If you ask writer/director/actor Kevin Smith how he's doing, be prepared for him to actually tell you.
"Rather than just be like, 'I feel good,' I'm just like, 'I feel bad and this is why: I had an anal f***in' fissure,'" he says. "Don't ask unless you want to hear. Cuz I am really the too-much-information guy."
In fact, he almost literally wears it on his sleeve: During an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel, Smith is decked out in a black "Clerks II" wristband and a short-sleeve, collared shirt that reads "Total Whore" over the right breast.
Of course, the joke is that he's anything but, with "Jersey Girl" his only foray into the Hollywood studio system and "Clerks II" a marked return to form after the Ben Affleck-Liv Tyler flop. In the sequel, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) cope with the destruction of their beloved Quick Stop by working behind the counter at fictional fast-food chain Mooby's.
"You don't have to be Freud or a psychoanalyst of some sort to kind of look at it and be like, 'I think he's talking about himself,'" Smith says of the "Clerks II" plot, a symbol for his failed attempt to depart from his usual style and do the more commercial but undeniably lamer "Jersey Girl." "Quick Stop doesn't just represent Quick Stop in the movie. Quick Stop is burnt down, and that's kind of indicative of me going, 'We're not doing Jay and Silent Bob movies anymore, the View Askewniverse is closed.'" (Smith's production company is called View Askew.)
The pre-"Jersey Girl" movies that the Quick Stop represents all blend deep conversation and lowbrow--though articulate--humor. And after "Jersey Girl" tanked and Smith explored other bigger-budget possibilities (including a screen adaptation of the "Green Hornet" comic book), he decided that wasn't right for him.
But returning to the "Clerks" world wasn't easy. Some of the actors--most strongly, Anderson--were hesitant to reprise their roles, and Smith struggled to get the green light for "Clerks II" as Harvey and Bob Weinstein were in the process of splitting from Miramax and forming The Weinstein Company. When Smith turned in the first draft, Harvey Weinstein called him with some negative feedback.
"He goes, 'I don't get it. It's just two guys sitting around talking,'" Smith says. "And I was like, 'That's what the first one was!'"
So Weinstein suggested Smith do more work on the script and maybe even show Dante and Randal back in high school. Instead, Smith simply trimmed 10 pages and turned in the shorter version, which had the same structure and no rewriting.
"Then I get the call from Harvey going, 'I told you, man. I told you. You did some work on it, and now it's great,'" he says.
Of course, "Clerks II" does have a lot of talk and not much action, and Smith says that's the way he likes it.
"Any movie shoot that has action sequences is f***in' boring to me," he says. "There are some people that live to shoot action, like Michael Bay I guess is a prime example. I can't stand it. If people aren't talking, I'm like what's the point, why are we shooting this? Let's move on."
In the end, the Weinsteins were happy with the film, even if they weren't expecting much.
"[After seeing the movie,] Bob was just like, 'I gotta tell you, man, I had no idea the movie would be good,'" Smith says. "And I was just like, 'What do you mean? This good?'"
"And he's like, 'No, good at all. You really made a touching movie that's really funny, but I just thought you were making a movie for your f***in' friends.'"
For whatever struggles he endured, Smith appreciates that he was given the freedom to return to his trademark, personal style.
"For whatever reason [Weinstein] likes us, and he lets us do what we want, but he won't take the training wheels off the bike for us yet," he says. "And there's always forever talk of, 'Well, you guys have got to grow as filmmakers.' And I'm like, 'Dude, don't you get it? Twelve years in, this is all I can do! I am not going to f***in' grow anymore. This is what I do and accept it or don't.'
And while he isn't planning any more "Clerks" movies now, he won't write it off entirely.
"I won't close the door completely," he says, "because if in 10 years at age 40-something I've got a story to tell about what I feel like it's like to be in my forties, immediately I'm going to be like: Dante and Randal."