Few have said the words “I’m not even supposed to be here today,” with as much gravitas and humor as actor Brian O’Halloran did in the seminal, cult classic Clerks.
It’s a fitting quote for my interview with O’Halloran. Catching up before a flight back home, I dragged him over to Austin Books & Comics even though he was recovering from a bad hangover. Despite this, O’Halloran was the nice, down-to-Earth guy I always imagined him to be.
During our brief time together, we talked about the early days of the View Askew empire, his career as a theatrical actor, his thoughts on Kevin Smith’s Red State and his own roles in horror films. Also, Pokemon and clown rape because why not?
Not to make you feel old, but what feels stranger to you: that Clerks was 17 years ago or that Clerks II was five years ago?
It’s not odd. Clerks was one of the first things I did in film – I mean, it was the first thing I did in film. Sometimes, I find it odd that some of the younger generation gravitate towards it and really love it. It shows that it’s really a universal film for a lot of people. Otherwise, I don’t find it too odd that it was 17 years ago and the other one was 5 years ago. Who knows, maybe that means another one is along the way. It’s all up to Kevin at this point.
One of the reasons I wanted to do the interview here in a comic book shop was because I always thought a Clerks sequel should take place at a store like this. Have you ever thought about where you’d like to see Dante in a sequel?
I can easily see that. With movie distribution and video rental going the way of streaming, it’d be funny if the video store, now that the two characters have bought them, would turn into a comic book shop. I can totally see Randall running a comic book shop and the having them battling customers and comic nerds over certain topics. I think it would open up the dialog for Randall even more so. Here he is, and he’s already been reading magazines and comic books and now he’d be running the shop.
What have you been doing since Clerks II?
I do a lot of theater in New York. I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a show off-Broadway. It’s going to be playing at the New York Fringe Festival. It’s an original comedy written by Ian August called Submitted by C. Randall McCloskey.
It’s about an actor not getting into the right auditions, so he creates his own agent and agency which is highly illegal — you can’t do that, obviously. So he pretends to be this high powered agent and assigns his actor friends to convince others that this guy is a real good guy to sign with, so that he can get into these great auditions.
Portraying the agent on the phone is really an energetic overload on him and he can’t continue to do his own acting. His skills start to linger, so what happens is he gets caught by one of his friends he signed as a client. So now he needs to find someone to impersonate the agent because now one of his other clients needs to meet with the agent.
Any film work?
I did an indie film a couple years ago called Brutal Massacre: A Comedy. It’s a fake documentary about a group making a horror film; it’s like a mockumentary. I have two other films circuiting, right now. I have a cameo in a film called Calendar Girl: It’s a romantic-horror-comedy that’s making the film festival circuit, right now.
Then I have two other films in pre-production right now. One of them is called Keeper of the Pin Stripes. It’s a family film about a kid who becomes a batter for the New York Yankees. The other one is called the Gathering which is a horror film that probably won’t start shooting until the beginning of next year.
Were you interested in theater back when Clerks came out?
Yes, in fact, I heard about it because they were holding auditions out of a playhouse that I worked out of. And, Kevin had the owner of the playhouse call his staple of actors to come audition as extras, so I auditioned. If you get the Clerks anniversary edition you can see that audition.
Was part of the appeal the natural dialog and characters in Kevin’s film?
Initially it was just work. It was just, “Oh, I get to be in a film!” But then when I got to read the script, I thought it was really great. It’s a really well written script – story wise and plot wise, I enjoyed it all around. One thing I didn’t like was the ending. I didn’t agree with killing off the character like he had done in the original ending.
Is there any improv in any of those View Askew films?
Not in the beginning. Kevin was very, very strict. He wrote it this way and it was meant to be performed this way. As he’s gone on in the years and received more experience working with A-list actors, there’s always that actor that wants to take something and add their own feel to it and own it for themselves. So, there are some actors he’s come across that he’ll give a take.
Back when we made the first one, we obviously didn’t have the extra film to do as many takes as we want. But, now that it’s all digital and multi-million budgets, they’ll give an actor some time. Sometimes it’ll make it on screen, but most of the time, probably not. Like in Clerks II, I’d say a good 85-percent was Kevin’s and 15-percent was somebody else.
When did you move to New Jersey?
I was born and raised in Bronx, New York. My dad made the commute to there every day, so he just grew tired of it and we moved out of New York in 1979 to northern Jersey.
Were you always part of the View Askew gang?
No, I didn’t know Kevin before I auditioned for him. Even then, I was living in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which is 45 minutes north of Red Bank and Highlands. After we were done filming it, we had done 23 days straight and I was like take care and give me a call when you know what’s going on with it. They went on to edit it for the rest of the summer at the back of a video store with a steam bag.
What about after that? Were you part of the View Askew empire, if you can call it that?
No. We talked and hanged out, occasionally. He then bought the comic book. What got us to hang out more was that Kevin started to organize these film gatherings, called Vulgarthons, to show works of his own and friends.
Speaking of Vulgar…. I think Vulgar might be my most horrifying movie watching experience. I had relatives over and I watched it with them and my mom —
Oh that is a huge, huge bad choice. Did you get it from Blockbuster?
Oh, well, you got the rated-R version. You didn’t even get the unrated version which is even more inappropriate.
It’s very disturbing. It’s not for everyone. I have a lot of fans who love it and I do too. I am very proud of that film and all the work that Bryan Johnson put into it. He wrote, directed and co-starred in the film. That was a great experience that gave me the same feeling that we had when we shot the first Clerks. It’s great that we were able to get out that film and people such different reactions to it. They either loved it or they couldn’t stand it – to each his own. It wasn’t made for everyone.
Whose idea was it to put Dante’s relatives in other View Askew films?
Everything about that is all Kevin: Grant Hicks, Bill Hicks and all that. We called the one in Chasing Amy. Shawn Hicks or something like that. I think it’s a good joke. It’s a good way to do it. You’d have to ask Kevin about that. It’s just a last name to me.
Does it feel weird to you that a new generation has taken to Clerks, given how much the film is representative of the 90’s generation?
You mean, “Generation X” as people kept calling it? I am surprised in a sense that it does appeal to a new generation now, just because some of the references are kind of dated now but it’s a universal film.
What I find funny is that now my generation has kids that are in their teens or younger, it’s always something they want to expose their kids to. They want them to see this film. I’ve known parents that have nine-year-olds that say, “I have to tell you, I loved your movie” and I’m like where are child protective services?
It’s funny yet I get it, because that’s how we are. It’s not going to kill them. It’s not going to give them a handgun. It’s just good clean fun. Kids are going to find out about snowballing eventually!
I always thought the Clerks cartoon existed to get the kids hooked early.
No, but I loved that project to death. It’s one of my favorite things we’ve done. I really wish we can go back to that someday in some way, either in a full-length feature movie or a television show. Funny, enough we even have an Austin based animation studio we’ve worked with in the past [Powerhouse Animation]
Back in the 90s there were a lot of films about kids with menial jobs unsure of what they were going to do with their lives. Along with Clerks, there were films like Slacker, Empire Records and SubUrbia. Did you feel these films accurately reflected you and your friends’ lives, at the time?
Yes and no. There are certain segments of movies that they’d get that small part of it right. I had a very weird circle of friends that wouldn’t be defined by one demographic or stereotype. I had friends who were comic collectors, into cars, into dj-ing and friends who had issues with drug abuse and stuff like that. To make a film with all the neurosis surrounding me would be impossible. But, when we made Clerks I easily fell into that role and that understanding of friendship, because I had these types of people around me.
How did you get involved with this voice over in Pokemon recently?
A voice over producer friend of mine has a job voicing over television shows from Turkey. He worked for a Turkish channel here in the States and they get shows from Turkey, but they want them dubbed in English. I have a circle of actor friends who are involved with it. Every couple a weeks they call you up and give you six scripts.
It was though him; he also is one of the voice casting directors for all the Pokemon productions.
Have you seen Red State yet?
No, I haven’t.
Do you have any opinions on Kevin Smith’s unorthodox way of getting funding and distributing the film?
I think it’s genius and it’s not shocking just because – I know the history of indie films getting financing and a distributor. So many times, the distribution doesn’t go the way the artist wants it to go. Either they don’t spend enough or they spend it on the wrong areas. They’ll spend it on some random magazine and you think, “That’s not my fanbase. You need to be spending money on my fanbase!”
Given that, I can see why they would want to step up and self-distribute. Like I said earlier, with the way video is getting to people through streaming straight into their laptops and phones, the days of physically having a DVD are getting smaller and smaller. There will still be people who want to have the physical copy. I still buy CDs.
There will always be theatres because teenagers will need a place to mess around and see movies together.
Do you ever wish you could have gone this route of self-distribution back in the day with Clerks?
It would have been extremely expensive. You would be hard-pressed to get someone to go because the internet wasn’t as powerful as it is today. Social media today, where you can just do an e-blast and connect to so many sites quickly to promote your product, it really is an easy way to self-distribute.
How many Dante Hicks action figures do you own?
I think I own four. They don’t make them anymore. I think they did two or three version of it. They did a color one and a black and white one, and there was talk of a Clerks II one with the Moobies outfit. I thought it was pretty cool. Those were two of my goals as a child: Work on an animated show and have an action figure of myself. Even if I was just some unnamed alien from a Star Wars film – I didn’t care.
By the way, George, that offer still goes if you are out there and want to put me in a Star Wars movie.