For every fan of Kevin Smith’s movies, there are roughly 10,000 people who think he’s a hack — something Smith is painfully, hilariously aware of. Long before Tina Fey was putting Internet commenters on blast, Smith was directly engaging with his legions of anonymous online haters. But in the wake of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, possibly the biggest disappointment of his career, Smith has moved on. In New York shooting A Couple of Dicks — an action-comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan — and prepping for “An Evening With Kevin Smith” at Carnegie Hall on June 17, Smith spoke with Vulture about competing with Judd Apatow and why he hopes his next movie is like Road House.
A Couple of Dicks is the first movie you’re directing that you didn’t write. Did you feel the need to put your own stamp on the script?
Beautifully, [screenwriters] the Cullen brothers are dialogue crazy — the whole movie is like cops who are practically married but not actually, and, I mean, that’s right up my alley. It’s like Dante and Randall [from Clerks] as cops. That’s why I was attracted to it in the first place. We all feel like we’re trying to make a TNT classic — that movie that will just air ad nauseam forever once it hits TNT. I want it to be Road House. [My movies] all get cut to shit. I could never watch them [on TV]. Jersey Girl is the only one that doesn’t get hit hard, but that one’s tough to watch for a number of reasons. Television version or not.
How did you end up choosing this movie?
After Zack and Miri — or after, rather, the collapse of Zack and Miri — I was just like, I don’t feel like writing anything right now. I read it and I was like, this is like Lethal Weapon with 40 percent less action, which is something I can get my head around. On 30 Rock, one of the posters in Tracy’s office is for a movie called Black Cop / White Cop, so when it was announced people were just like,”It’s Black Cop / White Cop!” But it’s not race-specific. It’s not, “He’s a white cop who plays it by the book. And he’s a slaphappy black dude who’s gonna teach him how to misbehave and be a real cop!” It’s two guys who are longtime partners who kind of depend on the friendship.
The name was changed to A Couple of Cops for a while there, right?
It was always A Couple of Dicks. When Variety reported the story, they got it wrong. I called Warner Bros. like, “Oh man, is that it? Did you guys cave?” And they’re like, “No! It’s Dicks!”
Were you nervous about shooting action scenes for the first time?
The studio — it’s very cute — they try to not say the obvious. And the obvious is, “We are piss-scared you are going to fuck this up. You have never done anything like this.” So every step of the way everyone’s like, “It would probably be good to see some storyboards two months before you start shooting the sequences.” So we sat down with Dave, my DP, and the storyboard artist, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief.
And you’re still doing your “political horror film,” Red State, at some point?
I’m hoping. That’s about finding cash. And right now it’s the worst time in the world to go finding cash. I’ll just wait till the time is right and somebody ponies up, and maybe it’ll get to the point where I’ll just say, “Fuck it — I’ll do it.” But I’ve been in the business long enough to know that you should never risk your own money, particularly on a fucking Kevin Smith movie.
As you mentioned, Zack and Miri didn’t do as well as expected. How did you take that?
I kind of dropped out of society. I just kind of wrapped myself in a weed-infused cocoon … a coma, if you will. And it was great. It was really, really wonderful, man. I don’t want to be one of those people who’s all, “Let me tell you about legalization!” But, my God, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life. And after years and years of … you know, I used to literally fight with people online. I would waste days online, talking to total strangers, some of them probably children. I was a joke. And I made a movie where at the end they beat up these guys, and still … you’d imagine that would be therapeutic, but, no, I still kept doing it.
I really feel like I grew up in the last year, and it wouldn’t have been possible if Zack and Miri hadn’t done what it did. Which wasn’t, like, a colossal failure, but it underperformed severely. We were all expecting double of what it did — not even 100 million bucks, but everything was pointing to an easy 60. And after being told that by, like, everybody, and then seeing what it did, it was just so fucking disillusioning. And I know it sounds like, “Oh, rich man’s problems. Oh, poor baby, you got paid a shit-ton of money to make your dopey little dream of yours come true, and now you’re gonna complain that it didn’t make enough money.” But you know, I’m sorry, but it bugs you. It’s just about, especially when you write and direct, it’s about like, fuck, what you have to say isn’t important to me, amusing to me, or relevant to me.
You wake up on a Saturday morning, and you’re trying to avoid the grosses, not taking any calls and shit from the studio, so the first time you’re gonna find out what the movie did the previous night is pretty much when the Internet finds out. You’re gonna go to Box Office Mojo and look it up. The morning after it came out, I came out of the bathroom, and my wife was sitting in the chair, she had this face on, and I said, what is it? And she said, do you really want to know? And I was like, “Uh, yes.” And she was like “2.2.” 2.2 million for a Seth Rogen movie on a Friday night? Doing the math, that’s less than a ten million opening — that means it opened less than Clerks 2, which did not have the guy from Knocked Up in it. We wound up doing ten million [opening weekend]. But ten million dollars? I mean, Seth had just opened with Pineapple Express with like 30 million dollars a few months prior. It was depressing.
Do you have theories about what happened?
Opening on Halloween wasn’t great. We never really nailed our marketing campaign … I mean, having “porno” in the title in some weird way hurt. And that shocked me because I was like, “I thought that was our edge, for heaven’s sake.” But apparently not. I mean, it was what it was. But we should have done better. Because that, to me, was like the most mainstream flick that I could write, and, you know, when it doesn’t do the most mainstream business you’ve ever done … Well that’s not true, it did. The whole way everyone was like, “this is going to be your highest grossing film”, and I said, “really, you think so?” And they were fucking right, by about five hundred grand … nobody said that. It just beat out Dogma. That and Jay and Bob. It was kind of perfect.
And so, yeah, that was tough, but something good came out of it, and that was that I became a habitual fucking weed smoker, for a long period of time. They always tell you, “you don’t get anything done.” And, you know, I was more productive in six months … and maybe I’m giving credit to weed, but the fact of the matter is I stayed off the Internet for six months because after our opening I was like, “I can’t show my face on the Internet!” Because the Internet is like high school, and having Zach and Miri open to ten million is the equivalent of wearing a really gay-ass-looking shirt on the first day of school, and everyone’s talking about it for the next few months. So rather then go back to school, I quit school for a few months.
How are you feeling about the Carnegie Hall appearance?
I’ve been on a lot of stages, but Carnegie Hall? Talented people play Carnegie Hall. And I wrote on my blog, the only true talent that I could take credit for was when I was 18 or 19 years, I was able to bend over and touch my tongue to my cock. And I thought if I could do that, people would pay money to see that — a morbidly obese man almost breaking his back trying to relive his golden youth when he was able to touch the tip of his tongue to the tip of his cock. But I don’t know who’s buying tickets to Carnegie Hall. I hope it’s not people who are subscribers, or patrons, and then they show up and it’s a fucking fat dude up there going, “I got a little dick and I’m untalented!”
Do you see a point where you could retire from directing and do all the other stuff you do full-time?
Yeah, I think so. When I started this, it was all about the fire in the belly. About not I want to make a film, it was if I don’t make a film, I’m gonna fucking die. You know, I’m 22, so naturally I was a little bit more emo about it, before emo was a thing. And I’ve done it a lot and I’ve not lost my appreciation for it. That being said, I will run out of stories to tell, and some people I’m sure will tell you I ran out after Clerks. But I’ve had it going for fifteen years, and I think, Wow it’s gotta end sooner or later. I used to think that the Jay and Bob movies, that was it, that was my whole life, that’s who I was. And I was right, that’s who I was, that’s what I did.
But that was one chapter. And then you get to a point where, “I’m 38 years old and I don’t have anything left to say about Jay and Silent Bob.” And I love the bromantic comedies, but there are people who are way better at it than I am. Do I want to compete against Judd Apatow? No. And I was a guy who did that a while ago, but in a world where I’m just not feeling it anymore, do I want to compete with a guy who clearly understands how to reach an audience better than I do? It just feels like maybe it’s time to try something else.