The Advocate interviews Guin Turner and Kevin Smith – The Gamblers
The Gamblers The Gamblers
Guinevere Turner and Kevin Smith on the long, strange decade it’s been since the premiere of Go Fish and Clerks
By Alonso Duralde
Outtakes from an interview that appeared in The Advocate, March 30, 2004
For the interview that appeared in The Advocate, March 30, 2004, scroll below outtakes
The 1994 Sundance Film Festival featured two low-budget, salty-dialogued comedies that would forever change the face of independent cinema. Rose Troche’s Go Fish—starring and cowritten by breakout star Guinevere Turner—was the sassy, sexy, irreverent lesbian movie that queers had waited for. Kevin Smith’s Clerks—shot almost entirely in the New Jersey convenience store that employed him—introduced the writer-director’s unique blend of pithy profanity and pop-culture minutiae mixed with an unabashed romantic streak.
Turner and Smith became good friends at that festival, launching a relationship that was both personal and professional: Turner’s friendship with Smith’s buddy and producer Scott Mosier was a key inspiration behind Chasing Amy, and she had cameo appearances in that film and in Dogma.
With Turner about to start work as a writer and performer on the second season of Showtime’s The L Word and with Smith’s latest comedy, Jersey Girl, set to open in theaters on March 26, the two of them (with Mosier sitting in) met at Smith’s house in the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles to reminisce and, as friends do, needle each other.
Here are outtakes from the interview, which appears in the March 30, 2004 issue:
Duralde: I remember in the preface of the Go Fish book, you were talking for a long time about running into each other that whole year, on the festival circuit.
Turner: Yeah, we were in Deauville [France] together.
Smith: Yeah. James Woods and shit.
Turner: [Laughs] Do you know my James Woods story? I was in the film festival in Deauville. My aunt used to date him a long time ago. And he was sitting a bar and I was by myself, so I went, “Hey, James Woods, you used to date my aunt Molly!” And he was like, “Oh, yeah, Molly,” and he was just looking me up and down and couldn’t remember Molly to save his life. He starts talking to me and eventually is trying to get me to go up to his hotel room with him, and I was like, “No, dude, no.” And finally I was like, “Look, dude, I’m a lesbian,” and he goes, “I give really good head.” [Laughs] I was like, Eww!
Smith: “James Woods announces he too is a lesbian!”
Turner: It was totally gross.
Smith: That was one of our first celebrity stories too. It wasn’t even our story, but we ate out on that story: “Here’s a James Woods story.”
[Regarding spending time together at the 1994 Sundance Festival:]
Smith: I don’t know, it was like a real growth spurt in that 10-day period. I do remember that. I remember being really obsessed with your relationship [with Go Fish director Rose Troche]: “Why’d you guys break up? Why don’t you guys get back together?” [Turner laughs] And you’re like, “Dude, nobody really stays together.” I’m like, “Really? Why not?” And trying to compare it to my high school girlfriend.
Turner: I remember you guys just constantly asking us questions about being a lesbian. It was like lesbo camp. [Laughs]
Smith: It was, I remember. Again, finally, it was like talking to a contemporary who also happened to be interesting. So it was a real precursor to that whole sequence in Chasing Amy: “What about this, what about this, what about this, what about this?”
Turner: I was only trying to humor you.
Smith: I know. It was cute. I think you saw us more as children more than anything else. [Turner laughs]
Do you guys feel like the DIY-ness of both movies inspired people to do their own stuff? The fact that you went into the process without big financing attached or whatever to get the damn thing?
Turner: That’s another thing. People ask, “So how do I do that?” I say, “First of all, it took years. And second of all, it’s just different now—I don’t think you could do that.” I mean, you could, but…
Smith: It’s a lot cheaper now, but everybody does it. It’s at that point where there were more law school students than lawyers or something like that—now it’s like there are more film school students than filmmakers. But we get a lot of that. Clerks made me realize that I could do it too. They don’t ask how you do it. People ask for a leg up, though. I always go, “Well, do you want me to finance it? Then you’re not doing it DIY, dude—that’s not what we did.”
Turner: And what people say to me is how they took their mom to it, because what people love about Go Fish is that there are no filmmakers who are lesbians. “I saw it 20 times, I brought my mom!”
Smith: Really? So it’s like a mother-daughter bonding film?
Turner: Yeah! It’s a family picture.
Smith: Were you naked in the movie too? A little bit?
Smith: That was also weird, because we were hanging out with somebody else we saw naked in a movie, and that had never happened before. So the first half of the festival you’re just talking to Guin, and the second half of the festival you’re talking to Guin knowing that you’ve seen her boobs. [Turner laughs] In black-and-white, but still.
Kevin, you’ve talked about how Slacker and She’s Gotta Have It were among your inspirations. So Guin, what movies did you and Rose see that made you guys think, Hey, we can do this?
Turner: It was more like films that Christine Vachon was producing at the time, like Swoon and Poison. And then, also, She’s Gotta Have It. So I was told that Spike Lee saw Go Fish and said we ripped off She’s Gotta Have It.
Smith: I remember that.
Turner: Which is not true, because I was reading a book about the film before ever seeing the film. But it’s like, I wasn’t inspired by it.
Guin, were you surprised that The L Word got a second-season pickup so quickly?
Turner: No, not really surprised, but thrilled. It felt like the show’s so hyped that it seems like it’s hard to say.
Smith: I remember running into you at the Grove last year, and I was like, “What’re you doing?” You said, “I’m working on a show—it’s kind of like the girl version of—”
Turner: Queer as Folk. Yeah, that’s when I was in the middle of those 12-hour days of talking nonstop. I was like [rasping] “Hello.” It’s really hard to talk nonstop for weeks on end with the same people. I start to obsess about their individual little habits.
Smith: Do you find that you get to shoot other people’s ideas in the room? Do they shoot your ideas down?
Turner: Not so much. I mean, it’s so much blah-blah-blah, the creator of the show takes all the blah-blah-blah, brings it back to us, and says, “This is what we’re going to do and this is what we’re not going to do.” It’s not like anybody will go, “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard!” [Laughs]
Smith: So does Rose sit in on story conferences at all?
Turner: Yeah. And she wrote two of the scripts, and she’s directing three…or maybe four? She’s a co–executive producer.
Smith: What are you? What’s your title?
Turner: It’s story editor. Now I’m negotiating a second-season title.
Smith: What would that be?
Turner: Some kind of producer. Because by the end of the first six episodes, it was just me and Rose and the creator of the show writing.
Smith: So people just dropped out?
Turner: Yeah, people were only on for 10 weeks and didn’t get renewed. One person left and made a feature.
Smith: And whatever happened to the Bettie Page movie?
Turner: The Bettie Page movie is going to be in preproduction soon—like, April. Gretchen Mol is going to play Bettie Page; HBO is doing it.
Smith: And is it your script?
Turner: Yeah. Mary [Harron] is directing. And I’ll have some sort of producer credit.
Smith: Did you like working with Mary on American Psycho?
Turner: Yeah. It was fun. That book made me laugh.
Turner: [Laughs] Yeah.
Smith: I’ve never read it. In what way? Intentional?
Turner: It’s funny. It’s funny. I mean, it’s disturbing and it’s funny, and we would just sit there going, “What is wrong with Bret Easton Ellis? This is so gross!” And then I met him and asked him, and he said, “I thought I wrote a feminist book.”
Turner: Mmm-hmm. He really set out to write a feminist book about just how horrible men are. But he just took it to some—
Smith: Insane place.
Turner: There’s a scene where he cuts a woman in half and puts a Habitrail inside of her and puts a rat in. The rat goes in and eats her from the inside out—but she’s already dead and cut in half. It’s gnarly.
Smith: Good God.
Turner: We were just like, I so wish I had never read that!
Smith: How did you wind up on that movie?
Turner: Ed Pressman approached Mary to write it and direct it. Mary and I were working on Bettie Page, so she asked me to take a break from Bettie Page and I did that.
Smith: Did you get shit for that? For the movie?
Turner: No, actually. A lot of shit while we were making it and before it came out, but then people love that movie.
Smith: Yeah, it’s a good movie. It’s very rewatchable.
Smith: Yeah, it’s the same thing. We spent the year doing festivals before, because they picked Clerks up at Sundance in ’94—January—and the movie came out in October of ’94. So for that almost 10-month period, we were just going from festival to festival to festival. It just became what you do—this is what it’s all about. And I never really got to appreciate it, because as soon as Clerks was coming out, we were heading into Mallrats. And as soon as Mallrats died, we were like, “Quick, let’s do something else,” and that was Chasing Amy. I never really took the moment to savor what had happened or what had transpired. Not like I didn’t appreciate it—I totally appreciated it—but I never got to sit there. I still regret to this day never really sitting back and fucking observing the fact that we made a movie that tanked. And it’s not as big a tank as a lot of movies that tank—Mallrats was a $6 million movie and it made $2 million. Definitely a failure, but we were so trying to put it behind us to make sure that we were on to something else—so that we got to make another movie at all, I never got to sit there and go, “That was pretty wild. We made a movie that didn’t make money and was reviled by critics.”
Turner: It just reminded me—when you asked me to be in Chasing Amy, that little part, I just remembered that my manager was like, “You can’t be in that movie. Don’t play a lesbian. If you keep playing lesbians, it’s gonna ruin your career” or whatever. He just reminded me of it the other day: “Remember when we thought maybe you shouldn’t play lesbians? You remember that whole thing?” And he actually said, “Don’t do it,” and I just showed up and did it anyway. And I was like, “I’m not necessarily lesbian, I’m just standing in a lesbian bar hanging out with lesbians.” [Laughs]
Smith: Call yourself whatever you have to to get through the role, I guess!
Turner: But then he saw it at Sundance and said, “I’m so glad we decided you should do that movie—that’s a great movie!” I was like, “Fuck you, dude!”
So tell me about the infamous video cover shoot for Go Fish, which features you and some hot model looking all glam and has practically nothing to do with the movie.
Turner: Oh, my God, that was one of the lessons learned.
Smith: Oh, like, “Let’s take the really cute one, remove the hat, remove every moment of the movie practically, and throw her on the bed, wrapped in a sheet.”
Turner: They flew me into L.A. to do that shoot.
Smith: And you were really upset about it.
Turner: I was really upset—I actually walked out of the photo shoot.
Smith: That was for the poster too, correct? No, the posters you got two weeks later.
Turner: Yeah. No, they flew me to L.A. and said, “We want you to do the cover for the video cover shoot,” and I was like, “OK—so is the other one gonna come?” “No, just you.” And I’m like, That’s weird. “Well, what should I bring to wear?” “Just bring the clothes you wear in the movie.” So I bring cutoff shorts and whatever.
Smith: And the hat.
Turner: And the hat. They freaking dolled me up. And then they introduced me to this model, Inga—like, this Swiss-born supermodel…
Smith: They’re like, “You remember Inga, from the scenes in the movie that don’t exist.”
Turner: She went [imitates accent], “Hello, I’m Inga,” and I just started laughing. I’m like, “If you could fucking see who you’re supposed to be…” I said, “She doesn’t look anything like the actresses.” They said, “She’ll be in the background.” And then first they want me to get naked, and this was my first lesson: Don’t let people bully you around. I did it for an hour, and then I was like—
Smith: Took everything off?
Turner: Yeah, and then I was covered in a sheet.
Smith: But were you naked under the sheet?
Smith: That’s so hot. [Turner laughs] Did you take your panties off as well? Were you like, “Yeah, I guess I’ll take these off too!”
Turner:“Just in case you need my ass!” I don’t remember. I was really stressed-out. I was on the verge of tears.
Smith: Why didn’t they use [costar] V.S. Brodie?
Turner: They don’t think she’s cute. They didn’t think she’d sell.
Smith: That was a conscious…it wasn’t like she wasn’t available?
Turner: No. She told me stories: She was on a train once, and this drunk guy comes up to her and goes, “Hey, you were in that movie Go Fish! I just rented that video, and man, that cover…I thought it was all going to be hot chicks having sex, and they don’t do that in there!” She’s all, “Thanks.”
Is there anything we didn’t get to?
Smith: You ever been called a sellout?
Turner: Not to my face.
Smith: You spend any time on the Web?
Turner: You mean, looking at what people are saying about me?
Turner: If I knew where to go, I would.
Smith: There’s a Web site—there’s a Guin Turner tribe Web site.
Turner: No, I know about that one.
Smith: But nobody ever goes, “You fucking sellout!”? Not even within the gay community?
Turner: There’s probably a population of lesbians who are looking at what the women on The L Word look like: “They don’t look like a lesbian—bye now!” I think there’s a little bit of tension there. But the thing is, lesbians are still so stoked to have anything, that people are watching. I’m glad it’s me and Rose, because for some reason the two of us together give it some kind of integrity. But people are definitely complaining about that.
Smith: Are they?
Smith: Where? In the pages of The Advocate?
Turner: In e-mails to me.
Smith: Like, “How can you fuckin’ portray lesbians…”?
Turner: Yeah. “These don’t look like lesbians”; “When are we going to see some truck-driving, swearing…”?
Smith: Isn’t that the kind of stereotype, that they’re supposed to be the truck-driving flannel-wearers? Aren’t there pretty lesbians? There must be.
Smith: I’ve seen a lot of pornos with pretty lesbians! [Turner laughs] You’re cute.
Smith: I’ve gotten the sellout thing many times. Anytime you do something you’re not supposed to be doing or got a very specific audience and you step outside the box.
Turner: For what have you been called that?
Smith: Oh, you name it. I got called out for doing Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I think that’s the least sellout of all.
Turner: Yeah, I don’t understand that.
Smith: It’s really based on me and my friends. Jersey Girl, I’ve been getting “sellout” on from day one, for casting Jennifer Lopez. PG-13, I got fuckin’ nailed for that. “Where’s all the poetic vulgarity?” And I was like, “Poetic? Thank you.” It’s weird that they think that if you do one thing, you’re supposed to keep doing it instead of thinking about doing something else. You try to do something else, and you’ve sold out to the man. So I get that quite a bit.
Turner: So you go on those Web sites where people just talk about you?
Smith: Yeah. Well, I have one. [All laugh] I own and update a Web site. The good thing is people who like your shit will find you there. But the bad part is that there are people who are like, “Let’s fuck with him.” And some people always say, “Oh, they’re just jealous of you,” but they’re not. Everyone can’t be jealous. There have to be people who are like, “I hate you and everything you stand for. I’m not jealous and I don’t want to be you, I just can’t stand everything you do.”
Turner:“I hate you so much that I jumped on the Internet to tell you!”
Smith: Can you imagine taking 10 minutes, 20 minutes out of your day to be like, “I gotta find this motherfucker and tell him what I think”?
Guinevere Turner and Kevin Smith on the long, strange decade it’s been since the premiere of Go Fish and Clerks
By Alonso Duralde
The interview as it appeared in the March 30, 2004 issue of The Advocate
Guin, could you have imagined that 10 years later you’d be working on a lesbian TV series?
Turner: I think that I was such a little idealist at the time…what’s it going to be like in 2004? Lesbians will roam free, and there’ll be lesbian channels and hundreds of lesbian movies out…
Smith: Aren’t there?
Smith: And you don’t feel that, 10 years later, you guys are further, at least, in the media?
Turner: Yeah. I mean, definitely. But I probably would’ve thought even more so.
Smith: You’d have knocked the breeders off the box at this point.
Turner: It’s 10 years later and there’s finally a lesbian show on TV, but it is a long time.
Smith: Are there other lesbians in the cast or not? Are they all actresses?
Turner: One of them, Leisha [Hailey], is on the cover of The Advocate. The rest…
Turner: Some are married, some take the Fifth.
Smith: Is that a convention that bugs anybody at this point or not?
Turner: It bugs them the most to be asked all the time if they’re gay. “We’re actors.” Nobody asks the people on ER if they have medical degrees. [Laughs] It’s a touchy issue.
Smith: Is it really?
Smith: But only for the straights? The straight cast? Or is it a touchy issue for you?
Turner: [Laughs] I would love to gossip about each and every one of them and exactly what I think about their sexuality, but I’m not at liberty, needless to say. I’m probably working with these people for five years.
I was thinking of you guys as the scrappy underdogs of Sundance 1994, but then I discovered that you had two of the biggest buzz movies of the festival.
Smith: No, we were scrappy going in, though. [Go Fish] was the buzz movie, because they had something original. Nobody had seen it. All the distributors had seen our movie in advance, and they all passed. Nobody had seen Go Fish, because [John] Pierson [producers’ rep for both Clerks and Go Fish] had kept it really quiet, if I remember correctly.
Turner: Yeah, and we were also wiped out.
Smith: And they were also wiped out. [Chuckles] They were finished moments before the festival. But also, aside from I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing, I don’t think it had really been done at all at that point.
Smith: Maybe Desert Hearts.
Turner: Claire of the Moon.
Smith: Claire of the Moon. But I’m talking about arty films. They had the buzz going then, and Pierson’s plan was to sell it at the festival. I was saying before that, that was the first movie ever sold at Sundance, your movie.
Turner: It was?
Smith: How do you not know shit like this? Yes, your film Go Fish was the first film they ever sold at Sundance during the festival proper. Up until ’94, films only sold after the festival or before the festival.
Turner: I always thought the big deal was that it was only three days into the festival that it sold.
Smith: It was the fact that it sold in that period. And then we were the second film that was sold there. After that year it became kind of de rigueur.
So did you two meet at Sundance?
Smith: We met the girls before we even got there. We met you guys when we went to some editing room where Rose was doing one of her many dissolves, one of her last-minute dissolves.
Turner: And you guys were cutting at the end.
Smith: Changing the end of Clerks. Pierson was like, “Well, I know there’s an editing room where the girls are, and you can chat with them.” That’s the first time we met you guys. Which was weird for me, because I didn’t know any lesbian peers at that point. The only lesbians I knew were the older aunt-like figures. I’d never known anyone my own age—well, I’m sure I did, but they weren’t out in the Jersey burbs. [Turner laughs]
Marketing-wise, did people expect to make bucketloads of money off independent movies back then?
Smith: Particularly our movies. Although their movie was expected to do really great things.
Turner: It was?
Smith: Yeah, totally. Pierson knew it was going to sell so quickly because he knew there was a market for it. He knew it wasn’t going to make fucking 20 million bucks or something, but he knew there was a market for it and that finally there was a gay film—or more specifically, a lesbian film—that would play, and not just play arty like Claire of the Moon or whatever.
Smith: So you guys were definitely expected to do business. We were just like…no. I don’t think anybody expected us to do business.
Turner: But Clerks ended up grossing way more than Go Fish, didn’t it?
Smith: I don’t know. You guys did 2 [million], and we did 3.2 [million]?
Turner: Yeah, we did 2 [million], 2 and change, something like that. So at Sundance we were hanging out a lot, but you hadn’t seen Go Fish. I remember seeing you guys at the Robert Redford brunch, and you guys were like, “So we saw it…” and I was like, “And?” “We like it.” [Chuckles]
Smith: It was also an intimidating movie, because it was very…
Smith: Yeah. [Turner laughs] It intimidated me as a man, because I was like, I don’t think they like guys. No, obviously there was a filmmaker at work behind it. And suddenly our film didn’t seem like a film so much as a string of jokes—like a stand-up routine without the brick wall and suit jacket.
Turner: Of course, I was like, “You’re going to do a close-up of some milk going into some coffee? That’s retarded!” [Laughs] That was just Rose’s filming.
Smith: You [and Rose] also had the more romantic backstory as well, because you guys had been involved, and [Mosier and I] were like, “Should we get involved?” [Turner laughs]
Turner: Then have a dramatic breakup!
How much of Chasing Amy grew out of knowing Guin?
Smith: A lot.
Turner: People always ask me if I slept with him.
Smith: Yeah, people ask if we had a relationship, and we didn’t, but Scott and Guin hung out and were really good friends. It took off from there: “Ooh, what if they fell in love?” Because I’m kind of a chubby romantic at heart. The movie came from there. And I remember at one point urging Mosier, “You should write a movie about that, dude.” And Mosier didn’t, so I’m like, “I’m going to write a movie about that.” And your experiences, or not experiences. After the festival you would come and hang out with him in Jersey.
Smith: Big-city lesbo hanging out in the fucking Jersey sticks.
Have you had to defend Chasing Amy with lesbians? Because I still do.
Turner: There are lesbians of two minds, because some people really, really like it.
I don’t mean all lesbians.
Turner: Yeah, they just get mad because she gets the guy.
Smith: I remember when I gave you the script—she was kind of the proofreader—because a lot of it’s conjecture. A lot of it is, “I remember this stuff we talked about, but also a lot of stuff is just winging it.” In terms of, specifically, that conversation on the swing where he’s asking her stuff and she’s talking about her sex life. And I remember that when she read it, I was like, “What do you think?” and she said, “It’s good, but there’s one thing in there that’s just really wrong.” I was like, “What is it?” and she said, “‘Tongue-fucking’?”
Turner: I’d forgotten about that.
Smith: “No, Kevin—‘tongue-fucking’? I’ve never even heard of that.” [Turner laughs] I was like, “Well, I made it up, and I’ll take it out.” But I was like, “Are people going to be mad?” and she said, “Well, some people will get mad because nobody likes to admit that that sometimes happens. At the same time, it does, so at least you’re not telling a completely fictional story. But nobody wants to own up to that.”
You both encountered controversy at different points over your work. With American Psycho [which Turner cowrote], people questioned whether or not the movie should even be made, and the rating stuff. And then you had Dogma—
Smith: That was the fucking movie that we took shit on.
When the gays got all up in arms about Jay and Silent Bob—
Smith: All the gays? One gay guy!
Turner: One gay!
Smith: One gay with a forum—Scott Seomin [of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation]. Nice guy…really misguided. That felt good because at the end of the year John Waters put it on his top 10 list, and then The Advocate put it on their top 10 list. I dropped Scott Seomin an e-mail after that saying, “Not for nothing does The Advocate put you in its top 10 list!” He wrote, “You just have to rub it in, don’t you?” [All laugh] You got some shit for American Psycho, I remember that.
Turner: My favorite is that a friend of mine said, “You know what? You know why Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t do that movie?” I’m like, “Mmm, I don’t, actually.” And she said, “Well, I was at a WNBA game with Gloria Steinem, and Gloria Steinem took Leo aside and said, ‘For the good of all womankind, you can’t do this movie, because 14-year-old girls are going to be watching it because they love you from Titanic.’ ” So that’s one rumor.
But Gloria Steinem married Christian Bale’s dad.
Turner: I know!
So what does that mean?
Smith: It means that Leo is so noble, basically cutting himself off from all womankind.
Turner: At Gloria’s request.
Was there some point that you felt like, I’m in this business—I’m not an aspiring filmmaker, I am a filmmaker now?
Smith: I still feel aspiring. It’s still tough to say, “I am in this business,” because you always get the sense—I always get it, I don’t know if you do—of waiting for the other shoe to drop. For somebody to say, “The emperor has no fucking clothes.” And then be like, “I was an emperor? What?” [All laugh] So I don’t know. Ten years in, and I’m still not sure that I’ll be allowed to stay.
bright-eyed, bushy-tailed person I was 10 years ago and how I actually thought, This is it—we made a movie, now it’s going to be easy from here. We’re rock stars, we’re in magazines…and all of a sudden I was like, Um, I’m totally broke, and I don’t know what I’m doing next, and nobody cares about Go Fish anymore… It’s been a very rocky road, and I’m definitely old and bitter. [Laughs]
Smith: Are you, 10 years later, where you thought you’d be? Are you in a better place, or not quite, or like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe where I am?
Turner: I’m totally like, I can’t believe where I am. There was a time right after Go Fish came out when I thought it was going to be much bigger than it was, and then I was like, Oh, this is what it’s like. It’s really fucking hard. I was going to give up and be a teacher. I just decided to give it up completely.
Smith: What would you have taught?
Turner: High school English.
Smith: Really? Aren’t you the dainty English teacher, then? The hard-core lesbian English teacher who’s all about other chicks and whatnot?
Turner: [Laughs] So when you were coming up with Clerks, where did you think you’d be 10 years later?
Smith: I didn’t think we’d still be working in 10 years. I really thought they’d let us make two movies and that would be it. Whoever “they” are.
Smith: The Man. But I don’t know. We didn’t have any long-range plans, and I think it worked for us up to this point. It still does. You make it up as you go along.
Interview thanks to Kent
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