I remember going through a big independent film phase when I was in my early teens. I watched them all. Jim Jarmusch, the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee were all in my repertoire. There was THX-1138 by a young George Lucas, and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider. The list goes on and on. But when I came across Clerks in 1994, a black-and-white indie film directed by a newcomer named Kevin Smith, I knew I’d found my Holy Grail. It was a Hallelujah chorus for a high school geek.
Equal parts comedy and street-level Shakespeare play, Clerks follows a day in the life of Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran), a clerk at a New Jersey convenience store, who has to cover for his boss on his day off. What ends up unfolding is nothing short of a slacker’s dream come true—Star Wars is discussed at length, hockey is played on the rooftop of the store, and the audience is introduced to a laundry list of memorable characters, such as Jay and Silent Bob, who have since starred in their own movie by Smith. (Warning: There’s some pretty colorful language in the video below.)
But had Dante not had to work that day, none of this would’ve happened. So, of course, when I was offered an interview with O’Halloran, the actor who played him, I jumped at the opportunity. O’Halloran has since appeared in all of Smith’s follow-up movies, including playing a Dante-esque character in Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997) and Dogma (1999). (He’s also appeared as Dante in Clerks‘ two sequels, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II.) He’s also appearing all weekend at the Empire State Comic Con in Albany, so go over there and talk Star Wars with him. Below, is our interview, which has been edited slightly for clarity.
Have you ever been to Saratoga Springs before?
Yes! I actually was here last year for the Saratoga Comic Con, which is also going on this weekend at well. I love the area, and as a kid, my parents used to come up this way to the Catskills.
Did you ever go to the racetrack?
Never did. We didn’t have that type of money to go to the racetrack. Plus, we wanted to keep our money, thus we didn’t go to the racetrack. But I hear it’s beautiful up there.
Take me back to just before you took the role of Dante in Clerks. How did you connect with Kevin Smith?
I was doing community theater down in the Monmouth County area of New Jersey, and there was a theater that still operates today called the First Avenue Playhouse, and I’d been acting there for the past two or three years prior to meeting him. Kevin put in an audition notice and I answered it.
You basically auditioned to play him. [Dante is the “Kevin Smith” character in Clerks and all of Smith’s subsequent films.]
I didn’t know what I was auditioning for. I just knew that it was a comedy film with guys that were in my age range. I was 23 at the time. It was definitely an adventure. I didn’t know that this was a principal role, because when I auditioned, I’d asked how many principals there were, and one of Kevin’s friends said, ‘There are six of them, but we’ve already got them cast.’
How much of Clerks was ad-libbed? Or was it all scripted?
I’d say 98 percent of it was scripted. Kevin is an extremely particular writer, as he should be. He worked painstakingly hard to get the script to how he wanted to hear it.
You are sort of the Big Lebowski rug of the Kevin Smith movie universe—you tie them all together. How did it come to pass that you appeared in all of his follow-up films?
Well, as you know, if I’m playing the ‘Kevin Smith’ character, he’s putting himself in the center of that universe. Although now, the Jay and Silent Bob characters really exploded after these films. So they’re really the lynchpin of a lot of the films as well. It’s nice to be the ‘straight man,’ so to speak—the level-headed character, the one that witnesses all the craziness that’s going on and says, ‘What are you guys doing?’ I’m proud of it. I hold that banner high.
I always wondered: In Smith’s movie Dogma, ’90s pop sensation Alanis Morissette played G-d. Is Alanis Morissette actually G-d?
You know, you oughta know. It’s hard to say; the two times that I had interactions with her, she was incredibly graceful, really funny and very personable. She’s the perfect representation of the G-d figure for our universe. I’d say it’s incredibly appropriate.