Silent Bob’s better half talks Kevin Smith, comic books, tattoos, and kicking his drug habit.
Actor Jason Mewes is standing in the living room of his Los Angeles home, taking off his shirt. Positioned in front of his laptop’s webcam, he shows off the “15 or 16” tattoos he’s acquired during his 34 tumultuous years. He lifts his shirt and motions first to an elaborate tribal design on his shoulder. “I got this one in Santa Cruz … and this one in Des Moines,” Mewes says. “This one’s from when I was 20, and I got this one in Utah after playing a prisoner with all these fake tattoos. The guy was gonna do a solid tribal on me, but I was like, “You know what, I want a face in there. Nothing too happy, though, not like a clown, you know?”
The irony is that Mewes is best known as Jay, the clowning, weed-dealing, cuss-spewing half of Jay and Silent Bob, the stoner movie icons made famous in director Kevin Smith’s 1994 indie classic Clerks. The role launched Mewes’ career while his real life became jagged, drug-addled, and far from hilarious. Born in New Jersey in 1974, Mewes was an average hockey-and-comicbook- loving high schooler when his friend Smith, three years his senior, mentioned he was writing a movie featuring Jay, a character based on Mewes. Clerks, famously made for just $27,000, became a massive hit, and Mewes went on to reprise the role of Jay in nearly all of Smith’s other movies, including Mallrats, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II (lucky for him, he dodged Jersey Girl), and land roles in little-seen movies such as Feast and Paulie Shore Is Dead. Mewes also developed a full-blown drug addiction. During that time, his mother was diagnosed with AIDS and later succumbed to the disease in 2002. Caught between professional success and personal hell, Mewes would pop up in a movie and then disappear for months. Rumors of his death circulated, and at one point a warrant was issued for his arrest. Now five years into his sobriety, Mewes has a new movie, the Smith-helmed Zack and Miri Make a Porno, that’s already generating buzz. Like each of his tattoos, Mewes has a hell of a story to tell.
INKED: What was your very first tattoo?
MEWES: My brother’s girlfriend gave me this little dot on my wrist with a pin, some thread, and India ink when I was 12 years old. More than 20 years later, that thing is staying strong.
You also have several tattoos of girls’ names, including Jordan, your girlfriend. What if it doesn’t work out?
Nah, it’s not a big deal. Look, I have “Amy”—an ex—on my neck, and I have “Kat,” too. They’re all different chapters in my life. Jordan is the only girl I’ve ever had a real relationship with—we live together, we have a dog, we share bank accounts. She even knows the passwords to my bank accounts. All my other relationships revolved around drinking, drugs, and partying. The only time I think it would be a bummer is if I came home one day and Jordan was getting double-teamed by two big dudes. Would you ever have a tattoo removed or covered up? Oh, hell no. They all have their own stories.
What are your other tattoos?
I have Kevin Smith’s daughter’s name down my spine. I have Justice League stuff, Daredevil, Bullseye. And this is Batman. This one right here on my thigh is the Road Runner tattoo I got when I was 18. Have you ever seen any Jay and Silent Bob tattoos? I have. I have a picture on my phone of a guy with one. I’ve seen three or four people with the Jay and Silent Bob animated characters, and one guy had an actual portrait of me, which is weird. It had the beanie cap and shit, sort of Jay, though, which was bizarre. Can you set the record straight about how you met Kevin? We went to high school together, and I knew who he was, but we didn’t hang out because he was three years older. After he graduated, he worked at our town’s community center, and every day after school I’d go there to play hockey, kickball, and pool. Then a group of us started hanging out and going to comic shows.
Is it true that he didn’t like you at first?
Probably. Some of my friends were going to New York for a comic book convention, and Kevin was like, “I’m not driving a minor over state lines,” because he didn’t want me to go. But then our buddy Brian said he’d drive. So not only did I get to go –I called shotgun. I was being silly, and those guys were laughing at me. It wasn’t that Kevin didn’t think I was funny, it was that he was the funny one of the group and now there was this new dude. After doing seven of Kevin’s movies, what’s the best part of working with him? I know him and I’m comfortable. I’ve done maybe 10 other movies with other directors, and, not that I don’t enjoy myself, but it’s a different vibe because Kev and I have been friends for so long. Some of the other directors are so stressed about getting the shots, they don’t really care about the actors’ performances. If there’s tension, I’m tense. With Kevin, it’s comfy.
Aw, that’s cute. So you’d never acted before Clerks?
I did a few elementary school plays, and then I did a talent show my freshman year of high school. We lip-synched to the Beastie Boys. Didn’t you work at the Quick Stop, where a lot of Clerks was filmed? Yeah, Kevin and I both worked there, and then he got me a job at the video store next door, where Clerks was also shot. So I’d work there, and he’d be at the convenience store, and I’d shut down the video store and hang out with him. Were you freaked out making a movie for the first time? It was kind of a blur because I was so nervous. Even though Kevin wrote the character based on me, he remembers me being like, “Kev, I don’t know if I can do this.” I was so freaked out performing in front of the cameras with everyone watching.
So you combated the nervousness with drugs and alcohol.
Exactly. I’d get drunk every day on beer and blackberry brandy. I was also working as a roofer at the time, so I’d roof all day and shoot at night. I remember watching the finished movie in the video store, and I thought that was it. I didn’t understand the process of making movies, and I didn’t know about Sundance or Cannes. I went back to work and didn’t think anything about it, and then Kevin was like, “Yo, we got into a festival and Miramax bought it, and it’s gonna be out in some theaters.” That was cool, but even after that, I still worked. It wasn’t until Mallrats that I quit my job.
How did your new fame change your life the most?
It didn’t hit me until Mallrats. This sounds corny, but I grew up in a small town in Jersey and I’d never been anywhere besides New York. I’d never been in a limo except for prom, and I’d never stayed in a hotel. The only things I knew about California were palm trees, Beverly Hills Cop, and 90210.
What was your first impression of Los Angeles?
I flew out to do a table read for Mallrats, and I remember they picked me up in a limo, and there were the palm trees, and the song “Hotel California” came on, and it was awesome. Then, in Minnesota, where we shot the movie, there were, like, 50 crew members, and everyone was like, “Can I get you coffee? Can I get you this?” On top of all that, we got $400 per diem. It was surreal.
Did all of that money go toward partying?
Well, every night after shooting, we’d all meet in the lobby of the hotel to drink, but usually someone from production would pay for it. I mainly spent mine on CDs and action figures.You’ve been candid about your drug addiction. Do you remember the first time you used?
I drank and smoked weed a little bit in high school, and I think I was 20 the first time I tried coke. The first time I did heroin was on my 21st birthday. My friend Mike was seeing this girl, and I started messing around with her friend, so the four of us were hanging out a lot. I didn’t realize they were doing heroin every day. At first I didn’t want to be around it, because I hated dope. I stopped hanging with them, but that lasted a week. Then I was like, “Let’s hang out, but please don’t do it around me.” So on my 21st birthday, I wanted to go out drinking, and they were like, “We’re just gonna sit in, man, and do dope.” I got some beers, and they were all doped up, and I was sitting there by myself trying to drink and be loud and have fun while they were nodding out and shit. Finally I was like, “Let me get some. I don’t get it, it doesn’t look fun to me.” But then I tried it.
And it was awesome. I remember cuddling with the girl and it was this whole new…. But it was bad business. From there, I started doing it on weekends, and then three, four times a week, and the next thing you know, I’m fully strung out and needing to do it every day. That went on and off for like eight, nine years.
At your lowest point, how much money were you spending a day on drugs?
There were days when I had tons of money and I was doing a lot of crack. I was shooting crack and dope. You can shoot crack if you break it down with lemon juice, so I was doing both and spending tons of money. Some days I’d spend $400 to $500 in one day, and then the next day I’d spend $200. At the very least, I was spending $200 a day or $1,400 to $1,500 a week and maybe $6,000 a month. Then I’d run out of money and I’d have to get by. When I’d get tight on money, I’d only do $100 a day.
Did you try to get clean?
I would get sober and work for a few months, like on Dogma, but as soon as I’d get home I’d get messed up again. Or I’d quit dope for two months, but I’d still drink and smoke pot, then I’d start doing dope again. Finally, I realized I couldn’t drink or do any mind-altering drugs. I was out in L.A., and there was a warrant out for my arrest for getting busted with a bag of dope in 1999, so I went back to Jersey and turned myself in. I knew they’d either put me in jail, where I wouldn’t be able to get drugs, or they’d put me in rehab and it would all stop, which I was hoping. Luckily, I got six months in rehab.
Were you ever tempted to jump the fence at rehab?
Oh, yeah. But if I decided to take off, I’d have to do four years in jail, so that kept me from wanting to leave. After six months in rehab, I flew back to L.A. and moved back in with Kevin until I got back on my feet.
Was it strange to read about your life in the tabloids?
There were rumors that you were dead. It was weird. I don’t read the tabloids, but I did have a cousin who’d read that I was dead in a paper, so she called me and was like, “We haven’t heard from you and wanted to make sure you’re okay.” I try not to read anything, even now, because if 10 people say nice things but one person says something nasty, it bothers me.
What ever happened to Rock Bottom, the HBO documentary about you kicking heroin?
It got shut down. I was in a really bad place when this guy, who wound up being a crazy con artist, offered to pay me if I would shoot this documentary. I said yes, so he picked me up in a big Winnebago, and they filmed me going to rehab. After being sober for a few months, I was like, “Whoa, what did I do? That was retarded letting them watch me kick dope and shit.” Now that my head was a little clearer, I called the dude. He had told me if I didn’t like it, he wouldn’t put it out. But that wasn’t the case. I said, “Look, I don’t want it coming out, I’m sorry. Squash it.” He’s like, “No, we’re gonna do it.” So we brought it to a judge, and we got the footage, and then the guy disappeared. I guess he had kept some of the footage, because a year after everything was settled, it leaked onto YouTube.
Did you watch it?
I did, and it was horrible—me all messed up. He put a hidden camera in the room when I was sick and going through withdrawal. Just stuff you never want to see. Luckily, YouTube took it down.
Do you think you still would have been a drug addict if you hadn’t started making movies?
Oh, yeah. It didn’t have anything to do with movies. I started doing this back in Jersey with friends I’d hung out with for years. When you go to California, no one really offers you heroin or anything. It’s got nothing to do with movies or Hollywood or clubs.
Your new movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, is the first Kevin Smith movie in which you’re not playing Jay, right?
Yeah, Kevin was like, “I’m making a new movie with all different characters—no Jay or Bob. No Brian or Dante.” He wrote this character, Lester, for me, and he’s totally different. He’s got short hair and he wears a wife beater. I even have my clothes off in a few scenes.
Whoa! Full frontal?
Well, they’re shooting a porno, and I audition for it. I don’t know how much I should give away. I’m sure if I said certain shit, Kevin would be like, “Dude, why did you tell everyone that?” I will say that I’ve seen a rough cut and it’s really funny.
Have you ever filmed yourself having sex?
No, I’ve never taped myself.
But it says on your MySpace page that your interests are “sex, sex, sex.”
Yeah, I’m interested in having sex, but I’m not interested in watching myself have sex. I don’t want to see my pasty little ass going up and down and shit. Do you?