Off with the cap, Silent Bob speaks

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It’s always surprising to see Kevin Smith when he’s not in character. After years of watching his alter ego Silent Bob on the screen, it’s easy to forget that the real Kevin Smith is a shorthaired dude who pontificates a mile a minute.

A&E sat down with the director in the Grand Hotel last month along with Trevor Fehrman, the South St. Paul native who plays the scene-stealing Elias in Smith’s latest movie, Clerks 2, the sequel to the 1994 film that thrust Smith into the indie film spotlight.

Smith wore an oversized baseball jersey and chain-smoked cigarettes as he talked about today’s cultural climate, his growth as a director and why he felt the need to return to the Dante and Randall characters.

“Going back to those characters came from a desire to tell a story about what it’s like to be in my 30s,” Smith said. “‘Clerks was a story about what it was like to be in my 20s, so I figured I could use them. They are kind of like my proxies, my stand-ins.”

Smith was worried going back to his original characters could be a mistake that, if he didn’t pull it off, could cause people to retroactively devalue the original film.

“But that wasn’t a good enough reason not to do it,” he said. “I felt like I had something to say.”

He said he was happy to return to the characters and find that they have grown with him over the years. “They never occurred to me as that human the first time around,” he said.

Smith has especially gained a new appreciation for Randall, who was always more of a sidekick to Dante. “I think Randall is my favorite character who I’ve ever created,” Smith said. “He’s revealed as the nihilist who’s a closet dreamer.”

But it’s not only the characters who have grown. Smith always has been known as a less-than-stellar visual stylist. With Clerks 2, he believes it is his best film to date, aesthetic-wise, with little quirks like a shot that orbits 360 degrees around Dante and Randall during a parking lot argument.

“I think Clerks 2 is more visually accomplished,” he said, “it’s a real amalgamation of everything we’ve done.”

As can be expected, Smith’s personal life has undergone major changes since his original film. Not the least of which includes the Catholic-raised Smith making a return of sorts to his religious roots, although films like Dogma show that he’s able to keep a sense of humor about the whole affair. Is Fehrman’s character, the Christian nerd Elias, a commentary on the state of religion in America today?

“It’s tough not to talk about religion in the current climate,” Smith said, “but first and foremost for anything is to be funny. Elias to me is a tragic case of someone who is religious by default, and his character is more about sheltered people than Christians per se.”

Fehrman is quick to chime in on his character. “It’s making fun of this American perversion of Christianity,” he said.

Smith said he is working on the script for the long-awaited Clerks animated film, based on the short-lived ABC series, which will be a straight-to-video release. Excepting the animated film – which takes place in a sort of parallel universe – is it safe to say that this is it for Smith’s Leonardo, New Jersey crew?

“I feel like Clerks 2 really bookends the ‘View Askew’ movies,” Smith said, although he stops short of saying definitively that he will never go back there, as he did after filming “Jay and Silent Bob.” Which turned out to be untrue.

“If I’ve got a good enough story to tell and I can use those dudes to tell it, I want to leave that door open for myself,” he said. “Maybe I’ll revisit them in their 40s, I just don’t know.”

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