Clerks II: A lively sit-down with Dante and Randal

Abrasive slacker duo grows up in comedy sequel

? A young waitress stops Jeff Anderson as he’s leaving a downtown barbecue restaurant.

“My friends told me I should say something offensive to you,” she says, giggling as the other staffers look on.

Anderson turns, looking both a bit confused and jaded by the episode.

She blurts out, “Hey, try not to suck any (expletive) on the way to the parking lot!”

Such is the life of Anderson and costar Brian O’Halloran of “Clerks” fame.

“I very rarely get recognized,” Anderson says. “But now that I’m traveling with Brian, I do.”

“It’s like Superman and his glasses,” O’Halloran says of his influence.

The pair are nearing the end of a cross-country press tour that whisks them through Kansas City. The occasion is “Clerks II,” a follow-up to the 1994 indie comedy that became a benchmark of slacker hipsterism. That movie is best remembered for its hilariously explicit, pop culture-laced dialogue (which explains the motivations behind the waitress’ comment) and for launching the career of writer-director Kevin Smith.

Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran star in Kevin Smith's Clerks

“When Kevin approached me with this idea, we had lunch before there was a script and I said, ‘No. No. No,'” recalls Anderson, who plays the foul-mouthed, combative Randal in the “Clerks” pictures.

“I assumed it was just going to be a rehash of the original, and I didn’t want to sit back and let them taint the first one. It wasn’t until I read the script that I realized it was similar but different. The plot was almost what HAD to be done.”

In this installment set a decade later, the New Jersey pair are forced into different jobs after their beloved convenience store is torched. While they move to dead-end gigs at the hamburger empire Mooby’s, they also begin to take steps toward a more mature future beyond the service industry.

The sequel opens nationwide next Friday.

“For the general audience, the surprise thing that they’re not expecting is the emotional depth of the two of these guys as friends,” says O’Halloran, who plays the more level-headed Dante.

Rosario Dawson and Brian O'Halloran star in Kevin Smith's comedic sequel Clerks

“Originally, we were twentysomethings making a film about issues that twentysomethings would talk about: Their whole life was ahead of them; they don’t know what to do. Now here it is 10 years later, and they haven’t really gone as far as they thought. Where is the time going? It speaks to a more broad audience than to one who wants to hear us lace into a couple customers and play hockey on the roof.”

Cannes game

That audience is broader than one might think.

In May, Anderson and O’Halloran joined Smith for a trip to the Cannes Film Festival in France.

“We went out to dinner as a group, and Kevin didn’t eat,” Anderson remembers between bites of burnt ends and baby back ribs. “He was just sitting there looking a little unnerved. That’s when I was like, ‘This could go bad, I guess.’ But there were a lot of young kids at the theater, and it seemed to go well.”

Well enough to earn the movie an eight-minute standing ovation from the notoriously snooty Cannes crowd.

O’Halloran says, “This is the same festival where ‘The Da Vinci Code’ got booed, and people walked out on ‘Marie Antoinette.’ That’s about a French queen, for God’s sake. I don’t know what it is. I guess they like donkey shows.”

Originally titled “The Passion of the Clerks,” the sequel has now provided the opportunity for Anderson and O’Halloran to return to the public eye. Although both are featured in bit parts in Smith’s recent movies, neither has enjoyed a substantial role since “Clerks.”

“I’ll definitely take advantage of it this time,” says the 36-year-old O’Halloran, who mainly has been doing theater in New York.

“I went out to L.A. in 1994, but theatrically the first ‘Clerks’ wasn’t well-known. It really got its legs when it got into VHS format. It absolutely took off on DVD. So when I went to L.A. I would meet with casting directors and agents, and they were like, ‘Oh, I heard about that from Sundance.’ But they really hadn’t heard of it.”

Like O’Halloran, Anderson grew up in New Jersey. (He actually knew Smith from high school.) But when the actor relocated to L.A. in the mid-’90s, he stayed.

Although he landed only a few more indie roles than his “Clerks” costar, Anderson did write and direct the 2002 romantic comedy “Now You Know.”

“I’m not really concerned about it,” the 35-year-old Anderson says of the new movie’s potential effect on his career. “I hope it will open more doors to direct something. But I can’t audition. I can’t act very well. What happens, happens.”

On-screen romance

The experience of making the film was quite similar to that of the first picture. Although most of “Clerks II” was shot in California instead of New Jersey, the entire production lived together in a Days Inn that Smith rented out.

O’Halloran says, “It was a blast filming it and hanging out with the same group. It was only a $5 million budget, so it wasn’t that large of a cast or crew. It really had a summer camp or dorm-type feel.”

Also a blast for O’Halloran was taking part in onscreen romances. He got to shoot make-out scenes with comely actresses Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (the director’s wife) and A-lister Rosario Dawson, who portrays his Mooby’s manager and confidante.

“She has a thing for Irishmen,” O’Halloran says of Dawson, who recently burned up the screen with Colin Farrell in “Alexander.” (He also fesses up to having freeze-framed her infamous nude scene in the historical epic.)

“In the first movie, the level of maturity those characters had would never have allowed them to get around a woman like that,” he adds.

No such luck for Anderson, whose character once again doesn’t get to indulge in any romantic entanglements with beautiful starlets.

“It’s art imitating life,” Anderson says.

Potty pros

So far reaction to the film has been positive during this extended press tour. But the duo still admit to being a little burned-out by the experience.

“It’s the rock-and-roll lifestyle without the chicks and cocaine,” Anderson says.

The jaunt has offered some amusing, “Clerks”-like moments, however.

“On one of the morning shows there was this woman out promoting ‘Potty Training Your Kid in a Day,'” O’Halloran relates. “So the TV news has the little Chyron (data graphic) that says ‘Potty Pro.’ … We’re giggling because she literally has anatomically correct dolls and stuff. Then she leaves, and it’s two cohosts and we’re sitting on either side of them. The first thing out of the (host’s) mouth was, ‘So how is it making number two?’ And I was like, ‘Are we still talking about the Potty Pro?'”

Anderson believes that the Chyron underneath their names should have read “potty mouth.”