“Oh my Lord, this is gonna be so fun for me because I am so baked!”
That was how filmmaker Kevin Smith introduced his latest movie, “Tusk,” to a packed house at the Vista Theatre in Hollywood at a special screening Tuesday night. Fresh off its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, where critics and audiences hailed the quirky flick as a return to form for Smith, A24 opens the film in theaters nationwide this Friday.
The horror-comedy tells the story of a podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long) who travels to Canada in search of an interview and is instead held captive by a madman (Michael Parks) who aims to surgically transform him into a walrus.The idea actually came about after a man in Brighton, England, put out an ad offering free rent to anyone willing to dress in a walrus suit and pretend to be said animal for two hours a day.
The advert turned out to be a hoax by writer-poet Chris Parkinson, but after Smith discussed it on his Smodcast podcast with co-host Scott Mosier, he began to mull the idea of turning it into a feature film. “Something snapped in my brain, and it’s only happened one other time in my life.” That other time was 20 years ago, when “I wondered why people didn’t make movies about me and my friends talking about movies and pussy and ‘Star Wars.’ So I did, and it was ‘Clerks,’” Smith said.
At the afterparty, held at Rockwell Table & Stage, Smith introduced Parkinson, who received an associate producer credit on the film. Parkinson and his wife Anna were not only visiting L.A. for the first time, but had just seen the movie in its entirety. His reaction? “Wow,” Parkinson enthused. “It was just incredible. I’m still reeling.”
Did he actually receive any responses to his hoax email? “Hundreds!” Parkinson revealed. “I had over 400 responses. I don’t know what that says about people or about the renting situation in Brighton.”
The premise for “Tusk” is certainly out there, but Smith credits his cast’s commitment to keeping the craziness grounded through their performances. Co-star Haley Joel Osment, who plays Long’s best friend and podcasting partner, had never met Smith when the screenplay was sent to his reps. “I got a voice mail from my agent and manager cracking up, saying, ‘Oh man, have we got a script for you!” Osment recalled. “But 50 pages into it, I was so fascinated and invested in the characters, I knew I had to do it.”
Smith admitted there was some irony in the fact that he is earning some of his best reviews ever for an outrageous movie based on a podcast. He also said that the reviews for the film has made him reconsider his opinion on critics.
“In the last few years I’ve gone after critics left and right, but this movie has changed my perspective,” Smith revealed. “And not because of what they said about me, but because of things like the response to Michael Parks.” He pointed to Scott Foundas’ Variety review, which called Parks’ performance “career-crowning.” Continued Smith, “For a 74-year-old actor to read something from a total stranger that makes them breathless and puts tears in their eyes… Well, I’ll shut my mouth til the end of time about critics.”
Smith has already filmed a spin-off called “Yoga Hosers,” focusing on two minor characters from “Tusk” that happen to be played by his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, and Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp.
Smith said the experience on “Tusk” has reinvigorated not only his love for movies, but his willingness to try something new. “It’s so nice to be 20 years into a career and make something where people say, ‘Well, I didn’t see that coming.'”