The Shallow Pocket Project is a series of conversations with the brilliant filmmakers behind the independent films that we love. Check our last chat with Ira Steven Behr (What We Left Behind). Special thanks to Lisa Gullickson and the other Dorks at In The Mouth of Dorkness.
The tortures of a performer typecast have led to numerous works of outrage. Leonard Nimoy bucked against fandom in 1975 when he published his declarative memoir I Am Not Spock. His captain William Shatner ejected from the Enterprise, attempting to straddle the Spaghetti Western trail tamed by Clint Eastwood with his 1968 disaster White Commanche. Pierce Brosnan perverted his James Bond charisma when he relished in the grime of The Matador. Bryan Cranston shattered his sitcom dad persona when he broke bad for AMC. Now, it’s Jason Mewes‘ turn.
As the chattier side of the Jay and Silent Bob duo that dominates Kevin Smith‘s View Askewniverse, along with most of the 1990s independent cinema scene, Mewes built a career from his ability to transplant a joyous immaturity into a vessel of profane wisdom. A bevy of nonsensical catchphrases caught fire and found their way onto an endless stream of merchandise — shirts, coffee mugs, action figures, spinoff comics, and cartoons. We all knew that kid in high school, and we determined he deserved celebration. The stoner kid done good.
Mewes is now 45. We’ve seen the tabloids and heard the podcasts. The kid is gone. Are we ready to meet the adult behind “snootchie bootchies”? He is pulling double duty on his new movie, Madness in the Method, as director and star. It centers around a character named Jason Mewes, who did some iconic, silly movies in the ’90s, and had some struggles with substance abuse but is on the other side and ready to grow as an artist and person. Yet everyone only sees him as that dumb stoner character. He goes to his pal, Kevin Smith, for some advice to advance his career and Kevin recommends the hard stuff: method acting.
Madness in the Method is a dark comedy that is not afraid to point fingers at the vapidness of Hollywood culture while at the same time fully exploiting it. The film is a parade of the most infamous, shallow LA types played by some of your favorite celebrities: the fame fetishizer girlfriend (Gina Carano), the youth-obsessed manager (Terri Hatcher), the deluded actor (Dean Cain) the lecherous and self-important director (Brian O’Halloran), and the backstabbing best friend (Kevin Smith). The only cameos to get off unscathed are Vinnie Jones and Stan Lee. And maybe Danny Trejo; he’s on the bubble.
Watching Madness in the Method feels like an invitation to sit beside Mewes on his therapy couch. Sifting through the absurdity, one senses a genuine ache regarding his station in life. However, when we spoke to Mewes, he warned us not to get distracted by the fiction on display. “It’s an alternate version,” he said. “Kevin isn’t playing a hundred percent who Kevin is, or myself, or Bryan.” The original script from Chris Anastasi and Dominic Burns didn’t center on Jason Mewes but a fictitious actor eager to eradicate his alter ego, and it was Mewes who insisted on the extra layer of metacommentary. He understands the pain of the label better than anyone, and he recognized that grafting his face to that particular torment triggered instant smiles.
We met Mewes on the 24th floor of the Marriott Marquis and Marina that overhangs the San Diego Comic-Con International. Two days into the event, and my voice was blown; some wretched form of the con-flu had struck and was looking to sideline my fun. Screw that. Lisa took point on questions, but that didn’t stop me from rasping my way through an awkward introductory exchange. “Only day two, bro?” Mewes jokingly mocked. “You got to do better.” I promised him that I would try, and he laughed and slapped my shoulder.
There’s no place on Earth quite like Comic-Con. A hundred and thirty thousand people fall upon the city each year, hoping to increase their already impossible passion and gain new knowledge for whatever particular brand of geek. Mewes has been coming to the show for 32 years, and he’s in awe of the celebration. “I remember coming here, and it would be like guys, guys, guys, guys,” he recalled. “Now it’s girls, older people, young kids. It’s everybody now, and they really understand comics, pop culture, and everything. It’s amazing. It’s a trip.”
While we settled on the balcony for the chat, I took a glance around the room. At the center, on a table, the actor was in mid-build of a Lego set. His first questions to us regarded our Swamp Thing and Veronica Mars shirts, “I didn’t know Veronica Mars was coming back until four or five days ago. I saw that big billboard on Sunset. I called Jordan, my wife and said, ‘Oh my god!’ and she’s like, ‘I know.'” From there, Lisa and Mewes strayed into a conversation surrounding the Veronica Mars spin-off novels. It didn’t matter that I had lost my voice; I was out of my depth.
Clearly, Mewes was in his element, and it was no mere thing to premiere Madness in the Method at Comic-Con. You will not find a better or a more open audience than the ones that exist in San Diego during the end of July. “It was good,” he said. “It was a smaller theater, but people said good things.” Not wanting to sound too confident, Mewes clarified the situation. “Excuse me, I just don’t ever know because I feel — maybe it’s me being insecure — but people who were there said good things after the fact and took pictures and stuff, but I always wonder, would anyone come up and go, ‘Dude, I fucking hated it’? I guess someone would, but they laughed in the good spots where I thought they would laugh. They laughed in spots I didn’t know they’d laugh, and all that. So, yeah, it was good.”
Hanging out on Kevin Smith’s sets is where the desire to get behind the camera first brewed within Mewes, “I really, really was interested in directing, and I want to challenge myself.” He loves Jay, but he knew he could do more. “I can play a sort of Hannibal Lecter,” he fervently exclaimed. “If they were doing a 40-year old version of Hannibal Lecter before the movies, and they needed a different person.” Put him in, Coach, he’s ready to play. Why the hell not?
That defiant question drives Madness in the Method, and it was the only subject Mewes felt comfortable steering. The film is a manifestation of a deep frustration when producers or fans dismiss the possibility that Jason Mewes could also enjoy a human liver with fava beans and a nice chianti. In playing an extreme version of himself, he purges the self-doubt and balks at the caricature we’d strap to him like a straightjacket.
The difficulty arose when he had to juggle roles. “It was actually tougher than I expected,” he said. “Not to necessarily direct, but to try to direct and really focus on the character and also worry about hair and makeup, and being part of every process like editing and sound and everything.” The film was not a quick shoot and assembled over the course of several years. With Mewes’ schedule divided by tour dates, prepping for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and Kevin Smith’s heart attack, there were long stretches of time where he was forced to let Madness in the Method sit.
As a result, the movie acts as a fascinating timestamp. “I was thinking about that last night,” he said. “Yeah, Kevin’s wearing his jersey still. It’s funny how he goes through these phases, where it’s all these one-shirts and then it was only jerseys and shorts, and now it’s blazers.” On top of that, Madness in the Method became the final appearance of Marvel maestro Stan Lee. “I thought my movie would come out and then Avengers: Endgame. But now Captain Marvel is out and Spider-Man‘s out and he’s not in that, and I literally think it might be the last movie he’s ever in. Then you hear what he says in our movie? He does all his quotes and stuff, and it’s almost like he’s saying a farewell.”
Sitting atop the balcony of his suite, Mewes lounges in his wonderment of opportunity. Having Stan Lee in your movie is no small thing. Being Jay of Jay and Silent Bob is no mere credit. Yes, he wants more. Yes, he can express the agony of a typecasted life. Having battled many demons to get where he is today, mostly Jason Mewes is content to snag a few extra laughs from the life he’s led as a Comic-Con attendee who in different circumstances would be at the back of the Hall H auditorium rather than sitting front stage. On the way out, he wished me good luck with the voice and then got back to his Legos.
Madness in the Method hits select theaters and VOD and Digital on August 2nd.