Kevin Smith’s Marijuanaissance: On ‘Tusk,’ ‘Falling Out’ with Ben Affleck, and 20 Years of ‘Clerks’
EXCERPT 09.09.14 by thedailybeast.com
The outspoken filmmaker sat down with Marlow Stern to discuss his wacky walrus horror film Tusk, his upcoming film with Johnny Depp starring their daughters, his love of weed, and more.
Any conversation with Kevin Smith, the loquacious filmmaker/geek god, tends to go to interesting places. The guy has no filter, and regularly regales colleges and podcast listeners with his industry yarns, from the hellish experience working with Bruce Willis on Cop Out to the living soap opera that was developing his script for the superhero flick Superman Lives, replete with a giant, killer spider (at the producer’s behest).
Following the disappointing box office for Red State, Smith said that his follow-up film, Clerks 3, would be his last. Later, he amended that statement to say that he’ll keep making movies, but only ones “I would/could ever make.” Which brings us to Tusk.
A couple of years back, on his comedy podcast SModcast, Smith and pal Scott Mosier discussed an ad for a man renting out a room in his house gratis—on the condition that the tenant dresses up like a walrus for a few hours a day. They had a field day with it, disassembling and reassembling it, until they landed on an idea: What if it was a horror film about a demented elderly seafarer who posts a misleading ad, lures a man to his cabin in the woods, and then attempts to transform him into a walrus. That, dear friends, is the plot to Tusk. Written and directed by Smith, the film stars Michael Parks as the seaman Howard Howe and Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, the poor podcaster who’s abducted. When he goes missing, Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and pal (Hailey Joel Osment) team up with an eccentric Montreal private eye, Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp), to track him down.
Tusk was shot in 19 days on a budget of $2.9 million, and made its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, where The Daily Beast sat down with Smith to discuss the bizarre film, the 20th anniversary of Clerks, and much more.
I feel like my entire generation grew up smoking weed and watching Clerks and Mallrats.
See, that’s something I never did until fairly recently. It was [Seth] Rogen who turned me on to it. I’d smoked weed in the past, but treated it as a recreational, once-in-a-blue-moon thing. But Rogen was just so impressive and productive as a stoner, and the only stoners I’d known filled the stereotype, but this is a guy who works against the stereotype, since he’s always working on, like, nine things at once. He introduced me to the notion that there’s a whole community of productive stoners—not just in this business, but everywhere.
It’s a really mental wall, but once you concentrate and bust through that wall, you can be very productive. Exactly. Some people are like, “I can’t imagine working stoned!” but for me, part of the fun is working through it, where it’s like, “OK, there’s something here but it’s clearing cobwebs and making me look at it from a new perspective.” It doesn’t give you any creative ideas, but it removes fear from any equation so you have no fear of what will happen.
Believe me, dude, when I say the joke of, “He’s got a wife, and she don’t like me,” there’s a seed of fuckin’ truth to it. Johnny Depp has a pretty sizeable role in Tusk as the Montreal private eye Guy LaPointe. How did you two hook up?
It’s the girls. I met him because his daughter, Lily, and my daughter, Harley, are friends. I met him back in 2005 when Harley started in this school called the Hollywood Schoolhouse, so I’ve known him through school functions and he’s cool to talk to, and he’s a fuckin’ icon. I watched 21 Jump Street the first night it aired on Fox. We’d talk about the business but never, “Hey, do you want to play Silent Bob’s uncle?” because he was just in another stratosphere.
It wasn’t until Tusk with the Guy LaPointe part where, when I was done writing, I thought, “Who would be the ultimate Guy LaPointe?” because it was a gonzo project anyway that went from podcast to movie in six fuckin’ months. So, in that stoner frame of mind, I thought, “Johnny Depp would crush this.” It was the matter of just getting over the fear of texting him and going, “Hey man, I know you probably judge shit like this, but I have this great part in a fun movie and it’ll take two days.” And I told him that the only regret I had about making Red State was, because I had to turn it into a circus to self-distribute it, Michael Parks never got the due that I was hoping he would. I took all the focus away and some people were like, “Well, fuck Kevin and his movie.” So, I texted Johnny and said, “Look, I’m trying to make this flick for Parks to try and make up for the fact that I didn’t shine a light on him, and you could really help shine a light on him,” and he texted back, “I love Michael Parks.”
And you two are hooking up again with Yoga Hosers, starring Johnny and each of your daughters?
He fell in love with the Guy LaPointe character. He shot it in two days. After it was done, he was like, “I’ll play this character anytime.” But we shot our daughters in that convenience store sequence in two hours, and it was fuckin’ adorable. At the end of that sequence, Johnny was joking around and said, “We should just put them to work and retire.” I’m cutting that scene and watching it over and over, and I asked my wife why I loved the scene so much, and she said, “Kevin, it’s two people behind the fuckin’ counter at a convenience store. It’s where you started.” Plus, the performance was so natural and fuckin’ deadpan. So, first I asked my wife about writing a movie for the girls, and then I asked Vanessa [Paradis], Lily-Rose’s mom, and she said, “Kevin, if you want to do it, do it.” And then I did it and gave her the script, and she was like, “Oh wow, you weren’t kidding.” We’re at the end of Week 3 of shooting and by the end of the first week, they were really fuckin’ good and making instinctive choices. I thought it would be like directing Jason Mewes on Clerks where I’d go over and have to say, “No, do it like this,” and it was a puppeteering job, but they’re standing on their own.