AN INTERVIEW ASKEW: BRIAN O'HALLORAN
by Michael McCarthy
conducted on February 2, 1998
"I'm not even supposed to be here today," he lamented as register jockey Dante Hicks in Kevin Smith's first film, Clerks. Today, the rant is famous, a fixture on the film's hit soundtrack and in the minds of the film's many rabid fans. In Mallrats, he arrived just in time for the third act as Dante's annoying cousin Gil, bringing some of the film's strongest laughs along with him for the cataclysmic dating game. While his turn in Chasing Amy was the lesser role of "Exec. #1," fans certainly rejoiced the moment his mug first appeared on screen. In other words, Brian O'Halloran needs no introduction here at The View Askew-niverse. On the contrary, he's a staple. In the following interview, O'Halloran discusses his work in the films of Kevin Smith and shares his thoughts on acting in general. Hopefully, this further insight will generate even more enthusiasm for the talented actor's future projects. Because, let me tell you, he *is* supposed to be here today.
BOH: No, I hadn't.
MM: How did you come to play Dante?
BOH: I actually had auditioned. He held auditions out of a theatre I had done stage work out of. He had already cast the six principals and was holding auditions for extras. So, when I went up and did my audition, apparently he enjoyed the audition very much. He offered me the role of Dante.
BOH: I guess the similarity is I've worked that type of job--working a register or clerking--where it's just very easy in that sense. And the difference is definitely the fact that he was very happy with--well, not very happy, but very content--just doing that. I'm usually not that content with doing one thing at once. I'm always trying to move on to another thing.
BOH: He was kind of a whiner at times, yeah. I wouldn't say frustrating to play in the sense of trying to get a grasp on him. Frustrating in the sense that you felt like, you know what, he needs a big moment at one point or another. And even his big moment, where Caitlin comes back and he thinks he's going to hook up with that date, gets ruined by the fact that she goes back to the bathroom and has an encounter. You feel frustrated about that whole thing, but that's probably about it.
BOH: Oh, I hated it, actually. When I first read it, it was like, no, that's not necessary. I was like, you don't need to kill the guy. When I first told him about it he was like, well, it kind of fits because, you know, people are always getting killed and blah, blah, blah and let's put a spin of reality on this. And I'm thinking--at the last two seconds, put a spin of reality on it? So, we shot it anyway--no pun intended--and I just didn't agree with it at all from the beginning.
MM: Safe to say you were quite happy when you found out they were changing it?
BOH: Oh yeah.
BOH: I was thinking pretty much the same thing. I really didn't expect it to get into the Sundance Film Festival and get that freak attention that it did, especially after seeing it at the IFFM and seeing there were only like twelve people in the theatre, ten of which were us. I didn't expect for him to push a film like he did in the sense that I had no idea of how someone goes about selling a film that they made on their own. It was almost like a thing that I expected, well, I'll have a nice little videotape copy for friends. Anytime there was a party, like, look what I did once. [Laughs] Just because of the language and the content of it. At the time, you didn't expect something of that language to be accepted.
BOH: When we went to the Sundance Film Festival and I heard that their tickets had sold out before the festival started. And then when I went to the screenings, seeing people pretty much scalping tickets outside and finding out that rarely happens at Sundance, where every screening was sold out. That's when things got a little like, OK, this seems like something could be up here.
BOH: Well, the recognition was kind of cool. I mean, I had been doing stage for a couple of years before that, and I did some really great roles, and then this role--obviously, it shows you how much film is viewed by so many people and how film is a medium that can reach many more people than any other medium of entertainment you can do. It's given me access to other auditions for things that I could never have gotten without it. In the sense like, you know, a lot of people in the film industry have seen the film because of the whole made for 27 thousand dollars and up type of story behind it.
BOH: No, no, not at all. After Sundance, and after it had been picked up by Miramax, he showed me the Dogma script and the only thing I noticed in similarities was just that the Jay and Silent Bob characters were the main focus of this script. And then when he told me he had actually written this before Clerks, I was like, oh . . . He was like, this is the script I really want to do, but I wasn't going to make my first film Dogma. It would have been technically impossible to make that for anything less than a couple of million. It would be an insult to the script, actually, to try to attempt that. But I didn't know he was doing a trilogy at all. I don't even think he was doing a trilogy at all.
MM: And now Dogma is actually going to be the fourth film.
BOH: Sometimes I do.
BOH: I don't think he was gay. I perceived him as being more interested in himself. I don't think he would have had the couth of just handling a girlfriend at the time, personally. Every guy has gone through their years of just not dating anyone. It just didn't work out or you were too wrapped up with your friends. I think he didn't have the time, nor the care, for it at the moment. If anything, he just wanted the sex part and he knew there'd be no way of getting a girl just for the sex.
BOH: It's strange because now everybody says that about his line readings. You would think that his first main character, he wants to be absolutely perfect, but we had an uncanny understanding of it. I apparently was reading things the way he wrote them, in the sense that he liked my interpretation of it. There'd just be a few phrases and terms I wasn't familiar with, just from his own neighborhood. He would explain things and that would be it. The only thing he would have to take care of with me would be my volume. Because I come from a stage background, I have the classical training of diction perfect and projection to be heard. So, I was very loud in my words and he'd be like, you've got to just talk normally. That was pretty much the only type of instruction that he would give me as far as line reading would be.
BOH: Very much different. Here it was now a six to seven million dollar budgeted film, all union, they flew me in, they're filming in a different city altogether. You come in, hotels, people who handle your wardrobe, you have your own dressing room, people are briefing you as to what's going on. Just seeing that whole process done where there's crews of like twenty people per department, if not fifty people in some departments. Just to see how it moves. The food was incredible. Going from a convenience store to real catering . . . The fact that I didn't have to go to work the next day at my regular job and drag myself back in again. It was a great experience, coming from where I was coming from. To everybody else who was in the film industry, it was just another film. As a matter of fact, some of the regulars complained about the caterer. I was just like, OK, you guys don't even know what bad catering is.
BOH: Dante. Obviously, you saw a lot more aspects of Dante. More people are interested in him. You'd like to see if he does better his life. Gil, you didn't find out enough to want to know, nor care, what happened to him.
BOH: Oh, sure. Although I don't want to be caught in a Gilligan type of syndrome. You know, where that's the only thing. I wouldn't mind doing it as long as during hiatuses I can do other film roles, which I am pursuing myself. I wouldn't mind that at all. I mean, they've also mentioned about doing a sequel to the film. Kevin had made the announcement at Vulgarthon where Harvey really wants to do a sequel first and see where it goes from there. That's a touchy subject, sequels. Especially with such a beloved movie as Clerks is. How the hardcore fans would either love it or hate it. It's very easy to piss off the fans.
BOH: Yeah, like, oh geez, now they've got money. Now they've gotta put color in it. And if we had our choice back then, we would've loved to have done color. It was just too expensive for a lighting package. I think you triple the cost when it comes to color film and then you double the cost of lighting. You can't film with fluorescent lights for color. It just makes everybody turn green.
BOH: Yeah! Exactly! Here it was. I forget how much money they spent on the Soul Asylum video. I think it was sixty grand. They originally were given a higher budget and Kevin was like, no, no, no, I don't want to have more of a budget for a three minute song than I did for my film. So, they cut that down. But when the color came on the screen, how it just crackled . . . that looked so cool.
BOH: Oh yeah. I've auditioned for pilots and been close to getting roles. Then seeing the pilots that didn't work out on TV and I'm like, man, that's because such and such played the role. I wouldn't mind doing TV. TV is good money. Especially if you get on a series and it goes into syndication. Then it's great money, which, right now, I wouldn't mind getting a lot of. And then eventually be able to have the luxury of saying, OK, I want to take a couple of months off, or I want to take a year off, and having that financial stability to do that.
MM: How do you work the auditions where you live in New Jersey? Do you have a place in Los Angeles as well?
BOH: Right. I have someone who I stay with out in Los Angeles. I would go out during pilot season, January through April. I should be out there right now. And I'll audition for pilots and things. I have an agent out there. I've had an agent now for two years. But now and then I change agencies and I'm talking to someone else right now. I prefer New York, the New York area, just because that's where I was born and raised. I'm east coast, as they say. I love the weather out on the west coast, but it's so much easier to get around here than it is out in LA.
BOH: It's a great state. I mean, you could do a lot of things within a short span. You have your skiing and whatever in northern New Jersey. You have the shore. And you have the urban life just by catching a bus or driving into Manhattan. Where I am, being in Central New Jersey, you're close to Philadelphia as well or Atlantic City. You have all that in a small state, more than if you lived anywhere else, especially if you lived in the Midwest. You can go fast life or you can go nice and easy, slow farm life. All within an hour and a half. I love the state. I really can't complain. The only thing I can complain about is the auto insurance. It's the absolute worst in the nation and it is a huge stupidity thing. But that's the only complaint I have.
BOH: It was filmed in Red Bank in the same building they did the train sequence, where he's waiting for the train and the little kid comes up. That building is actually not a train station at all. It's a mall. Like a little galeria type of mall. And it's right next to the train station. So, they did a very good job in making it look like a train station. In that building was a record promotion company. They were very kind to let us use their offices for the MTV offices. They had approached MTV with it and they didn't want their name to be associated with it.
MM: And now they've had Kevin direct those segments that are about to air.
BOH: Right. Exactly. But at first [the script] was like, here at MTV we're sick of Beavis and Butt-head and we're trying to move on. When they heard that, they were like, no, no, no, don't mention us, yada, yada. I guess they were just so fearful with what had happened with Mallrats.
BOH: No, he was in all the takes. I was very surprised when I was at the premiere and saw him not there, meaning not in the film. I'm like, that must suck. I didn't go to the New Jersey premiere--I was out LA at the time--but I could just imagine if he brought his friends. Like, yeah, this is going to be great, come on down. He'd bring friends and they're like, yeah, yeah, you were in it. No, really, I was! I was in the scene with Matt Damon! I'm telling ya! I mean, I wonder how they go about that? Do they contact you saying, you know, in post we realized the scene wasn't necessary or . . . Because that guy had, as you can see, there was like five minutes or more to that scene.
MM: And, of course, Illeana Douglas' scene was also cut.
BOH: Right. It's funny because I saw her at the LA premiere. She didn't look pissed, so . . .
MM: Guess she knew ahead of time.
BOH: Yeah. I'm sure they informed her.