INTERVIEWS

Interview: Kevin Smith on Zack and Miri Make a Porno!

by
October 27, 2008

Kevin Smith and Alex Billington

Kevin Smith! This man needs no introduction. I don't care whether you love or hate his directing, he's a bigger geek than anyone out there and is an amazing speaker and storyteller. Sitting down with this guy and talking with him was like hanging out with my best friend but realizing that he's a bigger geek than me and he has so many better stories to tell. I met up with Kevin down in Austin, Texas during Fantastic Fest right after seeing Zack and Miri Make a Porno up in Toronto. I was still so wrapped up by that movie that I spent the entire time talking with him about making Zack and Miri. The film is finally due out in theaters this weekend, so in honor of the release, here is my full interview with Kevin Smith.

The two best stories that Kevin told were about how Rosario Dawson was originally supposed to play Miri but couldn't and instead it became a godsend that they ended up getting Elizabeth Banks; and about how Seth Rogen suggested they use real adult movie stars in a few of the roles. It's a very extensive interview looking at Smith's behind-the-scenes of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, so dive in!

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Where did the basic idea for Zack and Miri come from? Did you just say we want to do a movie about making a porno?

Kevin Smith: Well, kind of. I've been thinking about making a movie set on the outskirts of the world of porn since Chasing Amy. After I finished Chasing Amy, I wanted to do this movie called Name with Ben [Affleck] and Joey [Lauren Adams] and Jason [Lee] and it was set on the periphery of the world of porn and, like, one person was in porn, the rest weren't and how they reacted to that person. And then, instead, we got the opportunity to make Dogma. So I headed in that direction. Then we just never got back to it.

But ever since then, every year I've kind of reshaped it. And I'm like one day I'm going to do that porn movie, one day I'm going to do that porn movie. And then I saw 40 Year Old Virgin, fell in love with [Seth] Rogen. And I was just like, oh my god, that's it, he's the guy to do the porn movie about. Suddenly, it was Zack and Miri. And in many ways, I couldn't have gotten to that movie without making Clerks first. But, really, in terms of the -- you scrape away the porno trappings of the movie, it's kind of the story of how we made Clerks, except me and [producer Scott] Mosier never fell in love or fucked. So, yeah, it's been around for -- I guess, in terms of it being about porn, to some degree, since '96. But in terms of the story about knuckleheads getting together, making a movie, since '94, yeah.

One thing I've realized is that this movie has a much more mainstream appeal.

Kevin Smith: Yeah, it does have that feeling, yeah.

Is that something you rationally thought about?

Kevin Smith: No. I just think it has to do with, when you remove Jay and Silent Bob from the equation, when you remove references to the other movies from the equation, even something as simple as taking it out of New Jersey, suddenly makes it more open to other people, which is strange to me. I never thought Jersey was something that was necessarily holding us back, but I've seen a few people comment on the fact. They're like "thank god it's not in Jersey, because the movie takes a whole different feel." And I'm like, "Really?" Because we could've shot in Jersey. It's not like we don't get snow in fucking Jersey just as bad as they get in western Pennsylvania, but, for some reason, removing it from that removes it from the Askewniverse. It helps that the lead is the biggest comedy star of the moment. That kind of makes it more mainstream as well. But I don't know. It wasn't a conscious effort of, I'm going to do this in a way that a mainstream audience can get into. It's just, other elements falling away and then adding elements, like Seth. Suddenly, it becomes little more mainstream. But we'll see how mainstream it is. It does still have porno in the title. I don't know how mainstream we could possibly get with that.

Our society, at the moment, seems to appreciate these things that aren't the norm anymore. I think the idea of having porno in the title could possibly help it.

Kevin Smith: Hope you're right, man. That'd be fucking awesome if people were just like that sounds weird, let's go to it, you know. That'd be kind of cool.

Was Pittsburgh the location that you had chosen in the script, or was there some other reason you shot it there?

Kevin Smith: Initially, the first draft of the script was St. Cloud, Minnesota because I'd gone and done a college gig there the same year that I started writing Zack and Miri. And I was like, this is the coldest fucking place I've ever been in my life. I went outside to have a cigarette before the Q&A, and I was outside 30 seconds and my beard froze. I was like, ugh, who could live in this. So when I started writing it, I was just like I want to set the movie in the last place in the world anyone would think to make porn. So it was St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Then, between that and the second draft, when we were actually figuring out how we were going to shoot it, Minnesota didn't offer a great tax rebate and that's what it's all about now. Weinstein Company, almost every studio wants you to shoot someplace where they're going to get a big kickback, some kind of tax rebate. So they threw a bunch of locations at us, and one was Connecticut. And I was just like, I ain't feeling this movie in Connecticut. But one of them was Pittsburgh, and I was just like -- we'd shot Dogma in Pittsburgh. And it'd been really good to us, the city. And they had a great crew base. I started thinking about it, going, I guess that is the last place in the world anyone would make porn, the border of western Pennsylvania, steel town. It just doesn't lend itself to sexuality really. It's just kind of -- it's a meat-and-potatoes town, sports, the dying steel industry, real people, flyover- kind-of-state people. And that felt like this is the world where we would like these people to kind of go about their business.

How many changes do you make on set from the original script?

Kevin Smith: I mean, in the past, we've not done a ton. I'd say there's probably about as much adlibbing in this movie as there was in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But that's only because I haven't really had people who could do it, like, had the chops for it. Like, anybody can adlib a line while you're shooting a movie. If you're up to the eighth take of a scene, if they just say anything different than what they've been saying for the previous seven takes, the crew will laugh. But nine times out of ten, it's unusable in the movie. It just has nothing to do with the scene, doesn't sound like the character, sounds like the actor saying something, holds the movie up, doesn't propel the plot forward.

Seth is innately gifted at being able to tag up on a joke or button a joke or come up with an alternative line and make it absolutely useable. When he does it, it sounds like the character. It sounds germane to the discussion of the scene, organic to the whole film and moves the story forward. Seth's motto is to make it useable. That's what he likes to do. He's like, "There's no point in being funny if it's not potentially going to be used." Manufactured for use, kind of philosophy. And he's really, really great at it.

I'd heard that Rosario Dawson was originally your first choice for Miri, right?

Kevin Smith: Yeah, I wrote -- first draft was for Seth and Rosario. And then Rosario, she took Eagle Eye, which is a movie that -- I guess they're press screening it tonight. We were going to shoot the movie in November, and she was kind of onboard for the November start. But then Seth was like, "Can we start in January? Because I just got off the road with doing all the foreign press for both Knocked Up and Superbad." He's just like, "I've always wanted to work with you. I don't want to go into our first experience being all tired and fucking bushed and shit. I just want to lay on my couch, get stoned, watch TV and play videogames for a couple months." I was like, "Not a problem."

So we moved our start to January, and that's when we got the word that Rosario took Eagle Eye and she wasn't going to be done shooting until we were midway through ours. They were done February, and we were shooting from January to March. So suddenly she couldn't do it anymore, and it was heartbreaking. But I got it. I'm like, hey, man, it's a fucking Spielberg film, why wouldn't she want to do that, of course, that makes more sense. So what seemed like a true setback became the boon of the movie, because then suddenly the door was open to look at a number of other actresses. And we gravitated toward Banks. There was a list of six names of actresses who were available while we were shooting, and not to say that all of them would've wanted to do it. But, we figured, these six, we had the best shot at them saying yes, because some are just going to pass based on the content.

Banks, alphabetically, was at the top of the list. And so I gave the list to Rogen, and he's like, "Oh, my god, Elizabeth Banks." He's like, "She's your first choice." I was like, "Well, alphabetically, she's first." And he goes, "She's fantastic. You know her from 40 Year Old Virgin?" I said, "Yeah, and I loved her in Invincible as well." And he said, "She got really far in the Knocked Up audition. She was almost the Katherine Heigl part." So he's like, "I'd be way down to have her in the flick, for her to be Miri." So she came over and read the script. And I sat around talking to her for two hours and fell in love with her. And I was like, "Please do it." And thank god, because she's hands down the best actress I've ever worked with. She gives you so many choices in the editing room, delivers the exact same lines, changes it up each take just a little bit in terms of delivery, in terms of what she's doing when she's not talking, the stuff that she's doing essentially off camera or whatever, between lines. She's an absolute godsend, man. She's so fucking good.

When you're sitting there cutting the movie together, you can always count on a fantastic reaction from her. You can find it. It's in the footage. There was never a moment where I was like, fuck, I wish she had done this or that or the other thing. She provided all the material. It was all there.

Was it from the start that you thought it would be necessary to include real porn actresses?

Kevin Smith: No. That was Rogen, man. I didn't think about it when I was writing it. And, Rogen, after he read it, he was like, "You know, I think we should get some real adult actresses in the movie." I was like, "Why?" And he said, "Well, like, look at the roles of Bubbles and Stacy. They don't really have heavy, heavy lifting to do in terms of performance. So, maybe you get an actress who's not that great. But she's great for other things, like doing the sex scene with Lester." He's like, "And at the very least, it does away with that terrible awkward moment where you need to ask the actress, like, okay, in this scene, you take your top off." He said, "Because the worst thing you can ask them to do is nothing compared to what they do in their day job." And I was just like, "Excellent point." So he's like, "How offended is she going to be when you say can you take your top off when, in her day job, you know, somebody's like, okay, so you're having sex with three people in the scene?" And I was like, "Yeah, I guess so. We'll never ask anybody to do that in this movie."

So we opened the door that way, and we started looking. And the problem is so many adult film actresses are very good at the sex part but the performance part leading up to the sex, not so great. Katie Morgan, though, just kind of rose to the top. I had no idea she had the HBO show. It kind of makes sense, because she's so charming and effervescent and such a great personality. I saw a little clip of her on YouTube acting in a movie, in a scene, before the sex kicks in. And I was just like, ah, this chick can actually act. This isn't even like she's good for a porno actress. Like, she's funny. She's got good timing.

And then Traci Lords came into it as a real hail mary right before we kind of headed into shooting, because we hadn't cast that role. And we were looking at this coffee table book, this Taschen-published book. There was a bunch of photographs of porn actors and actresses not doing porn, just candid shots and posed shots but not adult in nature. And we went through the whole book. And I remember, after we were done, I was like, "You know who's missing is Traci Lords." And Scott was like, "Well, you know why. Because she keeps her porn past at arm's length." I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, but she'd be great. Like, wouldn't she make a great Bubbles?" He was like, "Yeah, she would make a great Bubbles." I said, "Dave Klein had shot a movie with her once." We were like, what do you think she'd say. He's like, "I don't know if she'll do it, dude, because she doesn't even talk about the porn. She doesn't like talking about it or anything like that." "We had a love scene in that movie," he said, "and she was clad all through it. There was no discussion about her taking her gear off or something like that." I was like, "Let's give it a shot."

We asked her agent. Her agent was like, "I don't know. It's got porno in the title. I'll ask her." Then she apparently said, "Yeah, let me read it." She came over to my house, and she read it. Then her and I sat around, in my living room, at the bar, talking for three, four hours. And she was like, "Look, it's been 20 years since I made an adult film. Maybe it's time for me to embrace it, make fun of it." I said, "Yes, it is time. Let's do it right here in this movie." But it was a weird moment. Because I sat there going, if I could go back in time and tell the 16-year-old version of me, one day Traci Lords is going to be in your house and you're going to be sitting there talking to her for four hours, I'm sure the 16-year-old version of me would be like "do we fuck her." And the 38-year-old version would be like "you have so much to learn." But we got lucky, man. She signed on to do it. And underplayed it to perfection, she did.

Thanks to Kevin Smith and everyone at The Weinstein Company for putting this interview together! Zack and Miri Make a Porno hits theaters everywhere this weekend and it is still one of my favorite comedies of the entire year. You don't want to miss this movie, even if it's just to see Katie Morgan's tits on the big screen!

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

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  • http://www.youtube.com/snears Nick Sears
    Hahaha, this is gonna be hilarious. I can see a lot of classic one-liners coming from this film! Bring it on ! JERSEY REPRESENT!
  • -peter-
    Great interview. I can't wait for the movie. "even if it's just to see Katie Morgan's tits on the big screen" haha
  • vu
    Most people would probably hate on you Alex because they're jealous that you met Kevin Smith. I am jealous of you but I'm not hating. That's so cool you met him, congrats dude. You're definitley not a nobody in the biz. To write about and watch movies and meet famous people for a living would seriously be a dream come true for people like me.
  • bret
    wish this was an audio review. Smith is a natural on a mic. Thanks for the interview tho
  • Kail
    ALEX YOUR AN ASSHOLE YOU GOT TO MEET KEVIN SMITH IM NEVER READING YOUR SITE AGAIN :[ Unless you post another article that grabs my interest...
  • http://movieguyreviews4u.blogspot.com Ryan
    I agree with number 5. Buy a tape recorder!
  • Conrad
    If Alex did NOT use a tape recorder for this interview, I'd be very surprised. How the heck did he write down everything that Kevin said without it? hmmmm?
  • http://www.youtube.com/AllmightyKeim AllmightyKeim
    I just got his new DVD too, "Threevening With Kevin Smith". Watching that shit like everyday.
  • Peloquin
    Kevin Smith would be the best boss in the world...no need to come up with some lame story of how you're sick and can't come to work...just brutal honesty...oh the life of an artist... "I've always wanted to work with you. I don't want to go into our first experience being all tired and fucking bushed and shit. I just want to lay on my couch, get stoned, watch TV and play videogames for a couple months." I was like, "Not a problem."
  • vu
    #9, that was my favorite part too. Officially Seth and Kevin rule for the rest of my life.
  • Peloquin
    Smith's story about working with Bruce Willis on Die Hard was hilarious in Threevening... (Bruce while talking to Fox about the rewrites he asked Smith to do on the film)... "Let me ask you a question, who's your second choice to play John McLane?"

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