about his career up to this point.
You talked in your stage show about an embarrassing text message conversation you got into with your daughter. Wasn’t the entire shoot of Hoildays, in which you asked her to play a ‘Cam-girl’, unbearably embarrassing for a father and daughter?
KS: I don’t know, because we never went out of our way to keep vulgarity out of her life. She was never running around yelling “cocksucker” herself but I never felt the need to tame my language in front of her because I thought it would be hypocritical. Like this is how I earn; by cursing! So bad language has never been a thing in our house. You know, there’s no such thing as bad words but bad intentions as George Carlin told us. She has to stand next to me while I joke about fucking any number of things; fisting, fucking noose dicks or whatever and she just roles her eyes and smiles.
When we did that sequence, you have to think about how it was put together. They were never in the room or near Harley (Morgenstein, co-star) or anything like that; they weren’t doing any of the typing themselves. So all they had to do was listen to that guy talking and using bad language and shit like that and if you’re a child of the internet you've heard far worse than what we’ve ever put on display in any of my scripts. So it was actually kind of easy. I’m always waiting for her mom to be like, “This is too much for her”. But Jennifer’s always like, “Nah, she can handle this”. And I get away with like, both Yoga Hosers and this one with her mom because they’re both female empowerment. You know at the end of the day what is Holidays the Halloween short about if not turning it around on a fucking guy. And Yoga Hosers is two girls who aren’t talking about a boy, just kind of fighting phallic objects that come out of the floor; you don't need to be Freud to figure that one out. So it doesn't occur to this family to think this is inappropriate, if anything this is wholly appropriate in the Smith house.
HQS: It was more awkward for Harley Morgenstein than for either of us when he found out I was one of the girls, he went to my mom and said, “This is too uncomfortable I don't want to do this, I don’t know what to do” and my mom was like, “It’s fine!”
KS: He goes, “She’s 16 is this ok?” We’re like, “It’s ok, you can say it!”
But you did have to go up to your wife at some point and say, “Hey, I want to make our daughter a Cam-girl!”
KS: Invariably I have to go to my wife about everything sooner or later because if it’s going to affect my life it’s going to affect hers. Yeah, Tusk was the toughest one you know ,“I wanna make this movie about a guy who turns into a walrus” This one was kind of easy. She did baulk at 'Cam-girl' a little. She was like, “Who’s she playing? A cam-girl, what’s a cam-girl!?” Girls who get money online for showing off their bodies. “WHAT!?” But I said that this girl turns it around on her pimp dude, so she read it and was like, “Uh, fine”. She would prefer if it was a little less down and dirty but when you enter a career, at least when I was a kid, you know you come up through exploitation films. You don’t come up through the films you want to make, you come up through the films you have to make in order to get those jobs. So in the spirit of that I was like, “Let's make a horror short”. It’s not classy but it’s kind of fun and would feel at home in Creepshow or something like that. But yeah, I wonder if there’s a line, I mean there are some things I probably wouldn’t even push forward because I know the wife would say no way. That one I knew was on the line but as long as some fucking man was suffering at the end of it she was always going to be onboard. I think I can make any film with Harley as long as some man is made to suffer at the end of it. The irony is I’m usually the man who is humiliated and made to suffer at the end of the day. And she thinks that's just fine.
You were making out in the audience show that you have a very good relationship but with a feature length film like Yoga Hosers, where you have a teenage girl going to work with her dad every day, there must have been a couple of tough days, right?
HQS: We don’t really fight that much! I think he’s got mad at me like three times in my life and it’s been terrifying, but since then…
Oh, what does he get mad about!?
KS: Yeah, what was the last thing I got mad at you about? I think one of them was courtesy. I’m a real fucking courtesy guy so it’s just like…
HQS: I am SO courteous!
KS: You are! But it’s just because my whole life I’ve been telling you to be fucking courteous! Her and I are very similar, her mother always says, “You two are like fucking twins, I wish I had a kid who was like me.” So we don’t fight, honestly I fight more with my wife when we’re on set. Working with my wife is, I love her to death, but it's a fucking nightmare. Harley is insanely comfortable in doing this; Jennifer is not. Jennifer likes to be involved but when you involve her on the day she panics and melts down and I have to hold her hand through it. Harley is a fucking cakewalk. She was easy. She wants to act, Jennifer doesn’t. I needed Harley to act like who she was; like a fifteen-year-old but fucking throw in a funny accent. Whereas Jennifer breaks down into pieces, she’s like, “What am I!? What am I playing!? I’ve never worked in a fast food place!” I’m like, “It doesn’t fucking matter, just say the dialogue.” But with Harley? It’s fun, dude. When you make movies you know it’s all about watching my vision come to life, so that's cool. Throw in your kid and it's even better. Suddenly you’re like, “Oh my god, now she’s involved too and her journey has begun” I know every time we shoot something, yeah it's about the movie and shot, but it’s more about later on. She’s begun her journey and I get to be there with her in this one walk of life . If she had chosen to be a bassist, which she was originally heading towards, I couldn’t have helped other than to bring her to gigs and buy her a bass guitar and be supportive and shit, but here I can be like, “I’ll take you to film school” more or less. I mean it’s Kevin Smith film school, but if she can do that she’ll be able to do anything. So it’s fun on the level of like, I know the minor steps of what we’re doing now are equal to a lifetime of her playing pretend for a living. So even that makes it fun.
I know its weird but I think about my death a lot, from the time I was born I was thinking about my death because that's what life is - one long journey to the fucking grave. I believe that life is about making a good death, making your death as easy as possible by doing everything you've ever wanted to do in your life. People die with regret and that's a hard way to go out. Death sucks in general but we all gotta go there. At least if you’re going to face it, face it with this life behind you where you’re like, “I did everything I wanted to do” you know? Unless if what you wanted to do is hunt children, don’t do that! But like, I wanted to express myself so I made things. I’d rather not be scared or fear driven. I just do things that are fucking fun. So for me I always think about the end run and that's what I’ll think about when my brain synapses fire their last; her crushing some goofy fucking take in this movie about girls fighting Nazi fucking sausages and saying, ‘I’m not supposed to be here today!” and me thinking that's hysterical, I wrote that line 23 years ago and now she’s saying it! When she continues to act, in some deep recess of her heart mind and soul she’ll remember that it all began with family. My journey didn’t begin with my family, I love my family to death and I stuck my mom and sister in a movie and stuff, but they weren’t from that world. I told them what I was doing and they were like, “Fuck it, a million to one that this works out” Harley came up in a different family, we don’t dream here we do. If you have a dream you can fucking do it. I didn’t ever know what she was going to be, now she wants to act it’s nice to be a big part of that journey.
So you’ve pretty much always worked from your own scripts. Harley, do you write and do get you much guidance in the scriptwriting department?
KS: She’s a good writer. Genetically I think I played a part, but I don’t teach her to write. Generally, for every holiday she writes a long letter or whatever. She’s incredibly gifted; manipulative as hell, just like her father she knows how to push your buttons…
HQS: I know how to make you cry!
KS: Yes, there are people in life who know how to write to effect, some people write to inform, some people to amuse, but she writes to make you feel, she knows how to push your buttons. Easy with me as I’m her dad, but I think it goes beyond that. I’ll never sit her down and show her how to write a screenplay because she’s seen me and so she knows what they should look like and stuff, but if she ever wants to sit down and do that then she knows how to represent her world in a way that myself or someone else can't. I can put her in movies and say, “This is a movie about two girls from Canada!” But one day she’s gonna be like, “Thank you but I think I’d like to write my own thing.” I told her from the jump, acting is wonderful but when you’re an actor or actress you’re at the mercy of a content generator. Unless you can do it for yourself you need someone to give you material. Ben (Affleck) and Matt (Damon) did their own script and jump-started a secondary career. Instead of being hungry actors they were ‘Ben and Matt’. So if you can write yourself material then you never have to go hat in hand to some motherfucker for a job. I’m always pushing that. Produce your own content because then it’s even more fun and easy and it's coming right from your world. Sometimes you have to do stuff you don't want to do as an actress because it's like, “Well, I have to get the job. It’s not the job I want but I gotta pay the rent” You’ll never wind up in porn if you can write your own material.
I hear you’re going to kill off Silent Bob in Moose Jaws, is it true?
Well, Jay or Silent Bob. Right now it’s Silent Bob. I hold it over Jay’s head all the time. Like, “Behave or it's you!”
Surely they should go out together?
Yes and no. If Bob gets eaten by the moose then I can play him like a force ghost for the rest of my career. So Jay will stand next to a ghost and no one else will see the force ghost except Jay so people will find him even crazier than he has been, so it’s yet another situation. Now Jason gets really shitty, he’s like, “You can’t fucking kill off Jay and Silent Bob!” I said I’m only killing off one of them, and he said “You can’t fucking do that, we’re supposed to be in Mallrats!” I said, dude these are movies this isn’t real life. If I kill Silent Bob in Moose Jaws and he shows up in Mallrats the world’s not gonna break, people are just gonna be like, “Well, there you go” Don’t worry about it, man. But for me, I like the force ghost thing as it’s so fucking Star Wars, man. It’s the one thing they didn’t do in those movies. Ben came back, talked to Luke at one point in Empire and shit, but if you can do that why don’t you just hang out with the living at all times? They should always be sitting there talking to each other. So to be able to pay homage to Star Wars yet again at this point in my career, and keep Jay and Bob going with one of them as a ghost, I can get ten different movies out of that if I wanted too.
So it wasn’t anything deeper, like you’re sick of playing Silent Bob and want to get rid of him?
No, I love Silent Bob! He’s the greatest life insurance policy one could hope for, it has carried me for the last 22 years. Even when I’m not doing Silent Bob, people call me Bob in the mall and shit and I don't correct them. What’s the point? I mean honestly, I look like the character, I wear backwards baseball caps sometimes I’m wearing that coat and shit. But no, Leonard Nimoy wrote a book, 'I Am Not Spock' but I would never be the guy who’s like, “I’m killing Bob just so I don't have to fucking do this anymore.” I'll bring him back as a ghost, I'll bring him back as a zombie, as a fucking slug...
HQS: Haha, a slug!?
KS: You’ll see things with backwards baseball caps until I die from this movie.
Maybe a walrus?
KS: Haha, yeah, hands down there’ll be a walrus! Why the fuck don’t I have that tattoo? That's amazing right there, fucking Tusk with a backwards baseball cap, that really sums up my whole life. I’ll get it as a massive back tattoo.