Some speculate that Kevin Smith returned to the world of his 1994 breakout cheapie as a safe haven following the fizzle that was 2004's Jersey Girl, which starred the suddenly toxic hydra known as Bennifer. To such simplistic analysis, Smith says...close enough. ''It wasn't about the movie tanking, it was more [that] the actors' lives became more prominent than the flick,'' he says. ''I thought, 'The next movie I want to make, no famous people in it, just actors I love and people I want to work with.' Unless Brian and Jeff suddenly fell in love and went Brokeback on us, I figured we were pretty okay.''
The theme of Clerks II was especially appealing to the now-35-year-old Smith: Just as the original reflected Smith's life during his 20s, a sequel would be a take on his current state of mind. Moved on barely from the Quick Stop, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are now grease jockeys at a fast-food joint. (Rosario Dawson plays their manager; Weinstein Co. honcho Harvey Weinstein insisted Smith give him one real celebrity he could publicize. Jersey Girl be damned, Affleck also appears in a scandal-free cameo.) The film takes place on Dante's last day before moving out of state to be with his fiancée. ''It's about what happens to the angry young man when he turns 32,'' says Smith.
At $5 million, Clerks II was hardly big-budget, but it seemed that way to those who remembered the first $27,575 go-round. Back then, Anderson told Smith he wanted to wear a baseball hat so he wouldn't have to worry about keeping his hair consistent. Anderson showed him the hat, and Smith said, ''Fine.'' For this movie, Smith summoned Anderson to compare 15 different caps. Anderson laughs, ''We had five girls from wardrobe going, 'That hat, not that hat...' That's when I knew we were in a different world.''