Kevin Smith crafts his ‘cinematic gravestone’

LOS ANGELES — Twenty-five years after “Clerks,” Kevin Smith says he’s crafted his “real big cinematic gravestone.”

The 49-year-old writer-director-actor said a major heart attack in February 2018 prompted him to rewrite his script for “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” to make a more personal statement about fatherhood and aging — and leaving a legacy.

“Like this is my headstone, where it’s like ‘Here lies Kevin Smith. And this is what he was like.’ The movie encapsulates everything that I tried to do in movies over like 25 years and stuff and talks about my life, my podcasting. It’s a nice representation of who I am,” Smith said in an interview.

Calling on friends and calling in favors, he reconnected with actors from his past, including “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma” star Ben Affleck. Some flew to the New Orleans set for just two hours of work in the cameo-packed final act.

“And you don’t really get away with that many times in life — pretty self-indulgent. But since I survived the heart attack, I figured people would be like, let him go. He almost died. He’s a little happy with life right now,” Smith said.

The resulting movie, in theaters this week, is a sometimes silly but heartfelt examination of nostalgia and growing up. Co-starring longtime friend Jason Mewes (the Jay in the titular duo), it’s packed with meta references to other films and to what Smith calls his own “myopic career.”

The New Jersey native has been podcasting for 12 years. He’s written comic books and he’s toured with performances that mix jokes and his unique brand of verbose opinion and hyper-self-aware, hyper-detailed storytelling. He acknowledges he was a more driven filmmaker — and perhaps sharper writer — at the start of his career, when he made “Clerks” in 1994 and “Mallrats” the next year.

Famously made on a shoestring $27,000 budget, “Clerks” debuted to acclaim in 1994 at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a profane, grungy, black-and-white slice-of-life film centered on a New Jersey convenience store that served as a showcase for Smith’s brand of eloquently ribald dialogue. Smith, a Hollywood outsider who played stoner Silent Bob in the film, moved quickly to build his own Gen X slacker franchise of sorts.

“Sometimes I got to face Kevin Smith from the past — who was much more creative and prolific or all the good things. He was the new guy and stuff. I don’t mind that. I love Kevin Smith from the past. … That’s the guy that started the journey. I continue it,” Smith said. “So far, it feels like I’m honoring the journey that I started.”

The heart attack seems to have re-focused Smith on filmmaking. He tells a story of lying on the operating table and feeling utterly at peace with the prospect of death — until he realized that the last movie he made was “Yoga Hosers,” a poorly-received 2016 fantasy thriller. He couldn’t go out on that.

He also knew he had to improve his health. Following his 20-year-old daughter Harley Quinn Smith’s advice, he went vegan and lost more than 50 pounds.

“Heart attack — second biggest thing that happened to me after ‘Clerks,’ I would imagine. Like my whole life, I’ve been talking about ‘Clerks,’ for the last 25 years. Like, ‘I made a movie and it really worked out!’ And then suddenly the heart attack gave me something new to talk about, where I’m like — ‘I had a heart attack and it really worked out!’ So, I don’t know if I get another one of those. But so far, so good,” Smith said.

His self-described self-indulgence continues: Smith is planning a third “Clerks” and is excited about his upcoming “He-Man: Masters of the Universe” animated series.

“I finally figured out like oh, I’m living on borrowed time. Like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. My old man had a heart attack and then the second one took him out,” Smith said. “I tend to like overplay it as like, ‘This is it! Because this is the one that will be there when I die.’ And maybe that’s the way you should be as an artist. You should make everything like this the last thing you’re ever going to make. I know I’ll do that from now until the rest of my life.”

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