'Clerks' Star Jason Mewes on His Directorial Debut With 'Madness in the Method' (Q&A)
The onscreen stoner icon talks about staying sober, revisiting his past and directing his Jay and Silent Bob other half, Kevin Smith, for a change.
Jason Mewes occupies a unique place in the pantheon of American independent cinema. As Jay, the gabby stoner half of Jay and Silent Bob, Mewes is part of one of the most enduring twosomes in film.
Kevin Smith plucked Mewes from a job as a roofer in New Jersey to play Jay for his 1994 debut Clerks, with Smith playing the silent straight man, and Jay's dialogue inspired by Mewes' real-life antics. In half-a-dozen films, as well as the short-lived Clerks animated series, Mewes' Jay, with his black-knit cap, long blond hair and stream-of-consciousness profanity, has become a slacker icon.
Behind the scenes, however, Mewes has had a rough ride. Addiction — to alcohol, cocaine and heroin — disrupted his life and career and threatened to end Jay and Silent Bob forever. Only when Mewes, after several failed attempts, managed to stay sober did Smith bring back the pair for Clerks 2 in 2006.
After a decade on the wagon, Mewes is moving behind the camera for the first time, directing the “meta movie” The Madness in the Method, in which he also stars as a version of both Jay and Jason Mewes. Smith co-stars (and speaks!) alongside the likes of Danny Trejo, Teri Hatcher, Judd Nelson and British soap star Matt Willis.
The film, co-written by Dominic Burns and Chris Anastasi, is being produced by Rob Weston and Burns under their newly formed Autumnwood Media shingle, with Gary Collins executive producing through the film's financier, Red Rock Entertainment.
Mewes took time from the shoot to talk to The Hollywood Reporter's European news editor Scott Roxborough about his directorial debut. Read the chat below.
You've been through some well-publicized rough times. How did you get to the point where you were in a place to direct your first movie?
As I stay sober each year, I try to be more productive as I put the pieces of my life back together; my family, a place to call my own and over the past 10 years, directing has felt increasingly like a huge piece of that puzzle.
Where did the idea for The Madness in the Method come from?
I was working on a film in the U.K., and the producer of the film, Dominic Burns, and I hung out a lot. He asked me if there was any role that I wanted to take on that I’d never done before, something that would really excite and challenge me, and I told him I’d love to play a serial killer. Dominic said he’d write something and pitch it to me and sure enough, a few months later he sent over a script. I liked it, but I also had a lot of ideas and thoughts, so we began developing the script together along with another writer, Chris, and the idea built and built from there.
What's the meaning of the title?
The film is set in an alternate universe where Kevin [Smith] gives me some advice to try taking on "method" acting in order to help me to be taken seriously as an actor with real range in Hollywood. Problem is that the process slowly begins to send me mad as I take to method acting a little too well! Hence, Madness in the Method….
How did you get Danny Trejo and Matt Willis to star — and what roles will they be playing?
Danny has been a close friend of mine for a long time, and it felt natural to ask him to be a part of my first movie as a director. Danny is an amazing actor, and in this movie he certainly plays a different character to what we’re used to, he’s hilarious. It’s been great fun directing him, although very difficult not to laugh out loud as he throws out different improvised lines.
Matt Willis was in Dominic’s last movie, and is also a brilliant actor. I’ve since discovered he’s in a band and is a really well-known musician but to me, I know him as an actor. He plays a casting director who refuses to consider me for any kind of role other than the ones I’m typically associated with, which is of course ironic, because he knows how tough it is to be taken seriously as an actor when everybody thinks of you as a musician. Matt and I have an almighty confrontation, which has serious consequences, but to say any more strays into spoiler territory.
Kevin Smith is also starring. Will he speak?
Kevin does speak; in fact, he really has delivered a breathtaking performance. There was one scene in particular between Kevin and I that really goes into our past, and it all gets very deep. It was genuinely emotional and we even had crewmembers in tears. I wasn’t sure what directing Kevin would be like, because of course it’s been the other way around for so many years. But Kevin was wonderful, extremely responsive and as always, he brought his incredible sense of humor. He threw in some genius lines that I loved and will definitely make the movie.
What's it like telling him what to do for a change?
To be honest, it’s been so remarkable to me that everyone we’ve worked with has brought such an amazing sense of humor; everybody just turned up with such a great attitude. On my first day we had Teri Hatcher coming in, and I have to admit, I was a little nervous but she was just so insanely brilliant and such good fun, I really had nothing to be nervous about. There’s been no egos to deal with, we’ve just had a lot of laughs, along with the typical stress and chaos of shooting any feature, of course, but that’s all part of the game and I love it. I feel incredibly grateful to have such an awesome cast on my first movie.
Stylistically, what can we expect from The Madness in the Method?
One of the first decisions I made was to shoot with anamorphic lenses because I wanted to retain a cinematic look and feel. That’s not to say we don’t throw the camera on a shoulder and get in close to the action in a more Paul Greengrass style when we need to, so I guess there’s traces of a lot of my different influences in the film. I like to give my actors the freedom to improvise and have fun with their characters so I will often run long takes and as a result we’re getting some unexpected gold. We’re set in an alternate universe but the humor isn’t too zany, we exist in a crazy world, that’s a slightly heightened reality, I guess, but it does take place in a very real world, much like the real Hollywood!
You've been playing versions of yourself onscreen since Clerks. How will the Jason Mewes of The Madness in the Method be different? Will it be a sober or stoned version of Jason Mewes?
You’ll certainly see a sober Jason Mewes that you’re familiar with to a point, but juxtapositionally there’s definitely a lot that you haven’t seen. This role is pushing me to my limits, I’m not shying away from anything in the film, and that was very much the idea Dom and I had right from the start. We have a lot of fun in the film, but we’re not afraid to get a little dark, and there are genuine moments of real darkness that I don’t think you’re going to see coming.
What would your teenage self back in New Jersey say if he saw you now?
It’s funny because I recently filmed an episode of Comic Book Men back in Jersey, and we were filming at my old school. They were unveiling some plaques with our names on them along with what we do. One of the things written under my name was director. It was a proud moment for me, but I think if I went back in time, the teenage me would probably think I’d gone insane some time in my 30s and that I was bullshitting me if I tried to convince me that I was now directing movies!