Kevin Smith: After my heart attack the movie took on a different dimension
Kevin Smith survived a 'widowmaker' heart attack last year, which made him want to sum up his cinematic legacy before it was too late. He sits down with Laura Harding to discuss how it feels to face your mortality then make a comedy movie
KEVIN Smith almost died last year. He was just 48 when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack in February 2018 after performing on stage at a show in Glendale, California.
When he got to hospital he learned he had suffered a "widowmaker," in which there's 100 per cent blockage of the heart and was told by his doctor that in 80 per cent of cases like this the patient dies.
"Suddenly, I felt mortality," he says as he speaks animatedly in a London hotel room, looking wildly different to the man he was before. "I realise now that I'm living on borrowed time. We all are, but I'm acutely aware of it."
The health scare made him want to change his life. He dropped a large amount of weight and transformed his diet to go vegan. It also narrowed his focus on his cinematic legacy.
He had achieved cult status over the years for his role as Silent Bob in a string of films featuring the comedy duo Jay (played by Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob, starting with the low-budget comedy Clerks in 1994, which he wrote, directed, co-produced and starred in.
Jay and Silent Bob featured in Smith's subsequent films Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II, which all share crossover plot elements known by fans as the View Askewniverse, a reference to the film-makers's production company.
Before the heart attack he was unsuccessfully trying to get another Clerks film made, and wanted to make a Mallrats sequel.
When that also failed to take off, his thoughts turned to another Jay and Silent Bob film, inspired by Mewes's life as a father to four-year-old daughter Logan.
"It began life as two other movies and then it was kind of predicated on Jason being a dad. He's the world's best dad and I don't even say that hyperbolically – he's not here, so it's not even to make him feel good," Smith says.
"Honestly, he is the finest father I've ever seen in my life. I include myself in that equation as a dad. I include my own dad in that equation.
"Watching Jason be this incredible dad, I wish he had gone before me. I have got a 20-year-old (daughter Harley Quinn) but I would have learned how to do it better from him and it's adorable. They have got a tight relationship, he relates to her and stuff.
"She is four-and-a-half and he's 45 and they meet at the exact same maturity level.
"It inspired me. I was like, 'Oh my God the guy least likely, you are super dad. What would your character be like as a dad?' so it started like that."
Smith speaks rapidly but at this moment he pauses for breath.
"Then I had a heart attack and suddenly the movie took on a different dimension, where it was like, 'Oh I might die now at any minute, so I have got to make a movie that encapsulates everything I have ever done in 25 years of film-making, if not my entire life.
"So then the movie took on this lacquer of self-importance, where it was like, 'Aah this is my last will and testimony'.
"All through it, we tried to keep it a comedy but I kept referring to it as 'This movie is my cinematic gravestone!' and my wife told me that is no way to sell a comedy but it's worked out so far."
He describes making the film as "kitchen sink time" because he threw pretty much everything at it.
The result is a cameo-tastic wild ride through the View Askewniverse, revisiting a myriad of past characters and famous faces, that serves as something of a sequel to a host of his previous projects.
"Right after the heart attack, I was like I want to do something that kind of memorialises me and makes a grand statement about who I was in this lifetime, in case the heart attack comes back.
"My old man had two heart attacks, the first one put him on warning and the second one took him out, and I've got my old man's heart and my mom's heart so even though I changed my life, went vegan, lost a bunch of weight and stuff, I'm still at the mercy of the genetics.
"So I put this thing together that kind of says everything about what I wanted to say and who I was, all the movies, touching back on them, sequelising them all, because I didn't know if I would ever get a chance to play in the toy box again."
And making the film had a transforming effect.
"After the heart attack I felt like an old man and I was like, what will make me feel young? If I go up in the attic and pull down all my old toys and start playing with them again! So it was therapeutic as well.
"Then as we were making the movie, I was like I guess this is kind of the end of the View Askewniverse – but once we were done, it sprung everything to life."
Indeed Clerks III is back in development and there is even talk about Mallrats 2 happening.
"It took a minute and we had to reverse engineer it through Reboot but it looks like we are going to get to do the other two," he says happily.
He knows some people will be scathing about sequels, and the film does an overly efficient job of skewering them, but Smith swears his endless ribbing of reboots is "all affection".
"If those movies are problematic, then I am part of the problem because I keep putting money into them. It's like we should all eat healthy but we all love junk food and that type of cinema, a reboot, a remake, a sequel, it's junk food.
"We have seen the original idea but we love it so much that we want it to keep going. The audience demands it and so they keep it going – but I love it, I don't feel like it's paralysing cinema.
"It's the same reason we love TV shows that go on for a while, you get to spend time with these characters. In a movie you only get two hours, so getting another helping of that is comfort food."
:: Jay And Silent Bob Reboot is in cinemas now.