Your movies are rammed with Star Wars references. But have you ever met George Lucas?
I’ve mixed my last four movies at his Skywalker ranch, and I’ve been eating in the same room as him. But I’ve never gone over and said, “Oh my God! You’re George Lucas!” because where do you go from there? He knows he’s George Lucas, and he’s had years to adjust to his fame. It’d just feel weird.
Did Bruce Willis know who you were when you appeared in Die Hard 4.0?
He said he knew my stuff, but I don’t think he did. At one point he was looking for a certain comment to say to me, and I said, “Call me Lunch Box.” And he was like, what’s that? Me being called Lunch Box is quite a well-known expression from my films, but he didn’t know it. He’s a cool guy, but pretty detached from the outside world. During filming he came out of his trailer and he was like, “Hey, have you seen this King Kong movie?” And I was, like, sure, two years ago, when it came out. But when you’re such a big part of pop culture you tend to be above it all. Tom Cruise is similar.
Do you think Cruise deserves all the abuse he gets?
Man, he’s been on the chopping block for the last two years, and it was Ben Affleck before him. That’s what happens: you go from being the golden boy to a low point when the public decide to move on. But if it wasn’t for that couch-jumping shit, Tom Cruise could have run for President. Because when he’s talking to you, he’s never looking over your shoulder to see if anyone more important’s in the room.
Do recent bad-taste comedies such as Knocked Up and Superbad put pressure on you to raise your game?
I think movies that came before me, like Animal House and Blues Brothers, placed more pressure on me. Plus I can only be as funny as I am. Although when [Knocked Up star Seth] Rogen agreed to star in my upcoming movie Zack And Miri Make A Porno, it was a huge score. To say the least. Dude had his pick of every comedy in town, and he chose us. Dude could’ve even generated his own flick, and he chose us. I feel like Cinderella! But I have recently decided to give horror a shot with a film called Red State. I kind of did it to test myself. Am I actually any good at making films or can I only do comedy?
How long does it take you to write a movie?
You can only write good material when you’re in the zone. For example: I pitched Zack And Miri Make A Porno two years ago, but I only started working on it in May. But when I started, it only took me a week and a half to write. Red State was the same – I wrote that in less than a week. I get an idea, it rolls around up there, stews in my head and then one day you get to the point where you think, ‘Okay, let’s write this.’
Why does super-producer Harvey Weinstein have such a bad reputation?
Because he stands by his convictions, even if he’s wrong. You know the expression ‘That’s not a hill I want to die on’? Harvey will die on every hill. He digs in, he’s aggressive. He went to the Sundance Film Festival and got into a fight. He’s not worried about losing his job. But sometimes you’ll be like, “Hold on, I made this movie, not you.” But he always feels he knows what’s best for any given movie, and for a while there was a lot of jealousy towards him because he was doing insanely well.
You gave My Name Is Earl star and Scientology-convert Jason Lee his big break by casting him in Mallrats. Has he ever tried to convert you?
I’ve only ever known Lee as a Scientologist, but he’s never tried to get me down to their LA Celebrity Centre for a reading. He’s just not like that. In fact all the Scientologists I know in the film business are just incredibly focused on their careers so that they can get to a place where they can help their friends.
Do you take it personally when you get slagged off online?
I used to make a practice of challenging that person online. The way I saw it, it was not only a way of speaking my mind, but also staying sharp. Because if you don’t come back with a witty reply, you’re only adding more fuel to the fire. But sometimes those comments would hit close to home and tap into a few insecurities of mine. But just because some guy’s like, “Kevin Smith is just relying on the same characters as he did when he first started all those years ago,” at the end of the day, it’s just one guy’s opinion. So these days I don’t bother.
How come Matt Damon and Ben Affleck always cameo in your films?
Because back in 1997 they came to me with the script for Good Will Hunting and, for a while, I was thinking about directing it. Then it dawned on me that I just didn’t have the talent to pull it off. So I gave it to then-Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein, who loved it, and bought it. And so after Damon and Affleck won that Best Screenplay Oscar, they seem to feel like they owe me. But I don’t really see that much of Affleck these days because he’s got a kid now. He e-mailed me the other day, and the last time I saw him he came over to mine to play poker. But it was never like, “Yo, dude! Let’s get a bunch of blow and go down to Tijuana to meet a bunch of Mexican whores!”
Do you party a lot?
Listen, I’m just an eater. I smoke weed like once a year and it’s the hardest drug I’ve done. I don’t really like the taste of alcohol either. So I’m a sugar guy instead, a food junkie. Eventually heroin addicts don’t shoot up to get high, they shoot up so they don’t get withdrawal symptoms. That’s the same with me and sugar. A few years back I did try to stop eating junk. I was taking this fat-blocking drug to help me shift the weight, so I just had really oily stools.
How did you end up writing an episode of the Heroes: Origins spin-off show?
Its creator Tim Kring approached me and said, “You write and direct it. It’s your world, do what you want.” So I pitched my story and every three minutes I was like, “I realise it might not be your cup of tea…” But they went for it. I then joked that I wanted to focus on those two gay heroes. And he said, “What are you talking about?” “You know, the two Japanese dudes – they’re gay, right?” The way I saw it, if you can do an autopsy on a cheerleader, you can show a couple of heroes making out. But jokes aside, my episode’s going to be in keeping with what Heroes is, but tonally very different.
And finally, what’s the worst movie pitch you’ve ever heard?
It was called Hot Rod, and was about Michael Jackson and a little boy. Michael Jackson turns into a car, the little boy turns into a car, and they have adventures. One 20th Century Fox executive asked me if I wanted to make it. I’m not kidding. There was also a rumour circulating a few years ago before Superman Returns came out that I’d walked into Warner Brothers’ head office dressed as Superman, and asked to play the lead role.
Original interview by Ben Wilson in the April 2008 issue of FHM UK magazine