by Dan Lybarger
Jeff Anderson, the author, and Brian O’Halloran managed to keep their food down after discussing the offerings at a typical Mooby’s.
In 1994, a pair of screen novices from New Jersey named Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson made indelible impressions for the way they made life miserable for convenience store customers in writer-director Kevin Smith’s Clerks.
O’Halloran’s Dante Hicks kvetched about having to work on his day off whereas Anderson’s caustic-tongued Randal Graves made his own life enjoyable by tormenting any patron foolish enough to ask him a question.
The modestly-budgeted comedy led to a series of films by Smith and producer Scott Mosier’s View Askew productions that featured crude language, pop culture references, and (in the case of Chasing Amy and Dogma) themes like romantic complications and religion that might seem out of place in a gross-out film.
O’Halloran and Anderson have made important contributions to the View Askew universe along the way.
O’Halloran has appeared in Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, usually playing a character with the surname of Hicks. He also starred in Bryan Johnson’s Vulgar, which Smith and Mosier produced.
Anderson can also be spotted in Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but he’s also starred in and directed Now You Know and got Smith to join him for the commentary track.
Despite the fact that both have worked apart from Smith (O’Halloran starred in Drop Dead Roses, and Anderson appeared in Love 101 and Stealing Time), the two will probably always be associated with their debut characters and each other. This is despite the fact that O’Halloran has remained on the east coast while Anderson has moved to California.
The two reprised the roles as Dante and Randal for the short-lived animated TV series for Clerks, which later became a hit on DVD. They even reprised the not-so-dynamic duo for the Smith-directed short The Flying Car.
Naturally, O’Halloran and Anderson are back for Clerks II, which opens July 21. This time around Dante and Randal abruptly lose their previous gigs and have to adapt to flipping burgers at Mooby’s, a McDonald’s-like restaurant that nurtures their lack of ambition. This time they’re joined by Rosario Dawson (Rent), Trevor Fehrman (Now You Know) and Jennifer Schwalbach (Smith’s wife). As expected, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) are also back to stir up more trouble.
I met the two over breakfast at a First Watch in Kansas City, while they were in town for a cross-country promotional tour. In case you’re curious, O’Halloran had plain pancakes and a side of sausage, while Anderson had plain oatmeal with a banana slice. They had left St. Louis and were on their way to Cleveland and then Miami. When describing the schedule, O’Halloran observed, “I feel like I’m on a political campaign.”
“Without the hookers and the coke,” Anderson added.
From talking with O’Halloran and Anderson, it becomes quickly obvious that playing slackers who entertain instead of annoy takes a surprising amount of work.
Lybarger: It’s interesting that 13 years after you first started playing these characters, they’re still around, and I’m not getting ready to write an article about Reality Bites Again. Why do you think that is?
Brian O’Halloran: Part of it was the back story, first off, that caught a lot of people’s attention. It was a black-and-white film made for $27,000; it was shot for 28,000, actually. It had dialogue and subject matter that, you know, these other films that were supposed to have talked in the voice of my generation didn’t.
That’s pretty much it. There obviously wasn’t a star factor in the beginning. It was just a script that was kind of very funny and bawdy and pushing the limit that caught people’s attention. Even theatrically it didn’t do tremendous at the box office. It was something that grew over the years.
It was kind of like a passed along type of thing. “Did you see this? You’ve got to see this.”
Lybarger: It’s interesting that the first film did better on word of mouth and video than it did theatrically. I talked with some video store clerks, and they told me the movie always had to be restocked because it was always getting stolen. The animated series did better on video as well. Only two episodes aired. Why do you think these films did better on DVD?
O’Halloran: With the theatrical release, no one knew about it. It wasn’t a highly publicized film. And with the TV series, it was cancelled before it was supposed to air, and just contractually ABC had to air it.
I don’t think the audience had a choice because they came out to see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. They came to see the other films that followed. I don’t think it’s fair to say the audience will only watch them in that environment. It’s just that that’s where we were being distributed. I think it’s the kind of thing where the jokes happen so many, so quickly that they want to replay it again and again.
Lybarger: Both of you guys were initially volunteers on this thing, is that correct?
O’Halloran: By being volunteers, we weren’t being paid.
Jeff Anderson: Speak for yourself. I was held captive.
Lybarger: Many of the Clerks alumni worked in a variety of gigs until Mallrats. Jason Mewes was working as a roofer for example. What did you guys do?
O’Halloran: I’d been doing stage, and I had also worked at a barware manufacturer. I traveled around doing trade shows and stuff like that.
Anderson: I was working for AT&T at the time it was shot, and I was going to school for architecture, when Clerks came along and got me out of architecture before I stepped into a room I didn’t understand.
Lybarger: (To O’Halloran) You’re always playing some member of the Hicks family.
O’Halloran: Oh, yeah. The Hicks family lives on.
Lybarger: It sort of reminds me of what Alec Guinness did in Kind Hearts and Coronets, where he played all the members of a family.
O’Halloran: I didn’t know that.
Anderson: Must be a lot of banjo playing in that family.
Lybarger: Did either of you ever work at a restaurant like Mooby’s?
Anderson: I never worked at a restaurant.
O’Halloran: I worked at a chicken factory job, but nothing like that. It was a small, independently operated kind of thing. I’ve worked in supermarkets as a clerk. I never flipped burgers.
Lybarger: What’s odd about this particular Mooby’s is that it doesn’t seem well traveled.
Anderson: That allowed us to play with our day a little bit. These guys gravitate to the less traveled places of the world. It might have been very well-traveled before we got there.
They may do that to business.
Lybarger: One of the things that is really funny about the movie is names of the Mooby’s offerings like “The Cow-Tipper” and “Freedom Fries” that sound to put it nicely, unappetizing.
Anderson: “The Cow Pie,” “The King of the Juice,” for an orange juice drink. One of the things we were talking about doing for the DVD was that they were going to scan the menus and all that stuff. Some of the safety posters and some of the menus and stuff, it was funny just to walk around the store see the stuff they had. It was some pretty bizarre stuff.
I guess we did a radio station thing that had an actual safety poster for McDonalds. A lot of the stuff we had on the set was taken from there. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was sort of like they had this picture, “You are an employee of the god that is McDonalds.”
O’Halloran: I was looking at it, and I said, “What is this?” It was sort of this weird corporate thing where “You must follow our mantra.”
They did sort of a spoof of that at the Mooby’s where they imitated some of the posters.
Lybarger: That reminds me of the place where I worked where we had lessons on levels of motivation that were really silly.
Anderson: But see, it stuck with you, didn’t it? So, who’s laughing now, huh?
Lybarger: Even though you’re working with a much larger budget, it was still a pretty stripped-down shoot.
Anderson: In terms of all things considered, it was a $5 million budget, but it felt very much like an independent film. We basically shot in one location for about four weeks. We shot in an old Burger King, and right next to it and adjacent to it was a Days Inn. And we stayed in the rooms of the Days Inn instead of a trailer.
It felt very much like an independent film in that it felt like you were staying in college dorms.
Everybody just had their dorms open, and you were just wandering in and out of rooms and playing cards. It felt like we were making this movie in a college. And let’s face it; (Ben) Affleck got $4 million of that $5 million dollar budget just for his cameo.
(This is probably a joke, but you never know about Hollywood.)
Lybarger: One of the things I’ve enjoyed as a critic is that Smith’s DVD commentaries are really interesting. He and everyone else involved were unusually frank. Normally, everything you hear is a nice whitewash where, “I really enjoyed working with Attila the Hun.” In the Q&A that’s included with the Clerks 10-year anniversary, you and Kevin Smith admit there was a dispute with your compensation.
Anderson: It’s funny. I directed a movie a couple of years back called Now You Know that’s coming out on DVD (in December), and Kevin (Smith) and I went in and did the commentary track for that.
When it was all said and done, it was funny after we laid down the commentary track, and we walked out of the studio, I said, “You know, Kevin, I don’t think we ever talked about the movie.”
We just sat around for an hour and a half and talked about high school and dragged all the people we ever went to high school with through the mud. It should be a very interesting commentary track. I’m expecting lots of phone calls and subpoenas.
(Looking at my Digital Voice Recorder) Is this thing on?
Lybarger: The DVD includes your audition tapes. You had something…
O’Halloran: A real dark one. I didn’t know what I was auditioning for. There were two nights of auditions, and I forgot. The theater where they held them at was the stage where I had done stage work at. (They had) called me a month before the audition saying that they had put a call out to all the actors and have them come a month later.
But I had forgotten, so I was in a show, Wait Until Dark, and that’s where (the audition piece) comes from. Actually, it’s not really a monologue; it’s just dialogue. It’s kind of weird and disjointed at times. So, when I auditioned, I just put something together on the second night and came in, and that’s what it turned out to be.
Kevin had commented, “It’s too bad I don’t have a villain in this. He’s perfect.”
Lybarger: (to Anderson) I just watched your audition tape where you were reading for Jay, and I would never have guessed from it that you’d be as good as you were as Randal.
Anderson: That was a weird thing. I went to the auditions only because my friend was going. I was just sitting there making fun of my friend. When I wound up auditioning, I never meant to audition, basically I was handed a script and just told to read this.
They were using this playhouse where the guy had granted them permission to use it. So Kevin didn’t let them know what the film was about and about the vulgarity of it. So the guy was literally there, and he left the room. And when he left the room, it was like get up there and read. I helped them read, and then like halfway through, he walked right in and, “OK, thank you.” So it was one of those type of deals.
Originally I was given the part of one of the customers who had just come back to the store. For that I had a couple of days with the material, and I was able to go back and read as one of the customers. And that was it.
And from there Kevin just came back to my house and two days later we just sat on the couch, and we just kind of read through Randal.
Lybarger: The interplay between Dante and Randal is really interesting. It’s almost like they’re sentenced to be with each other.
O’Halloran: I like the sentenced part. It’s like most acts.
You know when you associate with your closest friend, they’re usually the most annoying. Because of just the sheer amount of time you spend with someone, you’re going to get annoyed with them, or they feel like they can push the envelope. If they act like a jerk, “Hey, I’ve been doing it this long, let’s give ‘em more stuff.”
Lybarger: What’s kind of interesting is you two are asked to play some emotions that weren’t asked of you in the first movie.
O’Halloran: That’s the thing that people are going to find surprising about this script. There’s a lot of similarities to the first one, but yet it’s different. The emotional growth of these characters is what’s going to surprise the audience.
And it doesn’t really come until the end when everything starts to hit the fan. Once again, it’s another great way that Kevin has captured where these guys are and their feelings toward being in their 30s.
Lybarger: Adding Elias (Trevor Fehrman) to the mix was really interesting because he’s so young and hopeful whereas Dante and Randal are cynics.
Anderson: That was sort of the beauty of taking them out of the Quick Stop setting and dropping them in the new thing. There sort of had to be new people coming in there. I was always curious about how that interaction was going to go. I thought that character was really well done because you couldn’t have another character like us.
What’s interesting is Brian’s and my dialogue tends to be so fast back and forth. Trevor’s thing was to slow things down. That gives it an interesting dynamic to sort of slow it all down.
Lybarger: Kevin Smith has been usually astute in selling his films online. He had the onset journal for Jersey Girl. And I read in the New York Times that he’s going to have an iPod commentary track on the second week of release
O’Halloran: They recorded it a couple of weeks ago: Jeff, Scott (Mosier), Kevin. It’s the first time ever that you’ll be able to go into the theater in the second week of release, down load the commentary track down to your iPod, go to the theater and see the opening credits and watch the commentary track while it’s going. Apparently, it’s really, really fun. It’s worth it.
Lybarger: When I was doing some background reading on Kevin Smith for this interview, I read that Smith had said that the profanity in his films didn’t seem nearly as heavy on the page as it does on the screen.
O’Halloran: It’s always easier to digest because it’s on the page as opposed to hearing in THX Dolby Surround Sound an argument about ass to mouth.
But even still, though. Knowing Kevin all these years now, and you can imagine me doing a film called Vulgar. There’s really no argument with “Does that offend you?” C’mon, I did Vulgar.
Lybarger: I find fascinating is that you guys were trying to juggle your day jobs and shooting the original Clerks movie. On the DVD, you guys describe a regimen that would probably kill me.
Anderson: It very nearly killed me. We filmed from 11:00 at night till 6:00 in the morning. I worked from 7:30 to 4:30 and went to school from six to 10. I had three hours in the day to find something to do.
It got to be pretty grueling at first, but I was in a good position at work so by the third day in I would actually film all night, get to work by 7:00, go in and log into my computer, go get breakfast, take a few bites of my breakfast, leave it at my desk and go home and sleep.
So we were at a kind of town hall meeting about a month after we stopped shooting, and we were just sitting there, and my boss brought out my dedication to the job because he would always go to my office, find me there first thing in the morning and I wouldn’t even finish my breakfast.
I was just about to fall out of my chair. I was going, “Uh, thank you.”
O’Halloran: The bad thing about people knowing about that back story is that public relations people find out and they think, “Well, they’ve done that that type of schedule, let’s give them more stuff to do.”
Lybarger: On the Clerks II website, they have a clip of the eight-minute standing ovation you received at Cannes.
O’Halloran: That was quite surreal. That few weeks was the most weirdest thing. We had relatively short notice that we were going to Cannes.
And that same week we had submitted to the MPAA and received an “R” rating (the original Clerks was initially slapped with an NC-17 rating solely because of its language). Those two things alone were like, “Wow! This is amazing.”
Then they fly us off to Cannes, which we were fortunate enough this time to go. Last time they could only take Kevin and Scott.
We arrived there. It’s two days prior to the screening, which was close to the end of the Festival itself. When we heard about the cold reception that The Da Vinci Code, Marie Antoinette and Southland Tales (were) getting, and we were like “Wow! This is going to be rough.”
It was a midnight screening on Friday night. We were flying out about 2:00 in the afternoon, and if things got rough, then we’d get on that 8:00 flight.
So the screening happened. There was kind of a weird buzz in the air. The screening happened in English with French subtitles. The audience were getting all the subtext, all the subtleties of the characters. It ended. The lights went up on the row where the artists were sitting. They had us all in the middle row.
We got up to thank the audience, and they just kept going and going. It was just like that clip. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Lybarger: While you two are closely associated with each other, you have very separate lives.
O’Halloran: I live on the east coast. I’ve been living there for most of my life.
Anderson: I think this is the longest we’ve spent together. Even filming wise, we were together 24-7, and then we’re done.
O’Halloran: Twenty-three days for the first one. We were in and out, and we were done.
Anderson: We jump on a plane together. We walk to the hotel together.
O’Halloran: Sponge baths.
Anderson: So this (treatment) pretty much seals the deal for Clerks III. Ain’t gonna happen.
Lybarger: So why do you think that you two are able to bounce off each other so well?
Anderson: I don’t know what it is.
O’Halloran: That is something we’ve both been asked numerous times, and we just can’t get it.
Anderson: I chalk a lot of it up to Kevin’s writing. I think a lot of it’s there on the page. Brian’s a nice guy. I like Brian even though we don’t hang out often. It’s just easy to get right back together. It’s largely a testament to Kevin’s writing.
Lybarger: Before I saw this, I saw The Flying Car. It was like no gaps had happened in their relationship between Clerks and then.
Anderson: The sad reality is when people meet us on the street, they’re always looking for me to be tooling around in my car with Brian, or Dante.
O’Halloran: I think because we’re not always in touch with each other, it keeps things fresh in that case. After a while, this relationship will change, that conversation and dynamic probably wouldn’t work.
Lybarger: It’s striking how visually ugly the Mooby’s is because you have these purples and yellows right next to each other.
Anderson: That was the weird thing, too. In the change in going from black-and-white to color, when Kevin told me about Clerks II was that it was going to be in color for the most part. It was myfirst time showing up on the set and looking at the store, and I’m like, Jesus, we’re really going into color. It’s not like we eased into it.
Lybarger: The first thing that sold me on the first film was that it looked like it had been shot through a security camera. The camera’s often looking down at the subjects. It looked as if we’re seeing something we shouldn’t be seeing.
Anderson: That was sort of like, “Do you want to do a Clerks II?” That’s part of the thing. I think that’s a lot of the reason for the success, the back story: The $28,000, the way it looked, the black-and-white and the grainy stuff. And it’s like, how do you replicate that again without doing the exact same thing?
I’m curious if Clerks came out two years earlier or later and were shot in color, it may not have had the same effect.
All those things I think contributed to the success of it.
Lybarger: One of the things that’s really striking is that so much of the success had come from a huge gamble. I was reading in the New York Times about filmmakers who had run up huge debts, and yet their movies would probably never be seen. And Mr. Smith had put a lot of Clerks on his credit cards.
Did you have any sense of what you were risking with this?
O’Halloran: I risked nothing but time. There was no risk on my part.
Anderson: That was weird. I actually tried to get out of doing the film when it originally happened. We did a couple of rehearsals, and I’d never acted before. I had never done plays or anything. I was kind of uncomfortable with the whole thing, and I was talking to Kevin.
I came over to the convenience store where he was working (and where the film was shot), and I gave him back the script, and said, “You’re spending a lot of money on this thing, and a lot of it is tied up into me, and I think you’re making a bad choice.” And so he kind of talked me into staying. I did sort of realize that he was going to spend a lot of money and this could go horribly wrong.
A lot of it was timing. That first screening there were 14 people, ten of which were us. If Bob Hawk wasn’t one of those people, we were screwed.
They showed it to Harvey (Weinstein). Harvey watched it twice and turned it off in five minutes both times. The only thing that saved it was then it got into Sundance because of Bob, and Harvey came back to Sundance and watched it with an audience. A lot of it was luck. Things lined up as we got lucky behind this.
O’Halloran: You just had to be there at the right place at the right time.
Lybarger: You (Anderson) went into this as a complete novice. How did you develop in order to become a working actor?
Anderson: I can’t really think of anything. I learned to memorize. That’s my acting technique, memorizing the lines and saying them back. It would be a very brief interview for Inside the Actors Studio.
Lybarger: Would I be correct in saying that Mr. Smith tends to script things very tightly?
Lybarger: And yet some of the most interesting moments in both films have come from bits that both of you have come up with like the painting of the fingernails.
Anderson: Like in the first film where I had been doing that silly walk that I’d did coming in was just something I’d been doing off-camera screwing around.
I think the original script had me tap-dancing in. I was just screwing around off camera telling a story and did that walk, and Kevin was like “Let’s stick that in there.” So I just started soft shoeing into there.
This time around Kevin definitely gave us a lot more freedom. In this he had me doing a hook slide over the car. Instead I walked over and jumped over the hood. They liked that better, just things like that.
O’Halloran: The Lord of the Rings scene just got longer and longer. It’s was originally a short scene, that argument between the two of them. They’d just been working out off camera, the two of them.
Lybarger: So this time, you had time to develop some of the gags.
O’Halloran: We didn’t have the opportunity to have seven or eight takes of a scene.
Lybarger: I wanted to get a Dante doll for you to sign to give to my girlfriend because she says she has a crush on you.
O’Halloran: Action figures.
Lybarger: Inaction figures.
Anderson: Show me on the doll where they touched you.
Lybarger: Why do you think that Dante is something of a…
Anderson: A lady killer.
Lybarger: Because in both movies, he’s trying to choose between two women?
O’Halloran: It’s like Dante opposite him, Randal, it’s like Ooooo Kaaay. (A woman might say), “Well, at least I won’t have to wash my lower forearms.”
I’m sure its something of charm. I hope. It’s not the face.
Thank God for fiction. There’s no way a Rosario Dawson and he would sleep together. It would take a whole lot of liquor for that scene to happen.
Lybarger: This was unusual in that you went outside of Jersey to make this.
O’Halloran: We shot it in Orange County.
Lybarger: Wouldn’t the palm trees in Orange County be difficult to pass for Jersey?
Anderson: Behind the Mooby’s there were palm trees, and it was always a constant battle to find a spot that did not have palm trees in it. There was that 360 shot in the back parking lot was especially tricky.
O’Halloran: There were also trees on the sidewalk near the Mooby’s, but because the site was going to be leveled anyway, we were allowed to cut the trees down to begin with. They were going to build a mall down there.
Not even three weeks after we were done shooting, someone walked by and said, “I hope you got all your shots because you don’t have your location any more.”
Lybarger: I just got done watching that new Altman movie A Prairie Home Companion, and it was shot digitally, and to look at it, it’s just a gorgeous looking film. Normally when you think of digital, you think of that grainy stuff.
When you were working with that camera, you were making a dialogue-heavy film, but it was really noisy.
Anderson: To put it mildly. We had to put three or four leather jackets behind the eye of the camera just to keep the noise down.
I think when Kevin originally came up with the idea of Clerks II, he said that we were shooting digital.
O’Halloran: It was going to be a $250,000 budget, and we were shooting digital, and Harvey Weinstein was like “No, no, no. We’ll do it right.”
Anderson: It was weird that Kevin later processed (the new film) and downgraded and stripped it of all its color.
O’Halloran: (The original Clerks) wouldn’t have been the same film (in color). It wouldn’t have been accepted the way it was. A lot of people think that black-and-white was an artistic choice when it was really a poverty choice.
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originally posted: 07/08/06 10:08:10
last updated: 09/21/06 00:13:24