'Mallrats' at 25: Kevin Smith Reveals Jason Lee's Whopper of a Casting Story
In 1994, 23-year-old Kevin Smith became the toast of Park City, Utah, as his debut film, Clerks, earned the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmakers Trophy. Smith quickly joined the ranks of fellow Sundance stars Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, as '90s independent film became an industry-changing movement. Naturally, there was a lot of interest in Smith’s follow-up to Clerks, and he was quickly approached by Raising Arizona and Dazed and Confused producer, James Jacks, about making his second film with Universal’s Gramercy Pictures. From there, the script for Mallrats was soon completed.
As Smith started to cast the film, acclaimed casting director Don Phillips asked him if he’d do a favor for talent manager Gay Ribisi, and mother to Giovanni Ribisi. The request involved meeting the boyfriend of Ribisi’s daughter, Marissa, as the boyfriend had just retired from professional skateboarding in order to act. The boyfriend turned out to be Jason Lee, who eventually won over Smith, his producer Scott Mosier, Phillips and Jacks. Lee’s charisma even turned his “second banana” character, Brodie Bruce, into the de facto lead of Mallrats.
Heat Vision breakdown
“Don Phillips was so excited because this was a favor he was doing for a friend … It went from that to this guy who is now going to get the big part,” Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So they brought Jason in and he had a bag of Burger King with him; he was in the midst of eating a Whopper. So he’s digging into his Whopper and I go, ‘OK, so we think you’re it. You’re going to be Brodie.’ He stops eating momentarily, looks up with the widest eyes possible and goes, ‘Yeah?’ and then instantly, he goes back into his Whopper, as if I wasn’t there. That Whopper was just the most important thing in the world to him.”
Mallrats, which opened 25 years ago this month, also established Smith’s version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “The View Askewniverse." Fittingly, he got the idea to create a shared universe from Marvel Comics’ Marvel Universe, which was spearheaded by Marvel writer/editor Stan Lee. Thus, when it came time to cast Mallrats’ comics “guru” role that would provide Jason Lee’s comic-loving Brodie with invaluable advice, Smith had Stan Lee at the top of his wishlist. In a twist of fate, it turned out that Jacks was able to grant that very wish as he was a longtime friend of Lee’s. The comic legend's Mallrats cameo went on to become one of his most beloved cameo roles, and it even led to a full-circle moment for Smith in 2019’s Captain Marvel.
“Years later, my man is on a train in Captain Marvel, and he’s reading a Mallrats script and reciting his line out loud. And there’s my name on the script. It was almost as if he returned the favor,” Smith shares. “Winning an Oscar is not really important to me. Having Stan Lee reading a copy of the Mallrats script, which then kind of meta-shouts out the cameo he did … that is far better, to me, than winning the tin. That’s my kind of Oscar right there, man. And the symmetry to it, with him coming full circle from Mallrats, from one cameo to a lifetime of cameos by the end of his run, meant everything, at least for me.”
In celebration of his cult classic's 25th anniversary, Smith also spoke to THR about his favorite cut of the film, emailing Cameron Crowe about Almost Famous' tie to Mallrats and the latest details regarding its much-anticipated sequel, Twilight of the Mallrats.
Before we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mallrats, you just streamed the 300th episode of your Fatman Beyond podcast. How are you feeling?
Good, man. There’s a fucking a sense of accomplishment and whatnot. Thank you for acknowledging it; so few people in my world did. I was like, “I did 300 podcasts,” and they’re like, “I thought you’d done 10,000 by now.” And I was like, “Yeah, but of this one, 300.” We wouldn’t have been able to get there without Marc (Bernardin). That’s for sure. Marc just makes that show a joy for me to do.
So I can’t believe I get to tell you this, but during my senior year of high school, I quoted Mallrats as my senior quote next to my yearbook picture.
Get the fuck out of here!
Since I had just rewatched the movie and was frustrated by an on-again, off-again relationship a la T.S. (Jeremy London), I submitted the following as my quote: “I, too, now am in the framing business.” Out of all the famous lines in the movie, has this quote ever been highlighted to you in the past?
(Laughs.) Never in a million years. I always felt that was one of the most clever lines, puns or wordplay in Mallrats, but it always fell on deaf ears. The audience was fairly young for it, but it seems like there was a pair of ears out there that heard it and then immortalized it in a fucking yearbook. I know what kind of high honor that is, man. Putting that in a yearbook? That means a lot. As a writer, I feel like I’ve succeeded. Thank you.
Call me Highlander.
You are the only one, and there could be only one. Just watch your neck, bro. (Laughs.)
Jason Lee’s Brodie tells a comically graphic story in the third act of the film, and it involves his cousin Walter’s experience on an airplane that’s about to crash and the ensuing behavior of the passengers. Five years later, Jason Lee starred in Almost Famous, and he’s part of a scene where a private jet is in danger of crashing and everyone on board starts confessing their innermost secrets. In both cases, the plane eventually recovered. Have you and Lee talked about this coincidence over the years?
No, but me and Cameron Crowe did back in '96 or '97. At one point, when I was dating Joey [Lauren] Adams, she was auditioning for Almost Famous, and she had mentioned that we were dating. I was like, “Oh my God, would you give him my info?” and then Cameron and I would email back and forth. I didn’t see it in the sides that Joey was auditioning with, but I was telling him, like, “My God, these sides are fantastic.” But when I saw the movie, I hit him up to be like, “Oh my God, dude! The plane!” And he goes, “Yeah! My Silent Bob finally talks!” because that’s where the drummer [John Fedevich's Ed Vallencourt], who’d been quiet the whole time, finally speaks. And I was like, “Um, yes, but the whole ‘Let’s say things or do things as the plane is about to crash and then the plane doesn’t crash at all’ thing was in Mallrats!” And he goes, “Was it?” (Laughs.) So I guess great minds thought alike, but one did not inform the other. Mallrats also has the Jason Lee tie to The Incredibles. At one point, Mr. Incredible goes, “You’re that kid from the fanclub. Uh, Brodie? Buddy!” And I remember when I heard that, I gasped and was like, “Somebody else saw Mallrats! Thank fucking God.”
Lee practically stole every scene in his first speaking role, and that's quite an amazing feat when you consider the fact that he’d just retired from professional skateboarding. Can you take me back to the process of discovering Lee?
Yeah, that belongs to the great Don Phillips. He’s one of the greatest unsung casting directors in our business. He also cast Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So, along with Taps, he’s responsible for finding Sean Penn, and years later, he’s responsible for finding Jason Lee. He also cast Dazed and Confused, so he’s responsible for discovering Matthew McConaughey as well. He had just done Dazed and Confused with both of our producers, Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel. So Jim said, “What about Don Phillips? Don found Spicoli. He found Wooderson. So we could use him to find our Brodie.” I said, “Oh absolutely.” So we met Don Phillips, wonderful casting director, and he brought in all that. We saw all of young Hollywood. Reese Witherspoon came in on Mallrats. Alyssa Milano. So Don told me at one point, he was like, “OK, I’m bringing in this kid as a favor, but I want you to meet with him. You don’t have to audition, but just do a general meet.” I said, “Who is he?” And he goes, “His name’s Jason Lee. He’s repped by Gay Ribisi. He was going out with Marissa Ribisi. That’s Gay’s daughter, who was in Dazed and Confused.” She’s the curly headed girl, Cynthia, in Dazed and Confused, and she’s Giovanni Ribisi’s sister. So Don goes, “I love the Ribisis. I cast Marissa in Dazed, so her mom, Gay, is asking if you’ll meet with Jason Lee. He wants to become an actor now.” And I said, “What do you mean he wants to become an actor? What is he?” And he goes, “He’s a professional skateboarder,” and I was like, “Oh, get out of here. Really?” And Don said, “Yeah, he wants to make the transition into acting. So would you please just meet with him? That’s all I ask.” And I said, “Yeah, totally.”
So they brought in Jason Lee and he’s as real as raincoats. He’s got this very dry delivery, but he’s not trying to be ironic. It’s just that he’s earnest. He’s the guy that I brought out at NYU in '96. We were shooting Chasing Amy. So we’re all up in the city: me, Ben [Affleck], Joey [Lauren Adams] and Jason. So we were just shooting at the Meow Mix Bar down in Alphabet City, and I had to go uptown to NYU to do a Mallrats Q&A screening like a year after the movie came out. So the kids were there and I said, “You guys want to come? Because, like, fuck, you’re all in Mallrats.” And they were like, “Yeah let’s do it.” So I went out and the place was packed. Then, I started bringing up cats. I’m like, “So I brought some cats with me because we’re making a movie right now. Give it up for Ben Affleck.” And since they’d just watched him as Shannon Hamilton, they welcomed him. Then, I was like, “Give it up for Joey Adams,” and they just saw her as Gwen, so they welcomed her. And then, I was like, “And the man of the hour, give it up for Brodie himself, Jason Lee,” and you would’ve thought Christ was returning to Jerusalem. They had just watched Jason Lee crush as Brodie for 90 minutes. He spoke their language and was them. So he came out onstage and sat down with the other two kids, as the questions started. Instantly, somebody goes, “Mr. Lee, you’re just so amazing in that movie. Who is your favorite comic book character?” And then the mic goes to Jason Lee and earnest as hell, Jason goes, “Yeah, I just want to take this opportunity to thank Kevin for putting me in that movie because if he hadn’t done it, no one would consider me an actor today. So thank you.” Then, he passed the mic back, and everyone in the room was incredibly let down because they just watched this dude be everything they ever wanted to be in life. Like, Brodie’s their hero, and then, the guy that played Brodie is not Brodie. He’s an actor, and he’s a very good actor because he made them believe that he was definitely from their world. Brodie knew pop culture references. He knew every movie reference, but that’s not really Jason Lee. He’s a much more earnest, serious artist character. He’s a photographer. He’s a very thoughtful person. He’s so far from Brodie, but that performance is so compelling.
So going back to the audition, it’s pre-audition, not even an audition; it’s just a meet and greet. He came in and I said, “So I understand you used to do something else.” He’s like, “Yeah, I was a skateboarder, but I’m retired.” And I was like, “Retired?” because he was, like, 22. And he goes, “Well, I’ve been skateboarding at a professional level for nine years now and I just think it’s time to do something else.” Like, he was just very real. No jokes. No cynicism. No sarcasm. Again, just very earnest. He didn’t answer every question in a “How is this going to make me look cool?” way. He’d answer in the most honest, child-like manner one could. So me and Scott Mosier, my producer, fell in love with him as a human being. We’re like, “This guy’s fucking real, man.” We weren’t from Los Angeles so we had big chips on our shoulders. I was from New Jersey and Scott was from Canada, but we were like, “Fucking L.A., man. Bunch of sellouts and Hollywood, man. We don’t know anyone in this town. We don’t want to be here, man.” But Jason, we liked. We were like, “We like this guy. We don’t know anybody in this Hollywood, but we like him.” So Don Phillips goes, “How was that meeting? Thank you for doing it.” And I said, “Bring him back in for the audition.” And Don goes, “Yeah? Is he good?” I said, “I don’t know if he’s good, but me and Scott like him. He’s a nice guy. Just bring him back.” So he came in for an audition and all the boys auditioned with T.S., and all the girls auditioned with Brandi. Nobody got to pick anything. We separated them into boys and girls, and they just all read T.S. and they all read Brandi. So Jason came in and we chit-chatted with him for the first 15 or 20 minutes. Again, it was just playing catch-up and listening to him talk; shit like that. And then he read T.S., and his T.S. reading was fine. So we’re like, “All right, man, good seeing you. Bye.” So he leaves and Don Phillips goes,” Well, is he coming back?” I said, “Yeah, bring him back.” He goes, “Is he good for T.S.?” and I said, “No, he’s not a good T.S. at all. Maybe we’ll have him read Brodie next time. Let’s have him do something else, but bring him back because we like him. He’s fun to talk to and shit.” So then, he came in for the third meeting, which was the second audition, and he had to read the Brodie part. In the Brodie part, there was a little scene, which got cut from the movie, where Brodie is talking to a news reporter outside of Svenning’s [Michael Rooker] house. He’s just making shit up about Svenning. So at one point, he has to use the term “black mass.” He goes, “I even hear they had a black mass in the house.” And so Jason Lee delivers it thusly. He goes, “I even hear they had blaaack maaass in the house,” and he held out his a’s so long that it fucking charmed the shit out of me. And I turned to Scott and he had this big smile on his face, too, because it just sounded great. It reminded me of the way Jason Mewes would say something that everybody knows but in a very specific way. So suddenly, Jason Lee’s going, “Blaaack maaass, I heard they had a blaaack maaass there,” and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s the guy!” So I told Don Phillips afterwards. I’m like, “I think he’s Brodie.” And he goes, “Really?” I said, “Yeah, right now, man. At least bring him in for the pizza party.”
So we had this thing called the pizza party where they had three or four choices for each role, and then everybody came in on one day. Then, the studio could see everybody who we had in mind and they could vote as well. They did this round-robin style competition where they put actors in scenes and with each other. Sometimes, if you were there for Brodie, you’d be reading T.S. just to help somebody else out. But what I understood years later from actors was that it was the worst experience of their lives. You got to see all the people you were up against in the same room, on the same day and shit. So at the end of that day, there was a guy going into it who we were cocksure was going to be Brodie. He had crushed every meeting and every audition. It doesn’t help to say his name because it’s not like, “And that boy was Leonardo DiCaprio!” It was somebody whose name you wouldn’t even know. So I was like, “This cat is going to be Brodie,” and then the weirdest thing happened. During the pizza party, it just slipped out of his fingers; I’d never seen that before. I’ve seen it many times since throughout my career, but they had it and then they just kind of lost it. Maybe it was the pressure of doing it in front of the studio, I don’t know. Suddenly, that person was not the clear Brodie anymore. So by the end of the day, Jason Lee and his simple “blaaack maaass” delivery, very monotone, in his first attempt at Brodie, was Brodie. And I loved it, because I was like, “Look, just prick it up in certain places and that’s real. He doesn’t sound like some smart ass.” He was written very close to Randal from Clerks, but the way Jason Lee performed him, he didn’t sound like Randal from Clerks. So I was like, “Ooh, I like that very much.” So I said, “I think this is our Brodie.” And Don Phillips goes, “Oh my God, well, he’s still here. Why don’t you bring him in and tell him?” Don Phillips was so excited because this was a favor he was doing for a friend, to just like, “Oh just have this kid meet the director so he knows what meeting a director is like, and the director is young so it won’t be as intimidating for Jason.” It went from that to this guy who is now going to get the big part. And so he was like, “You want to tell him?” and I said, “I would love to.” So they brought Jason in and he had a bag of Burger King with him; he was in the midst of eating a Whopper. And so I go, “Lee, do you want to finish your food?” And he’s like, “No, that’s OK. I’m really hungry. I haven’t eaten all day.” We were doing the pizza party thing where they bought pizza for all the actors there, but Jason Lee didn’t like pizza. So at the end of the day, he got himself Burger King. He’s like, “I’m so hungry. If you don’t mind, I really just want to keep eating.” And I was like, “Oh my God, that’s totally fine. Keep eating.” So he’s digging into his Whopper and I go, “OK, so we think you’re it. You’re going to be Brodie.” And I’ll never forget how he looked up so briefly from his sandwich. He was doing that thing where you eat the food and look at the food that you’re eating. So he was just focused on his sandwich. So I was like, “You’re going to be Brodie.” He stops eating momentarily, looks up with the widest eyes possible and goes, “Yeah?” and then instantly, he goes back into his Whopper, as if I wasn’t there. That Whopper was just the most important thing in the world to him. Not that we were like, “You’re going to be an actor and we’re changing your life.” It was, “This fucking Whopper’s amazing.” So he came out to shoot the flick and to be fair, T.S. was our lead and Brodie was the second banana, just like in Clerks. Dante [Brian O’Halloran] was the lead and Randal [Jeff Anderson] was the second banana. But Jason’s performance is so captivating, so magnetic that as we were making the movie, Brodie slowly became the main character, the hero of the piece. Not the afterthought. Not the buddy that’s just along for the ride. So that came from Jason’s performance. He was just that good.
Besides the theatrical cut, there’s an extended cut with the Governor’s Ball plotline that explains why Svenning despised T.S. so much. Where do you stand on each cut at this point?
Honestly, I still feel like the theatrical cut is the better version of it. Any movie called Mallrats that takes 30 minutes to get to the mall is not functioning properly. So it took us a long time to get to the place where the whole movie was fucking set. And in retrospect, [the Governor’s Ball] was a mistake. In cutting it down, I was able to get the kids to the mall as quickly as possible so the adventure was off and running. So I still prefer the theatrical cut; it makes more sense to me. But thanks to where we were in our careers and home video … Our careers coincided so nicely with the advent of home video, so much so that I have a career today because of home video. Clerks, Mallrats, these are things that did little or no business at the box office, but huge business on VHS and then later on LaserDisc and DVD. So with the advent of LaserDisc and then DVD after it, you knew that there was a place for your leavings to go. So if you wound up cutting a bunch of shit out of a movie … I was a big LaserDisc fan, so I was like, “Ooh, we could just do some kind of LaserDisc where all of this will eventually be seen.” Knowing that people, some people, anybody, could see the excised material, the shit that you were going to cut out, always made cutting shit out very easy for me.
Mallrats features my favorite Stan Lee cameo. For the uninitiated, can you share that story once more?
Oh, happily. I’ll tell that story until the day I die. It introduced me to one of the greatest people I’d ever meet in my entire life. I wrote a scene for Brodie to run into a comic book legend who would give him a piece of advice, and then that would send Brodie off into the third act. So I hand the pages over to Jim Jacks. While I was writing Mallrats, I’d write 5 or 10 pages at a clip, print them out and then fax them to Jim Jacks, one of our producers, because he was just knee-deep in it with me, man. He loved making Mallrats. He enjoyed the experience of making Dazed and Confused, but he always kind of felt at arms length from that process, whereas in Mallrats, he was there from the ground up as I was building it. And I was like, “Yeah, come on. Welcome in.” Me and Scott stayed at Jim Jacks’ house while we were casting and while we were in pre and post. And I think he liked being around us because he was 45 or 50 at that point and we were in our 20s. We loved going to the movies and he loved showing us how to be professionals in the movie business. He would take us to Dave’s Laser [Dave’s Video, The Laser Place], and Jim bought one of everything. Every movie that came out on LaserDisc, he bought. And even one day, I remember being like, “Jim, you bought Juwanna Mann. You are never going to watch this fucking movie. Why would you do that?” And he goes, “I make all my money because I work in the movie business. The movie business made my life what it is. And so, the money I make from the movie business, I reinvest in the movie business. I buy other people’s movies because I hope they’re buying mine as well and that’s how we keep this thing going.” So he was very committed to the craft and way into big studio moviemaking. He had aggregated into Universal from a career in engineering by way of the Coen brothers. Jim Jacks discovered the first one, Blood Simple, at the AFI and then bought it for Circle Films, which is how he got involved with the Coen brothers. So I’m handing Jim the pages, and he’s reading about this comic book guru. Jim liked the scene and said it reminded him of the Wolfman Jack scene in American Graffiti. He was like, “Oh, where Richard Dreyfuss meets his hero and then he gives him a piece of advice? This is good.” He said, “But Wolfman Jack was a real guy. Why don’t you have a real guy?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know any real guys.” He then said, “Well, who’s this supposed to be?” and I was like, “Well, if anyone, it would be like Stan Lee.” And he goes, “Why don’t you just write it for Stan Lee?” And I said, “I don’t know Stan Lee.” He goes, “Well, I do!” and I was like, “Oh my God, Hollywood is good. All these fuckers know each other.” I said, “How do you know Stan Lee?” He said, “So, the last few years, I take Stan Lee out to eat at Dan Tana’s once a month and just talk to him and pick his brain. I grew up reading his comics.” I said, “How come nobody ever makes Marvel movies?” He went, “They’re tough. They’re tied up in different places, but I love eating with him and meeting with him. I think he would go for this. He’s kind of a ham.” And I said, “What do I do?” and he said, “Rewrite the scene for Stan, and I’ll bring it to the next dinner I have with Stan and ask him if he wants to do it.” So I did that and faxed the new pages to Jim.
Jim then goes to dinner at Dan Tana’s with Stan and he calls me that night. So it’s like 9 o’clock his time, California time, and midnight for me on the East Coast. He called me and I asked, “How’d it go?” He goes, “It went great. He wants to talk to you.” I said, “Stan Lee wants to talk to me?” and he’s like, “Yeah.” I said, “What about?” He goes, “Oh, about the end of the movie.” I said, “What did he say about the scene?” and he said, “He’ll tell you.” I said, “Jim, what did he say, man? You can tell me.” He goes, “You sure you want to know?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he goes, “OK, he read the scene and the first thing he said was, ‘Jim, I would never say any of this shit.’” And Jim had to explain to him, “You’re not playing you, Stan. You’re playing a version of you. It’s not really you. It’s not autobiographical.” So Stan wanted to talk to me before he could accept, and so I was like, “Oh my God, I would love to talk to Stan Lee.” So I called Stan Lee at the appointed hour and he goes, (Smith impersonates Lee), “Hi, this is Stan Lee.” And I said, “I know who you are. Oh my God, I’m a huge fan. I’ve been reading the comics forever. I was a big, big fan of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I knew the sound of your voice even before I heard your voice in that cartoon just by reading Stan’s Soapbox all those years.” And Stan was like, “Oh, this is very flattering. It’s super flattering that you want to include me in this movie. Jim gave me the pages. But I told Jim that I had to talk to you first because I got a little issue.” I said, “OK, what’s the problem?” And he said, “Well, you have me in a very nice little speech telling your main character all about the girl that got away. And that’s great. It works lovely in the scene. However, if I’m in your movie talking about the girl that got away, the girl I got at home is going to lock me out of the house. So can we put in a scene where I say that I’m only kidding, because I don’t want to offend Joanie [his wife, Joan Boocock Lee]? I can’t have anyone out there thinking that there was anyone but Joanie. So can I have a scene where afterwards, I reveal that I was kidding in order to help the kid out?” And I was like, “Oh my God, you can have anything you want. Of course, we can do that.” And he’s like, “Then I’m in.” So, at the time, I was like, “Oh how adorable,” and still to this day, how adorable. He’s so sweet. He didn’t want to hurt his wife’s feelings with our dippy little movie about pretending that there was anyone but Joanie. We became friends after that movie, and then over the years, we built this long friendship and I knew him right up until he passed away. He was in Yoga Hosers. He was in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. I’ve done a bunch of stuff with Stan and we became friends. And over that time, I realized that, yes, it was very sweet, of course, that he was like, “I don’t want to offend Joanie.” But Stan was nothing if not one of the most strategic people you’ve ever met and one of the most clever people you’ve ever met. Stan, in one fell swoop, got himself a whole extra scene in the movie just by being like, “Well, I can’t offend my wife. Can we have a scene where I explain that I was kidding?” And I was like, “You got it, Stan.” And so he winds up in the movie for a little bit more real estate, which is kind of what his aim was. I always felt that was really adorable.
He came to set and on set, it was like me introducing him to all these people, going, “This is the guy that made Spider-Man swing, that made the Hulk burst out, that made the Avengers,” and so forth and so on. I remember people that didn’t even know who he was, wanting to take pictures with him and get things signed. A lot of comic books came in that day from older people who were working on the show, and mind you, we were not in a comic book culture world at that point. So that scene, in 1995, was kind of like, “Hey kids, remember Spider-Man and all your favorite comic books? This guy here is Spider-Man’s baby daddy.” I got to introduce Stan or reintroduce Stan to a generation that perhaps never heard his name or weren’t that familiar with him. Years later, my man is on a train in Captain Marvel, and he’s reading a Mallrats script and reciting his line out loud. And there’s my name on the script. It was almost as if he returned the favor. I was a flavor of the month, pop-culture kid in terms of 1995, and here he was firmly ensconced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and part of the American pop culture landscape forever. And then he gave me a shoutout, which was almost like, “Hey kids, you might not remember this guy, but he played Silent Bob.” It was really kind of poetic and to hear him saying his line, which, to be fair, was some shit that he would say in real life all the time: “Trust me, true believer.” It was everything. Hopefully, 26 years into my career, people understand that I mean this when I say this. Winning an Oscar is not really important to me. Academy Awards and stuff, which is the bellwether, high mark of our trade and craft, is just not that important to me. Having Stan Lee reading a copy of the Mallrats script, which then kind of meta-shouts out the cameo he did, and it’s the only cameo he ever did in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where we know for a fact he’s playing Stan Lee … And thus, puts the View Askewniverse firmly into the Marvel Universe as well, which means during the snap, I might’ve made it and shit like that. That is far better, to me, than winning the tin. That’s my kind of Oscar right there, man. And the symmetry to it, with him coming full circle from Mallrats, from one cameo to a lifetime of cameos by the end of his run, meant everything, at least for me.
You’ve written a sequel entitled Twilight of the Mallrats. Once it’s safe to resume living, will you likely apply the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot production and distribution model to it?
(Laughs.) I was hoping to do that with Clerks III because that one’s a little easier. Mallrats — since it’s owned by somebody else and that somebody else [Universal] is this massive corporation — there’s not as much maneuverability as we had with Reboot. But the good news is that means that Universal has to be involved, and thankfully, right now, it looks like Universal wants to be involved, which wasn’t the case a few years ago when I first tried to make a Mallrats sequel. That eventually led to us doing Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and now, Reboot, ironically, seems to have kind of reverse engineered our way back to being able to make a Mallrats sequel. Universal was also a co-financier of Reboot. They had overseas, and I guess they had a good experience with us because they were like, “What do you want to do next?” And I was like, “Well, you guys have something of mine that I’d really like to play with again.” So I met with Jason Lee and we went over it and whatnot. When I got back from the Reboot roadshow tours just when quarantine began, I wrote Twilight of the Mallrats, which is our follow-up. Essentially, it’s a very fancy name for Mallrats 2, and it is a blast, at least for me. I’m a huge Mallrats fan, so it was great to go back and play with those characters and kind of reinvest in that world. We did it a little bit in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. We have a whole sequence that takes place with Brodie and he references the cut scenes, like his daughter and stuff. And that’s kind of what Twilight of the Mallrats is about. When I was building it in my head, it was before COVID came along and made the retail landscape even worse. So now, that figures into the story as well. You can’t really tell a mall story these days without referencing the fact that retail, as we know it, is changing, if not completely dying, and COVID has only accelerated that as well. So it’s a generational story, just like Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was because Reboot came from a failed attempt to make Mallrats 2 and Mallrats 2 was always about Brodie Bruce and his daughter Banner Bruce. So Jay and Silent Bob Reboot being an offshoot of that became about Jay and his daughter [Harley Quinn Smith] to some degree. So I didn’t want to change what I was doing for Mallrats in that respect because I did like their relationship. It’s about two generations; one that’s like, “All we ever did was live for this place,” and another generation that’s like, “All we ever did was try to stay away from that haunted hellhole.” It’s a great launching pad from which to tell different generational respects. And in the story that we’re telling, which is about when luck runs out, Brodie, quite like me, said something clever once 25 years ago and the luck and timing of it provided him with his dream existence. Brodie never had to grow up, even at the end of Mallrats. When I went into writing Twilight of the Mallrats, a friend of mine, Nate [Gonzalez], who does artwork for all the Fatman Beyond shows, was going, “What is Brodie’s arc in this one?” And I was like, “Well, what was Brodie’s arc in the last one?” I didn’t write like that. The movies that I grew up watching were like Caddyshack and Animal House, and there was no character arc for those characters. They were mostly reprehensible and they were less reprehensible than the effete, uptight, in-charge assholes that they were up against. But there was no learning curve. It’s not like, “And then everyone got better in the third act.” No, they just did some shit, there was anarchy and credits.
So that’s what fed Mallrats back in 1995, and because of that, there is no arc for Brodie, other than Brodie gets broken up with and by the end of the movie, Brodie goes back out with his girlfriend [Shannen Doherty]. It’s that simple, and he doesn’t actually become a better person to win her back. He’s just more clever, publicly, and really, there’s nothing changed about him. So it was weird going into Twilight of the Mallrats because now I’m 25 or 26 years in this business and into my craft. And yeah, there are certain things, like, “All right, thematically, where’s everything going to wind up and what’s the character’s arc?” And I’m like, “I didn’t think like that when I wrote it last time, so I don’t know if I should think like that when I write it this time.” Anyone who’s like, “I want to see number two of that," especially a fucking quarter of a century later, you would imagine that you have to give them something that is achingly familiar with Mallrats. You can’t give them something completely dressed up, call it Mallrats and have them be like, “Well, wait, why is he learning lessons? Why is this happening?” So it was a tricky tightrope act to follow where I was like, “Well, I want to do this, but at the same time, I want it to feel like it needed to exist.” And in order to do that, you have to give it reason to. So, as I wrote it, I found myself grappling it more as a writer than I have with most of the recent scripts I’ve written. It sounds weird to say, but it’s like I had to constantly throttle back in order to tell the Mallrats story properly, versus where I am as a storyteller now in my life. I hate to say it like this, but I have to dumb down in order to go back to the mall, I guess. (Laughs.)
Bill and Ted Face the Music had to retcon Bogus Journey’s “Where are they now?” epilogue in order to accommodate Face the Music’s story. Will you have to do the same to account for Brodie becoming The Tonight Show host in Mallrats' epilogue?
Fuck, no. It’s in there and it’s a part of the plot. (Laughs.) Yeah, everything plays. There’s nothing that’s like, “Well, that didn’t really happen.” That absolutely plays. There’s a joke about it, and a direct reference to it in the first 15 minutes. But the thing that I’m most tickled about is how Shannon Hamilton (Ben Affleck) and his crime from back in the day figures into the current climate. Shannon comes back as Sen. Shannon Hamilton, and so his redemption arc begins before our movie even begins. His political redemption arc is pretty funny.
Kevin, thank you for my senior yearbook quote, and congratulations on Mallrats' 25th anniversary.
(Laughs.) You tickled me twice with that framing fucking business reference, man. I’m not even just saying that to be a nice guy. As a writer, particularly as the guy who wrote that fucking line 26 years ago, going, “Man, I hope this works,” you just validated that line. Thank you for that.
Interview edited for length and clarity. The Mallrats limited edition Blu-ray is now available.
by Frank Scheck
by Carolyn Giardina