One of the great things about travel is that you meet the most interesting people. Earlier this month, at the Sun Valley Film Festival, we met Kevin Smith.
You may know Smith better as “Silent Bob.” Yet he couldn’t stop talking.
That’s right: The man who is known throughout the cult film world as Silent Bob — for his pantomime roles in such movies as “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Dogma” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” all of which he also wrote and directed — has found his voice.
It’s not as if he ever lost it. Fans who saw the 1997 movie “Chasing Amy” may recall the three-minute spiel of wisdom and regret that he offered to Ben Affleck in the wake of more than an hour of muteness. But placed in a setting where he could speak directly to dozens of fans at the Sun Valley Film Festival in mid-March, he waxed poetic … if you consider “F-bombs” poetic.
It was 10 in the morning at the Nexstage Theatre. Smith, who had arrived early that same morning — on a private jet from Burbank, Calif., with Hall and Oates’ “Man Eater” on a two-hour loop — was dressed in Boise State University blue and orange, in a XXL-sized hockey jersey bearing the name “Fat Man.”
“The benefit of an early morning Q&A is that it is absolutely the fittest that I will be all day long,” Smith said. “Because the minute I start eating, it’s all fucking over.”
For more than an hour, Smith, 43, talked. He discussed his start in movies, his career evolution and his newest projects.
As a New Jersey convenience and video store clerk, Smith made “Clerks” on a shoestring in the early 1990s, casting himself as “Silent Bob.”
“It’s 164 pages of ‘dick’ jokes set in a convenience store,” he said. “I can’t memorize all this shit. I’ve never been good at memorizing things, and now that I smoke as much as I do, I generally can’t act. So being Silent Bob was good for me, ‘cause I like to fucking watch. I could be a mute witness to the whole thing.”
Released in 1994, “Clerks” won acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival and was released into general distribution by Miramax — which then offered Smith $75,000 to write the sequel, “Mallrats.” “Suddenly, I’m a paid professional,” Smith said. “I hit the fucking lottery of life.” He spent 12 years working for Miramax, “getting paid an obscene amount of money,” he said. But by the mid-2000s, he set out on his own: “I’m all about destroying my career, over and over again.”
He produced documentaries and podcasts, and wrote and directed a movie called “Red State,” signaling a venture to the dark side. “Happy people aren’t all that interesting,” Smith said. The gallows humor of “Red State” (2011), starring John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks, “is as serious as a heart attack,” Smith said.
“I had to figure out a way to make movies that didn’t necessarily come from my heart,” Smith said. “When it came to film, I just wanted to rip out fatty chunks of my heart, throw it between two platters, and ask, ‘Does anybody get it?’ I love watching fucked-up movies. I didn’t know how to make fucked-up movies when I started.”
His latest movie is “Tusk,” a special-effects “horror thriller” made for $3 million. Starring Haley Joel Osment and Justin Long, it is scheduled to be released later this year. “It’s a movie about a guy who tries to turn another guy into a fucking walrus,” Smith said. “Oddly enough, it becomes the most personal movie and the best movie I’ve ever made. It is absurdity that is played earnestly straight.”
And then he gave advice.
“We have great ideas all the time,” Smith said. “They don’t get executed. But why not you? Nobody’s ever going to hand you things, so just go try. Take one year of your life for yourself, and say, I’m going to try anything I want to try. Take the chance and go for it.
“In the last few years, I’ve just been seizing that more often. When fucking whimsy strikes, I just push it like a shopping cart, or like Sisyphus, right up the fucking hill.”