Kevin Smith and I go back a long way. "Twenty years!," he bellows as I enter the Toronto hotel room. He gives me a big bear hug. I remember speaking to him for his 1994 film Clerks and looking for a magazine that would run my story complete with the f-words, which proved quite a challenge at the time. To this day, the 44-year-old remains original, outspoken and daring. Even if his films are famously about dudes, he loves women and embraces them whole-heartedly in his films.
With his new film, Tusk, he pays tribute to one of his favourite actors, 76-year-old Michael Parks, and lets a few others—like Genesis Rodriguez and Johnny Depp—go wild.
The idea for Tusk came from an episode of Smith's regular ‘SModcast’ series of podcasts. The comedy-horror tells the story of a popular podcast host, Wallace (played by Justin Long), who thinks he has found the perfect interview subject in Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an adventurer with amazing stories and a curious penchant for walruses. Things take a dark turn when Wallace is holed up in Howe's mansion in the backwoods of Canada. Wallace’s girlfriend Alison and best friend Teddy (Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment) commence a search, along with Depp’s Columbo-style ex-cop, yet they discover a nightmare from which there is no escape. As usual, there’s humour with the horror.
HB: I love the outfit. (The brightest and baggiest of t-shirts and long shorts). Where did you get it?
KS: It makes me easier to find in a crowd, but also easy to disappear in a crowd because if I am wearing this and suddenly I am not, it's like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak.
HB: How did you enlist Johnny Depp?
KS: I hit him up via text 'cause I’ve known him for years through our daughters who go to the same school in LA and are friends. I’ve seen him at school events and then at the home events and we would tell stories about making movies, but not like we should work together! He works in a different stratosphere that I would never be near. So when I’d written Tusk there was this part and I said, “Fuck everything, in a world with no price tags and shit, Depp would crush this.” I'd never talked to him about doing anything before but I was like, “I hate doing this dude ‘cause I know you probably get this a zillion times a day, but I wrote this movie and there’s a part I think you’d be awesome for and the only reason I bring it up is because this guy Michael Parks is in the movie [pictured below]. I made this movie Red State with Parks and then I took it out myself and the circus surrounding the release of the movie and self-distribution hurt Parks’ chances of getting nominated for shit or getting the notice that he deserved. I really want to make it right.”
Johnny texted back: "I love Michael Parks". So right then and there I sent him a blog I had written about writing Tusk and he read it and he was like, “This sounds like something I would like to swim around in. Thanks for thinking of me, I am in.”
HB: Why do you love Michael Parks?
KS: I’ve never seen anyone make choices like him. In 1995, I went to see From Dusk Till Dawn at an early screening held by Bob Weinstein. He said, “Do you want to see Quentin in my new movie that he wrote?” I said, “Fuck yeah, the vampire thing? I totally want to see that.” My first five minutes of the movie was my first introduction to Michael Parks. He plays the sheriff, walks into Benny’s World Of Liquor and has this scene that has almost nothing to do with the movie where he is talking about life in town or whatever and his performance was mind bending.
"A buddy of mine is playing Batman, my favourite character on the planet. And I live in that dude’s old house so I now live in Wayne Manor, that’s awesome too."
I am a fan of actors, I love acting, I love people who tell the lie that tells the truth and I love that they can take something that’s written on a page and make it sound like they just made it up off the top of their head and shit. This was a guy who was doing it differently than anybody else. Anybody. His choice of delivery, how he looked, how he carried his eyes across the frame, fascinated me. I decided I wanted to work with him, but it took me 15 years to figure out something we could do because I couldn’t call him up and be like, “Do you want to play Silent Bob’s grandpa?” It wasn’t until Red State that I was like, “Holy shit, this dude would tear it up.”
HB: Red State took a lot out of you, didn’t it?
KS: I loved it and I don’t regret it whatsoever. If I didn’t do that this never would have happened. That was me breaking my own ropes in order to do something interesting. I can’t be beholden to the same career I’ve had my whole life. I’ve learned how to make movies one way, and now I am in the system, I’ve priced myself out of being interesting. So if I do this, I can start from scratch and start rebuilding.
HB: It’s all new rules now.
KS: The world I came up in is gone. They don’t make that mid-level movie anymore.
HB: What do you think about Affleck? (Ben Affleck appeared in Smith’s movies Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl and Clerks II.)
KS: I love it; it’s awesome. A buddy of mine is playing Batman, my favourite character on the planet. And I live in that dude’s old house so I now live in Wayne Manor, that’s awesome too. I bought his house 12 years ago. So I’ve raised my kid in that house and he lived in it first. It was a party house for him, but for me it’s a family house. He came over four or five years ago, we were all playing poker and he was like, “Holy shit, you had fireplaces put in.” I said, “No dude, these were always here.” He said, “Really?” It wasn’t a family house for him.
HB: Every time you are at a festival, you are making headlines about something and you did so at Tusk’s Toronto premiere.
KS: [Laughs] I said, “Clearly I’ve reached a point in my career where I just don’t give a fuck anymore.”
HB: ...Did you ever?!
KS: Yes, the problem with being that person who “doesn’t give a fuck” is that you don’t give a fuck, ‘cause you’ve given far too many fucks. Clearly I am being ironic. Tusk was made with such care and precision, even for something so fucking stupid, it’s handled like it’s real. All those actors are playing it like they are in Argo, like it’s an important film, and that’s why the movie works.
HB: You are doing Clerks III?
KS: That will be in May. Right now I go back to finish (Tusk spin-off) Yoga Hosers.
HB: Who is doing that?
KS: The two girls are the yoga hosers in question [his daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose]. Johnny plays [his Tusk character] again; the entire Tusk cast comes back but they all play different characters. Justin Long comes back but he plays their yoga teacher; Genesis Rodriguez plays their gym teacher. It’s kind of like what we used to do with the View Askewniverse [his production company is called View Askew] back in the day, with Clerks, Chasing Amy and all that. All those movies interconnected and had the same actors.
HB: Why did you cast Harley and Lily-Rose as the stars?
KS: Once I was finished with Tusk I fell in love with the girl’s performances and I thought, “Ooh, I want to make a movie about that, I am going to build a universe”. This movie is connected to Tusk. So Tusk happens first, then Yoga Hosers, then there is a movie called Moose Jaws, which is Jaws with a moose in Canada. That’s the True North Trilogy. And they are all tied together.
HB: So you brought the film to Toronto to please the Canadians?
KS: Yes, it was awesome to show it twice here because this is the place where they’ll get every fucking joke. It was made for my favourite people on earth, Canadians.
HB: Is it now easier to use expletives in movies?
KS: It’s easier to do fuck at this point. It’s become such a modifier that you can get away with it in a PG-13 movie as long as you are using fuck once and you are not using it to describe the actual act of something like that. But in Yoga Hosers we threw it away, we are trying to do PG-13 so nobody says fuck. It’s the first movie since Jersey Girl where nobody says fuck. It might be disastrous as well but might as well try it!
Tusk - the first in a planned trilogy - opens in limited release from October 9. (Picture credit, top: Leonard Adam, Wire Image/Getty)
Watch the Tusk trailer below: