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The gamblers: Guinevere Turner and Kevin Smith on the long, strange decade it's been since the premiere of Go Fish and Clerks.

The 1994 Sundance Film Festival featured two low-budget, salty-dialogued comedies that would forever change the face of independent cinema. Rose Troche's Go Fish--starring and cowritten by breakout star Guinevere Turner--was the sassy, sexy, irreverent lesbian movie that queers had waited for. Kevin Smith's Clerks--shot almost entirely in the New Jersey convenience store that employed him--introduced the writer-director's unique blend of pithy profanity and pop-culture minutiae mixed with an unabashed romantic streak.

Turner and Smith became good friends at that festival, launching a relationship that was both personal and professional: Turner's friendship with Smith's buddy and producer Scott Mosier was a key inspiration behind Chasing Amy, and she had cameo appearances in that film and in Dogma.

With Turner about to start work as a writer and performer on the second season of Showtime's The L Word and with Smith's latest comedy, Jersey Girl, set to open in theaters on March 26, the two of them (with Mosier sitting in) met at Smith's house in the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles to reminisce and, as friends do, needle each other.

Guin, could you have imagined that 10 years later you'd be working on a lesbian TV series?

Turner: I think that I was such a little idealist at the time ... what's it going to be like in 2004? Lesbians will roam flee, and there'll be lesbian channels and hundreds of lesbian movies out ...

Smith: Aren't there?

Turner: No.

Smith: And you don't feel that, 10 years later, you guys are further, at least, in the media?

Turner: Yeah. I mean, definitely. But I probably would've thought even more so.

Smith: You'd have knocked the breeders off the box at this point.

Turner: It's 10 years later and there's finally a lesbian show on TV, but it is a long time.

Smith: Are there other lesbians in the cast or not? Are they all actresses?

Turner: One of them, Leisha [Halley], is on the cover of The Advocate. The rest ...

Smith: Closeted?

Turner: Some are married, some take the Fifth.

Smith: Is that a convention that bugs anybody at this point or not?

Turner: It bugs them the most to be asked all the time if they're gay. "We're actors." Nobody asks the people on ER if they have medical degrees. [Laughs] It's a touchy issue.

Smith: Is it really?

Turner: Yeah.

Smith: But only for the straights? The straight cast? Or is it a touchy issue for you?

Turner: [Laughs] I would love to gossip about each and every one of them and exactly what I think about their sexuality, but I'm not at liberty, needless to say. I'm probably working with these people for five years.

I was thinking of you guys as the scrappy underdogs of Sundance 1994, but then I discovered that you had two of the biggest buzz movies of the festival.

Smith: No, we were scrappy going in, though. [Go Fish] was the buzz movie, because they had something original. Nobody had seen it. All the distributors had seen our movie in advance, and they all passed. Nobody had seen Go Fish, because [John] Pierson [producers' rep for both Clerks and Go Fish] had kept it really quiet, if I remember correctly.

Turner: Yeah, and we were also wiped out.

Smith: And they were also wiped out. [Chuckles] They were finished moments before the festival. But also, aside from I've Heard The Mermaids Singing, I don't think it had really been done at all at that point.

Desert Hearts.

Smith: Maybe Desert Hearts.

Turner: Claire of gee Moon.

Smith: Claire of the Moon. But I'm talking about arty films. They had the buzz going then, and Pierson's plan was to sell it at the festival. I was saying before that, that was the first movie ever sold at Sundance, your movie.

Turner: It was?

Smith: How do you not know shit like this? Yes, your film Go Fish was the first film they ever sold at Sundance during the festival proper. Up until '94, films only sold after the festival or before the festival.

Turner: I always thought the big deal was that it was only three days into the festival that it sold.

Smith: It was the fact that it sold in that period. And then we were the second film that was sold there. After that year it became kind of de rigueur.

So did you two meet at Sundance?

Smith: We met the girls before we even got there. We met you guys when we went to some editing room where Rose was doing one of her many dissolves, one of her last-minute dissolves.

Turner: And you guys were cutting at the end.

Smith: Changing the end of Clerks. Pierson was like, "Well, I know there's an editing room where the girls are, and you can chat with them." That's the first time we met you guys. Which was weird for me, because I didn't know any lesbian peers at that point. The only lesbians I knew were the older aunt-like figures. I'd never known anyone my own age--well, I'm sure I did, but they weren't out in the Jersey burbs. [Turner laughs]

Marketing-wise, did people expect to make bucketloads of money off independent movies back then?

Smith: No.

Turner: No.

Smith: Particularly our movies. Although their movie was expected to do really great things.

Turner: It was?

Smith: Yeah, totally. Pierson knew it was going to sell so quickly because he knew there was a market for it. He knew it wasn't going to make fucking 20 million bucks or something, but he knew there was a market for it and that finally there was a gay film--or more specifically, a lesbian film--that would play, and not just play arty like Claire of the Moon or whatever.

Turner: Right

Smith: So you guys were definitely expected to do business. We were just like ... no. I don't think anybody expected us to do business.

Turner: But Clerks ended up grossing way more than Go Fish, didn't it?

Smith: I don't know. You guys did 2 [minion], and we did 3.2 [million]?

Turner: Yeah, we did 2 [million], 2 and change, something like that. So at Sun-dance we were hanging out a lot, but you hadn't seen Go Fish. I remember seeing you guys at the Robert Redford brunch, and you guys were like, "So we saw it..." and I was like, "And?" "We like it." [Chuckles]

Smith: It was also an intimidating movie, because it was very ...

Turner: Man-hating?

Smith: Yeah. [Turner laughs] It intimidated me as a man, because I was like, I don't think they like guys. No, obviously there was a filmmaker at work behind it. And suddenly our film didn't seem like a film so much as a string of jokes--like a stand-up routine without the brick wall and suit jacket.

Turner: Of course, I was like, "You're going to do a close-up of some milk going into some coffee? That's retarded!" [Laughs[ That was just Rose's filming.

Smith: You [and Rose] also had the more romantic backstory as well, because you guys had been involved, and [Mosier and I] were like, "Should we get involved?" [Turner laughs]

Turner: Then have a dramatic breakup!

How much of Chasing Amy grew out of knowing Guin?

Smith: A lot.

Turner: People always ask me If I slept with him.

Smith: Yeah, people ask if we had a relationship, and we didn't, but Scott and Guin hung out and were really good friends. It took off from there: "Ooh, what if they fell in love?" Because I'm kind of a chubby romantic at heart. The movie came from there. And I remember at one point urging Mosier, "You should write a movie about that, dude." And Mosier didn't, so I'm like, "I'm going to write a movie about that." And your experiences, or not experiences. After the festival you would come and hang out with him in Jersey.

Turner: Yup.

Smith: Big-city lesbo hanging out in the fucking Jersey sticks.

Have you had to defend Chasing Amy with lesbians? Because I still do.

Turner: There are lesbians of two minds, because some people really, really like it.

I don't mean all lesbians.

Turner: Yeah, they just get mad because she gets the guy.

Smith: I remember when I gave you the script--she was kind of the proofreader because a lot of it's conjecture. A lot of it is, "I remember this stuff we talked about, but also a lot of stuff is just winging it." In terms of, specifically, that conversation on the swing where he's asking her stuff and she's talking about her sex life. And I remember that when she read it, I was like, "What do you think?" and she said, "it's good, but there's one thing in there that's just really wrong." I was like, "What is it?" and she said, "'Tongue-fucking'?"

Turner: I'd forgotten about that.

Smith: "No, Kevin--'tongue-fucking'? I've never even heard of that." [Turner laughs] I was like, "Well, I made it up, and I'll take it out." But I was like, "Are people going to be mad?" and she said, "Well, some people will get mad because nobody likes to admit that that sometimes happens. At the same time, it does, so at least you're not telling a completely fictional story. But nobody wants to own up to that."

You both encountered controversy at different points over your work. With American Psycho [which Turner cowrote], people questioned whether or not the movie should even be made, and the rating stuff. And then you had Dogma--

Smith: That was the fucking movie that we took shit on.

When the gays got all up in arms about Jay and Silent Bob-

Smith: All the gays? One gay guy!

Turner: One gay!

Smith: One gay with a forum--Scott Smith [of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation]. Nice guy ... really misguided. That felt good because at the end of the year John Waters put it on his top 10 list, and then The Advocate put it on their top 10 list. I dropped Scott Seomin an email "after that saying, "Not for nothing does The Advocate put you in its top l0 list!" He wrote, "You just have to rub it in, don't you?" [All laugh.] You got some shit for American Psycho, I remember that.

Turner: My favorite is that a friend of mine said, "You know what? You know why Leonardo DiCaprio didn't do that movie?" I'm like, "Mmm, I don't, actually." And she said, "Well, I was at a WNBA game with Gloria Steinem, and Gloria Steinem took Leo aside and said, 'For the good of all womankind, you can't do this movie, because 14-year-old girls are going to be watching it because they love you from Titanic.'" So that's one rumor.

But Gloria Steinem married Christian Bale's dad.

Turner." I know!

So what does that mean?

Smith: IL means that Leo is so noble, basically cutting himself off from all womankind.

Turner: At Gloria's request.

Was there some point that you felt like, I'm in this business--I'm not an aspiring filmmaker, I am a filmmaker now?

Smith: I still feel aspiring. It's still tough to say, "I am in this business," because you always get the sense--I always get it, I don't know if you do--of waiting for the other shoe to drop. For somebody to say, "The emperor has no fucking clothes." And then be like, "I was an emperor? What?" [All laugh] So I don't know. Ten years in, and I'm still not sure that I'll be allowed to stay.

Turner: Yeah, I still have that. Like, any day they're going to come to me and say, "You charlatan! Why don't you pay us back?" I was thinking of the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed person I was 10 years ago and how I actually thought, This is it--we made a movie, now it's going to be easy from here. We're rock stars, we're in magazines ... and all of a sudden I was like, Um, I'm, totally broke, and I don't know what I'm doing next, and nobody cares about. Go Fish anymore ... It's been a very rocky mad, and I'm definitely old and bitter. [Laughs]

Smith: Are you, 10 years later, where you thought you'd be? Are you in a better place, or not quite, or like, Oh, my God, I can't believe where I am?

Turner: I'm totally like, I can't believe where I am. There was a time right after Go Fish came out when I thought it was going to be much bigger than it was, and then I was like, Oh, this is what it's like. It's really fucking hard. I was going to give up and be a teacher. I just decided to give it up completely.

Smith: What would you have taught?

Turner: High school English.

Smith: Really? Aren't you the dainty English teacher, then? The hard-core lesbian English teacher who's all about other chicks and whatnot?

Turner: [Laughs] So when you were coming up with Clerks, where did you think you'd be l0 years later?

Smith: I didn't think we'd still be working in 10 years. I really thought they'd let us make two movies and that would be it. Whoever "they" are.

Turner: The Man.

Smith: The Man. But I don't know. We didn't have any long-range plans, and I think it worked for us up to this point. It still does. You make it up as you go along.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:arts & entertainment
Author:Duralde, Alonso
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Mar 30, 2004
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