TORONTO (CP) _ Filmmaker Kevin Smith’s ardour for Canada’s "Degrassi: The Next Generation" is well-documented _ he’s written and appeared in five episodes _ but he has a new revelation: the CTV series prompted him to make a sequel to his beloved "Clerks."
"I was a huge fan of ‘Degrassi High’ and ‘Degrassi Junior High’ but when they kick-started ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation,’ I was like: ‘Oh man, I don’t know,"’ Smith said in a recent interview to launch Tuesday’s DVD release of "Clerks II."
"I wondered if they should leave well enough alone. Where’s the wisdom in revisiting characters that people used to love? But then I finally saw ‘Next Generation’ and not only were they able to go back to the well with it, but they drew fresh water."
In fact, Smith says, Linda Schuyler and the creative team behind "Degrassi" were so triumphant in melding old characters with fresh blood and "Degrassi’s" trademark cutting-edge storylines, it convinced him he could successfully revisit Dante, Randal and the rest of the "Clerks" gang.
"It was so inspiring that it really was largely responsible for me winding up doing ‘Clerks II.’ I thought if they can go back to those characters and find something new in them, I can do the same thing with mine."
"Clerks II" is indeed an affectionate and funny return to the convenience store slackers of the 1994 original _ but this time they’re in their 30s and grappling with typical thirtysomething angst over what to do with the rest of their lives, both personally and professionally.
"If ‘Clerks’ was a flick about what I felt it was like to be in my 20s, ‘Clerks II’ was a flick about what I felt it was like to be in my 30s and settling down," says Smith, the happily married father of a seven-year-old girl.
Fatherhood, he says, hasn’t otherwise seriously affected his filmmaking _ with the exception of "Jersey Girl," Smith’s romantic comedy that featured Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in the frenzied midst of their ultimately doomed romance.
"If I didn’t have a kid I probably wouldn’t have written ‘Jersey Girl’ _ I like to blame the kid, by the way, for anyone who didn’t like the movie," he says with a laugh before adding ruefully: "I took a world of crap for that movie. If you read the reviews, a lot of people just faulted me for making the movie in the first place, and said it was the kind of movie that Dante and Randal would have made fun of in ‘Clerks."’
The 2004 film was released at a time when the public’s fascination with all things celebrity-related was moving into serious overdrive as "Bennifer" was routinely making headlines. That continuing obsession with celebrity culture continues to puzzle Smith, but he thinks there might be an unexpected fringe benefit to the world’s fixation on the private lives of stars.
"It’s been formed by Sept. 11, I think, in terms of wouldn’t you rather think about who Paris Hilton’s screwing rather than when the first suitcase bomb is going to go off?" he says. "It’s just a diversion _ ‘let’s forget about the real problems and concentrate on stuff that means nothing."’
"Maybe the terrorists are watching the news as well, and they’re all so fascinated by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes that they’re not thinking about where to strike next. The celebrities that we mock so much _ maybe they’re the people who are saving our asses. Now that would be a great cosmic joke."
It would be an irony, in fact, that Dante and Randal would take great pleasure in discussing if they ever return to the big screen _ something Smith is not ruling out.
"I could conceive of going back to Dante and Randal sometime in my mid-40s. If I had something to say about being in my 40s, I would totally think about it and I’d immediately think of Dante and Randal."
A return to "Degrassi," too, is something Smith dreams about. He played himself in a three-episode arc from Season 4 and then appeared in two more episodes last season. The sixth season of the show premieres Tuesday night on CTV.
"I don’t know how they would fit me in logically again, but if they figure out a way I’d do it again in a heartbeat," he says. "I did say at one point let’s skew the reality even further and say that I’ve given up filmmaking and I’ve decided to teach at Degrassi, so I could be on every episode _ but they didn’t go for that."