Kevin Smith is a Jersey boy through-and-through, setting most of his most well-known films in his home state. Recently however, the writer-director has been setting his sights to the north for his aptly-titled True North Trilogy, a collection of films set in Canada. Although Smith has been vocal about his desire to work on film projects that he’s passionate about and get away from the studio picture side of the business, it’s curious that a filmmaker whose work is so closely connected with a specific region would decide to set not one, but multiple films in a different country. We recently chatted with Smith about why he chose to move his stories to Canada and he had quite a lot to say on the subject, making it clear that “America Junior”, as Homer Simpson once called it, is near and dear to his heart.
Anyone who’s ever seen a picture of Kevin Smith knows that a hockey jersey is his wardrobe item of choice. Besides cutting out the admittedly frustrating concern over choosing what to wear everyday, Smith’s clothing choice also reflects his love for hockey, a sport that has Canada written all over it. Smith is a diehard New Jersey Devils fan and also has an affinity for the Edmonton Oilers, which was evident in our discussion, as he quoted the father of the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, when discussing how he went all in when trying to recruit Johnny Depp for the role of Guy Lapointe in Tusk: “You miss a hundred percent of the shots you never take…let’s see if we can do it.” Pair that with the fact that Guy Lapointe was a famous Canadian hockey player (and that his son is actually the Guy Lapointe that inspired Depp’s character, which blew Smith’s mind when he found out) and it’s clear that hockey is a pretty important component of Kevin Smith’s love of Canadiana.
7. Maple Syrup Heists
A maple syrup heist is about as Canadian as you can get in terms of criminal enterprises, which means that the actual massive syrup heist that happened in Quebec in 2012 is perfect fodder for Smith’s fascination with Canada, considering by his own admission he’s, “steeped in Canadiana and fun cool stories and factoids.” One of the most prominent recurring characters in the True North Trilogy is Johnny Depp’s Guy Lapointe and that character was inspired by a real police officer with the same name who was involved in the actual investigation. By Smith’s own admission, his whole project has been about “chasing whimsy” and it’s hard to think of anything more whimsical than casting Johnny Depp in a role inspired by a Canadian maple syrup heist.
6. Canada Gave Him A Filmmaking Second Wind
Before he started work on Tusk, Kevin Smith was essentially burnt out on filmmaking, as he was running out of things to say and experiences to pull from: “Once I ran out of real life, which was probably after Dogma…I spent the next few years trying to hold onto the career….After Red State, I was like ‘I gotta learn how to live without making movies for a living.'” Rather than throw in the towel, Smith decided to transition into making films that he would want to see if he were the audience and once he did so with Tusk, he felt comfortable in the director’s chair again: “After I was done making Tusk, I was re-energized. I was like a man reborn…Loved the experience, loved working in Canada.” Instead of worrying about what audiences wanted him to do, Smith instead decided to focus on his own happiness: “For me, it all begins with trying to make me happy. That’s what Clerks was all about, that’s what worked with Tusk, that’s what works so far with Yoga Hosers, and damn skippy it will work with Moose Jaws.” Speaking of Moose Jaws…
5. The Moose Is Canada’s Jaws
Considering the unhinged glee with which Smith described his upcoming film Moose Jaws to us, it’s no surprise that the iconic Canadian mammal has quite a hold on his imagination (and who can blame him? Moose are awesome), “You put that sh-t together [a moose and Jaws] and suddenly I was like, ‘Moose Jaws is the movie I was born to make'”. We always thought Canada’s answer to Jaws would be the beaver (look at those teeth!) but a moose sounds even better, especially when Smith is so clearly enamored with the concept: “I don’t want to leave this f-cking world without being able to say ‘Yeah, I made Moose Jaws, wasn’t that f-cked up?.'” We sure hope it is because that’s definitely a film concept that really does sell itself.
4. Canadian Television
Any Kevin Smith fan knows that he loves Degrassi, the Canadian teen drama that has been airing in various incarnations since the 80s, to the point where he jumped at the chance to play himself on the show in the mid-2000s (Fun Fact: Smith’s appearance coincided with Drake’s run on Degrassi: The Next Generation; unfortunately, it’s now the latter that really put the show on the map, but we’ll always hold a soft-spot for the filmmaker’s brief guest role). Smith’s love for Canadian television goes beyond Degrassi though, as he also has an affinity for the classic sitcom SCTV and especially the Bob and Doug McKenzie sketch comedy series Great White North. He even credits their album artwork with helping his childhood love of drawing and inspiring the concept for Moose Jaws: “I loved Bob and Doug McKenzie…when I was 13 or 14-years-old I started drawing this comic strip series of Bob and Doug in Jaws 4…even when I was 13 man, I was trying to do Canadian Jaws.”
3. Niagara Falls
Smith’s first taste of Canada came when his parents took him on a trip to Niagara Falls as a young boy, which sparked a lifelong appreciation for his “Neighbors to the North”: “The thing I f-ckin’ love the best and that really captured my imagination as a 5-year-old is all because of Niagara Falls.” Smith specifically cited the legendary barrel-riders who would go over the Falls as the most prominent example of his fascination, which he claims is an example of Canada being a “nation of f-cking daredevils.” Well, maybe some of us. Those barrel-riders are nuts!
2. It’s Like America, But Different
One of the reasons Smith is enamored with Canada is because it’s a country that’s similar in many ways to his home of the United States, and yet just different enough to feel like a “mirror universe.” Smith likens his childhood visits to Canada as feeling like he was on a movie set, which goes a long way in explaining his fixation with the country. As Smith puts it, Canada’s relation to his own country feels like, “The girl next door man. [Canada] captured my imagination when I was 5, still won’t give it back.” It’s a bit ironic that a filmmaker known for showcasing a distinctive slice of Americana in his films is setting out to make a new batch that are more distinctly Canadian than a lot of Canadian filmmakers’ own work, but it’s hard not to be charmed by Smith’s admiration for a country that evidently had almost as much of an impact on his formative years as his own.
1. A Chance to Tell New Stories
Seeing as how he has Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2 in the pipeline, Kevin Smith isn’t about ready to give up on his New Jersey-set View Askewniverse anytime soon. Still, every creative person worth their salt needs to explore new avenues at some point and for Smith, Canada affords the perfect opportunity to tell some new stories. While his last film, Tusk, wasn’t a commercial or critical hit, it’s perhaps Smith’s most personal film because it gave him the opportunity to do a concept he loved and set it in a place he loved as well: “If I can’t tell personal stories anymore, I’m no good at this job…and then I realized I could do something else…I was like ‘what do I fuckin’ love? I love Smodcast [his podcast that he shares with longtime friend and dual Canadian-American citizen Scott Mosier]…and a big part of that and a big part of who I am is Canada…I’m gonna set this thing in Canada because I know so much f-ckin’ Canadian history.” However Smith’s True North Trilogy turns out, it’s safe to say that at least one side of the border will appreciate his love letter to their homeland.