‘You really like it here?’: Kevin Smith’s junket to promote the TV series Degrassi begins in a city he doesn’t remember kindly, ALEXANDRA GILL writes.(The Globe Review). Gill, Alexandra.
Byline: ALEXANDRA GILL
VANCOUVER — Some might describe Kevin Smith’s 13-year obsession with the Degrassi TV series as kind of creepy.
“That’s one word for it,” says the American indie filmmaker, who stars in a three-episode storyline, which began airing this week. “I was going to say charming, but I’ll go for creepy.”
Smith, now 34, first got hooked on Linda Schuyler’s original Degrassi Junior High series while watching reruns on PBS during his Sunday-morning shifts at Quick Stop Convenience in Leonardo, N.J.
“Wow,” he remembers thinking. “They cast age-appropriate actors who are just so plain looking. And the acting was so wooden. It was just so damn refreshing, compared to the 90210s and stuff like that. I just fell for it.”
Smith tuned in every Sunday after that. And when he wrote Clerks, his $27,000 (U.S.) breakthrough film (shot in the very same convenience store), it was no coincidence that the main character’s dream girl was named after Caitlin Ryan. An original Degrassi character, Caitlin (played by Stacie Mistysyn) now stars as a grown-up TV reporter in the new CTV series Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the three-part storyline that Smith helped conceive, the visiting movie director gets caught in a love triangle between Caitlin and her boyfriend Joey (Pat Mastroianni).
In almost every movie he has written since Clerks, Smith has managed to sneak in at least one reference to the show. In Mallrats, he put Shannen Doherty in a Degrassi jacket. In Chasing Amy, he had Jason Lee and Ben Affleck chat away while eating pizza and watching an episode of the show.
In next week’s episode, Smith makes fun of Affleck. “That’s what friends are for,” says Smith, sprawled out on a couch in Vancouver, where his seven-day promotional tour launched this week.
“I once asked [Affleck] if it bothered him, all the jokes I make about him. He said, ‘Don’t you think I would’ve said something by now? But I think that’s really cute that you asked me.’ ”
Smith asked Affleck to play a cameo alongside him, but his friend refused.
“When we were shooting that episode, it was right at the point when Surviving Christmas was coming out. He was just like, ‘Dude, I am getting my ass so kicked in the press right now. You know I love you and if you tell me this is the most important thing in the world to you and you’ll hate me if I don’t, of course I’ll do it. But please, I’m begging you. If I show up on a Canadian teen soap opera, they’ll just have a field day. It’s going to take away from everything you love about the show because they’re just going to talk about this.’ ”
Smith understood and instead asked Alanis Morissette, the Ottawa-born singer who he cast as God in Dogma. In next week’s episode, she plays a lumber-jacket wearing high-school principal in the film that Kevin Smith and his perennial sidekick Jason “Jay” Mewes are shooting at Degrassi High.
During the actual series shoot, it somehow came up in conversation that the show had never quite broken the million-viewer mark. So Smith suggested a junket.
“We’ll start in Vancouver,” Smith told the producers, “work our way across the country . . . and maybe we’ll be able to cross the million mark. They had to go find out if they had the money to do it. Canadian TV is so strange. It’s such an education, the whole process.”
And here he is, back on the West Coast of Canada, where he once spent a semester at the Vancouver Film School in 1992. The city wasn’t exactly his cup of tea.
“It’s so Pacific Northwest and I’m so not,” he explains, tucking into a pizza, plate of fries and peanut butter-jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off from the children’s room-service menu.
“You really like it here?” he asks. “When I was here, there were a lot of pine trees, a lot of whale art, and a lot of totem poles everywhere. There were a lot of kids hanging out on the street – a huge slacker culture. You’d go up Granville Street and they’d just be playing their guitars for change and shit. Kids, like 15 to 21.”
And the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a different kind of prolonged juvenilia?
“Yeah,” he says. “Hotel food is so terrible.”
The conversation rolls back to Affleck, who starred in Smith’s most recent film, the widely panned Jersey Girl, with his then-fiancee Jennifer Lopez.
“I don’t think Jennifer jinxed it, but it certainly didn’t help that we were the Gigli follow-up,” he says, referring to another bomb starring the ill-fated couple.
“A lot of the critics just went after me for making a movie like that, which a lot of them apparently found very tepid. What, can’t I make something mediocre like the rest of the movie business? Apparently not. Weird, for someone who makes such lowbrow movies, I’m held to a higher standard. It’s not like I ever made Citizen-fucking-Kane here.
“Would we have had a better shot without Jennifer? Sure. But having Jennifer meant that we probably got a better performance out of Ben because he was playing a guy who is falling in love with someone he was really falling in love with at the time.”
So he really does consider Affleck a good actor, despite all the jokes?
“Obviously, I keep putting him in my movies. I do, I really do. That’s why it’s so disheartening and transparent to see people jumping on him right now. . . . It’s really just a guy being punished because he fell in love with someone.”
Speaking of love, how about that kiss Smith scores with Caitlin in next week’s episode?
“It didn’t go down well,” Smith sighs. His wife, Jennifer, a former USA Today reporter, wasn’t too happy about being cut out of his life in the script.
“You play yourself,” she argued. “You play an unmarried, childless version of yourself. Everything else about you is the same, except you’re not married.”
Smith tried to convince her it was all just pretend. “There’s no way a fat dude gets to make out with a hot chick on TV, or real life — ever — so you don’t have to sweat it,” he told her.
And she wasn’t insulted even further?
“Yeah,” he moans grudgingly. “I said to her: ‘You? You’re just a chubby chaser with no taste, apparently.’ ”
And the kiss was worth all that?
“Getting yelled at a little bit? Yeah!”