Was Not Even Supposed to be Here Today
By Jay S. Jacobs
“I’m not even supposed to be here today!” With that frustrated complaint, small New Jersey convenience store clerk Dante Hicks – and Brian O’Halloran, the actor who played him – tried to deal with the longest day of his life. It is a day that to a strange extent is still going on nearly 30 years later.
That line came from the 1994 cult classic indie film Clerks, which was made on a shoestring and launched the career of writer/director Kevin Smith, and much of his ensemble cast which included O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes. It was O’Halloran’s first leading role and has led to him often working in film and theater – both with Smith and with other filmmakers.
In fact, O’Halloran has played Dante several more times, including the 2006 sequel Clerks II, the Clerks animated TV series and the two Jay and Silent Bob films Strike Back and Reboot. He has also played Dante’s two brothers in Smith’s films Chasing Amy and Dogma.
All these years later, Clerks III is on its way (due to be released in the fall) and O’Halloran is appearing at conventions all over the country with his co-stars to share the universe of Clerks with the fans.
The night before the start of the newly rechristened Fan Expo weekend in Philadelphia (in previous years the convention had been known as Wizard World), we caught up with O’Halloran at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown to discuss Clerks, his career and life on the convention circuit.
When you were making Clerks almost 30 years ago now, could you have ever imagined that you would still be doing this all these years later?
It’s funny, because if someone came to me in a time machine in ‘93 and said, “You’re going to be back in the same store shooting another one of these,” I’d have been like shoot me now. Only because I really haven’t grown anywhere out of this store. It’s great to see the love of the series universe. The trilogy of the Clerks is still beloved. Once everybody sees the third one, [we’ll see] if it is. These are characters that I love. I love playing in this world. Kevin loves breaking these characters out, as you can tell, through the five movies he’s made with these characters, and other characters of the Askewniverse. So, it’s great to know that it holds a special place in people’s film arc, that they love watching these characters. They love watching these films again, and again and again. It’s nice to see that we’re able to prop them back up, so to speak. Prop them back up and push them out there to let people see where we are now as characters. I hope that come this fall people embrace the full circle feel of where these characters are going.
I read when you originally weren’t going in to get the role of Dante and just went in for an audition. How exactly did it come about that you got the job? Did you know Kevin beforehand?
He had held auditions out of a playhouse that I had done theater out of. I had been doing community theater two to three years prior to that audition. I’d worked out of the First Avenue Playhouse. One of the owners of the Playhouse – Joe Bagnole, the gentleman who looks at the cat taking a poop [in the first film] – had called a whole bunch of actors who have worked at that place to let them know that these local guys are making a film. They need people to come in to audition. “From what I’ve read in the script, you fit the age group of what they’re looking for. You should come in.” That was a month prior to the audition. I was working in a different theater group during that time. The first night of auditions – which was a Sunday night – happened. I totally forgot. The next morning, he had called me on the phone. This is before cell phones, before texting someone, or email. [He] said, “Brian, where were you last night? The auditions.” I was like, Oh my God. Is there another one? He goes, “Yeah, tonight is another one. Seven o’clock.” Okay, what do they need? “Come with a monologue and headshot and come on down.” I was doing a show called Wait Until Dark, which is a very dark, dramatic piece. I auditioned – if anybody has the Clerks 10 Year Anniversary Edition, it has all of our auditions on one of the extra DVDs.
[Kevin Smith] liked what I did. He thought if this guy who could play this very villainous character can do it so well, I wish I had a villain in this movie. He can easily play some whiny sappy clerk. He called me back for two callbacks. I read with him, the independent contractors’ scene with the Death Star. Then he liked what I did, and we had a chemistry reading with Marilyn Ghigliotti, who I’d done the other play with. When we first saw each other, when I opened that door – because she was automatically cast after her audition on the Sunday night – she was like, “Oh, my God, Brian!” Oh, my God, Marilyn! The chemistry was already there. He’s like, “You guys know each other?” We just worked with each other last month. So, through that, he said, “Do you want to do it?” I was like: Absolutely.
How cool is it that – almost like the Before Sunset movies – you are able to revisit these characters’ lives over the years, every 10-15 years or so? Is it fun to see the arc of Dante’s life?
It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful arc. It’s heartwarming. I think it’ll touch most people, if not all. If they don’t see themselves in the characters – and not just me. The Randal and Dante characters are so intertwined. They are arced together so well. If they don’t see themselves in the Dante character, they know someone that has got these types of characteristics. To see where this goes another 10 years, 15 years later – and other people who have been in part of the universe so to speak – I think people are going to enjoy. I hope they do. There’s always going to be haters, but we’re making it still true to who these characters are. And true to the flavor of Kevin as well.
I interviewed Kevin a few months back when he was at the Philadelphia Film Festival for the premiere screening of the Clerk documentary. He said about Clerks III that “It’s so strange because it’s nothing like the first movie and everything like the first movie at the same time. The boys have kind of grown up.” I know you can’t give any spoilers on Clerks III, but what can you tell us about what Dante is up to?
Well, as we last left off with Clerks 2, he had Becky, who he proposed to as his wife. She was pregnant with their hideous love child, as I like to say. It’s 10 to 15 years later. You can see where that progression was. They still own the store. The video store, Jay and Silent Bob – I’m not sending out any spoilers, Kevin just put this out – the store next door is like a THC, CBD oil kind of weed store. So, those guys still are part of that world. You’re seeing where – he said it – where Randal has a near death experience. He finds out and goes, “Oh my God, I nearly died. No one would remember me except for being one of the owners of this stupid store. I need to do something with this life. Instead of watching all these movies,” because he knows movies left and right, “why don’t I make them?” Kevin has said that. Once again, I’m not spoiling anything. The Randal character goes out to make a Clerks-like movie about his life, working at a convenience store.
Speaking of near-death experiences, in the first movie there was a cut scene where Dante was murdered at the end. When did you know that was not going to happen? I assume that you weren’t a fan of that storyline…
I hated it. When I first read it, I hated it. I went to Kevin, I’m like, why are they killing the guy? I don’t get it. He was like, “Well, you know, that’s the irony of it all. He wasn’t supposed to be there that day. He gets killed.” He goes, “Listen, when I worked a night shift, it happens to a lot of guys who work convenience stores, gas stations, late night takeout food places. They get held up. They get jacked.” To be honest with you, it’s been happening more than ever now than even back in the 90s, where people are getting murdered. He said it was like a serious end to a whole bunch of different fart jokes. So, we did it. We filmed it. I remember it screened at the very first film festival before it was picked up by Miramax at the New York Independent Feature Film Festival.
Then it was brought to John Pierson, a producer’s rep who repped Spike Lee and a bunch of other great filmmakers. [Pierson] saw the film and said, “You got to take that out. It’s a straight-up comedy all the way up to that point, and then you try to make some serious expression of reality today. Just leave it a comedy. We’ll sell it as a comedy. Let’s push it as a comedy.” So, it got cut out. I was always thankful to John Pierson for that suggestion. I was like, yeah, man, you should cut that out. Thank God we did because we never would have had sequels and everything else.
The original Clerks was made on a shoestring budget with no real expectations. How crazy was it when the film caught on and became a huge success?
It wasn’t a huge sensation immediately. To be honest with you, it took quite a few years. Even after Mallrats came out, the advertisement would say “From the makers of Clerks” and people would go, “Hey, what’s Clerks?” But because back in the day it was video rentals and that word of mouth of like, “You’ve got to see this movie.” You got to sit at home and VHS tapes being passed around to people. That’s where our word of mouth was really [from]. It was that irreverent kind of humor that you see in mainstream theaters and movies that became fun. This was before Jackass. This was before Beavis and Butthead and Dumb and Dumber. It was a feel where we took a chance and talking about subject matters that were edgy back then, but in today’s standard is so lame and tame. We were lucky to have that word of mouth and catch on, to just touch that Gen-X feel people loved.
How cool is it that as part of the View Askew universe, even when you’re not playing Dante, Kevin will often give you something to do in the different movies?
I’ve always said if Kevin said, “Hey, I just want to bang on some paint cans in the subway or something,” I’m there. What do you need? Because he’s going to have something funny about it. Everything he’s ever done, I’ve always enjoyed. He speaks to me as a comedian. He also speaks to me as a New Jersey guy – a New York, Philly, East Coast, northeast coast kind of feel to him. So, anything he ever wants to do I love. I love a lot of things that he does. I’m happy to work with him anytime he needs it.
The whole Clerks thing is so much about the fan universe. As someone who is sort of famous for being part of the fan community, how crazy is it to be doing conventions like this and getting close up with the fans?
It is weird. One of my first times here at this Philly Convention Center was for Wizard World – way, way back in the day when Kevin had just opened up his comic store and they had a booth. The Secret Stash had a booth here to sell comics and stuff like that. They had me come down and just sign things for free for people and stuff like that. I thought it was weird. Oh, wow people pay for autographs. It’s so odd. Things like that. Here it is now 20-some odd years later, and people are requesting to have you sign things of theirs, and do Cameos, or what have you. I get it because I fanboy out. That year, way back in the very early nineties, it was a whole bunch of original Star Wars actors. Like David Prowse [Darth Vader] and Kenny Baker [R2D2], and all these great Star Wars actors who had a booth. I was like, oh my god, I totally want to get their autograph.
Then I got it. I was like, well, I understand. There’s a demand. A need and a demand to do it. So, I have all these original autographs from people that I really treasure now, because I had that moment of experience with people at these conventions. You get a moment to express to someone how much you love their work. You try to get some insight or just a piece of who they are as a person. I’m fortunate to be on this side of the table, to be able to mingle with those people at the green room or one of the events and just talk peer to peer. It’s cool to do this because I’m a fan first off. Before I’m an actor. Before I’m a performer. I’m a fan. I’d come to these, even if I wasn’t in them.
Just as a fan, who are some of the celebs you’re looking forward to seeing?
Funnily enough, a lot of the people who are here I’ve met already. If anything, it’s a continuation. Like a “Hey, remember Vancouver?” kind of thing, where you get to just hang out. Like Michael Rooker. I love Michael Rooker to death. We’ve done tons of shows together like this. Every time he’s in town, I always have a blast. He’s such a sweetheart of a guy, highly entertaining at his booth. Michael Rooker is always great to catch up with. [Rooker ended up having to cancel his appearance at Fan Expo this year at the last minute.] It’s always good to just see Jeff [Anderson, his Clerks co-star] and Trevor [Fehrman, from Clerks II], who will be here and Jay [Jason Mewes] and Kevin. It’s like a get together.
It’s nice to see that the people at Fan Expo have really put together a great catalogue of not only us as people in the media, but a great catalog of comic book artists, a great catalog of exhibitors who are here, artists, artisans who make handmade things. You also have people who sell the toys. The vendors are the backbone of all these shows because they provide the funding, that then gets the show immediately up onstage. Then the ticket sales supplement the rest of it. It’s good to see that local artisans, local vendors, T-shirts, props, computer gaming, all this other stuff. [It] is really a great thing and a fun thing for attendees, people who are just buying a ticket. A whole family of five – from anyone who’s our age or even older, all the way down to young kids are just eight or nine – are going to find something.
You grew up in Jersey, so I’m sure you know Philly well, but do you get to spend any time around town while doing the show? Or is it just from the hotel to the convention?
Some of the times it’s just the host hotel straight to the convention, and then I see the town usually after the six, seven o’clock time where you find a great restaurant to go to, hanging out with some people. Some friends of mine or other exhibitors or attendees will say, “Hey, there’s this great jazz club,” or “there’s this great after-hours place.” You’ll go and you’ll hang out and do something like that. But as far as like catching a Phillies game, it’s hard to do that in the time period that we’re in here to fulfill the need of being at your booth.
I have been fortunate enough to have been in Philly dozens of other times, taking in their amazing live theater productions that are done here, catching a Phillies game, catching a Flyers game, and things like that. I’ve been to Pat’s. I’ve been to Geno’s. [Two famous cheese steak places.] I’ve been to the Science Museum. I run up the [Art Museum] stairs [famous from Rocky], as winded as I was, I pumped up like this. [Mimes hands over his heads.] I know Fishtown. I know the whole thing. I have auditioned at Diane Heery’s casting house [Heery Loftus Casting] so many times right here in Philly. I’ve worked with M. Night Shyamalan here in town. He’s Philly born and bred and a hometown hero as well. The love for Philly is always there. The Philly sports teams? Well, I’m a New York sports scene kind of guy, so that’s good-hearted ribbing.
Other than your film work, you’ve done a lot of work on stage. In what ways is stage work different from working on film?
I haven’t done anything in about five years, which I’m itching to do, to be honest with you. Live theater is pretty much the gym for actors. There’s no stopping, there’s no, “Wait, stop, can I do that again?” You’re in front of a live audience. You got to keep on going. Either you’re doing it right or you’re playing shortstop to make sure if someone drops a line, you’re there to pick it up and throw it to first base and get it back on track again. Theater is always a love of mine. I think the more that people go see live entertainment in general – not just bands. Bands are awesome as always – but theater, ballet, spoken word, poetry slams, things like that. It’s a necessary part of the culture of who we are.
You mentioned things coming to a stop. Well, things came to a stop for everyone for the last couple of years. Is it nice to be able to get back out there and see the fans again? How did you survive the whole COVID ordeal?
I was very fortunate. I live in Northeast Pennsylvania. We didn’t run out of meat. We didn’t have to scavenge things out. Yes, everybody ran out of toilet paper at some point. I was in Richmond, Virginia, in the very early stages, when things were going on in Wuhan. I’m a science nerd, like super science nerd. I kind of smelt that this was coming. When the first three cases came up, in Seattle, in Washington State, I was like: it’s two flights away from New York City, and then the rest of us. Then the London strain came into New York City. I had gone to BJs. I told my girlfriend, “Look, we’re going to do a three-times buy. Whatever we normally buy, we’re buying three times more, because I think this is going to be a while. We might be in for something.” She was like, “I think so too.”
We sure were.
We were able to bring in enough pet food, enough everything and just wait it out. I brought my mother up from the Jersey Shore, so that she wouldn’t have to worry about things like that either. I lost a couple of colleagues – I’m not going to lie – to COVID. People in the industry and other people whose grandparents or friends who just had a vulnerability or comorbidities. So, I’m glad that we’re coming out of this in a certain way. There is this BA.2 variant that’s incredibly highly infectious, but if you use common sense, [you’re] vaccinated, rested, extra boosted, whatever you want got to do, you’re going to try to survive it.
Do you ever look at everything you’ve done and say to yourself “I’m not even supposed to be here today?”
There are a lot of times where I thank God I was where I was, because I got to do as many things as I do. So, I’m glad that even though I missed that first night of auditions it worked out the second night, that I was able to bring the art out that impressed Kevin enough to have him come in and do what we did. That people appreciated what he did and all the work that we put into it and saw the film for what it was. And here we are.
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 17, 2022.
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