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Interview with Maria Bello; Interview with Filmmaker Kevin Smith; Interview with Tavis Smiley

Aired August 16, 2013 - 23:00   ET


GEORGE STROUMBOULOPOULOS, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my goodness, what a program we have for you tonight. We're going to talk about things like activism, passion. We're going to do (inaudible) being on actor on top of that, and Hollywood to Haiti. Maria Bello is on the program.

MARIA BELLO, ACTRESS: My agent fired me. I was devastated. It's the first time I thought about giving up, going maybe I'm not supposed to do this. I suck.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: 2014 will make it 20 years since "Clerks" came out and changed the game. Kevin Smith is going to be in the red chair tonight.

KEVIN SMITH, FILMMAKER: I remember calling my mom as soon as the deal was done. I was like that man, Harvey Weinstein, Miramax, they bought the movie. She was like, oh my God, thank God he has such bad taste.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: He's a hell of an interviewer, and you know him as Tavis Smiley. This guy has been shining a light on racism, poverty and classism. And I heard he's a Prince fan.

You got a go-to song?

TAVIS SMILEY: "Adore" by Prince.


SMILEY: Oh, Jesus, help me.



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: All right, welcome to the program. (inaudible) religion and the voice to the voiceless. Spirituality, some of that is going to play into the program tonight.

If you're famous, as many people are in interview shows, as many people are who sit in this red chair, your fame is sort of useless if you don't do anything with it. I love it when artists decide that they need to do more, and a lot of it will be on the program tonight.

I want to start with Maria Bello. Graduated from college thinking she was going to go into law. Even though she followed another dream, which was acting. And she's really good at it. If you haven't seen "The Cooler," you need to, or "History of Violence." But Maria, her impact has gone past being a quality actress. It's her work in Haiti, helping underprivileged, that has touched lives way beyond the big screen. And her work in women's rights. It's all part of her story. Here it is.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: You know, if we were going to judge a book by its cover, most would think Maria Bello was born to be in front of the camera. But here is the thing, aside from the talent, she's also very smart, and if you ask her, she'll tell you she was born to help people. A Philly girl, always imagined herself changing the world, but it was an acting class in college that challenged her convictions. So Maria moved to New York with 300 bucks in her pocket and two trash bags full of clothes. Eventually she was noticed for her starring role in the short-lived TV series, "Mr. And Mrs. Smith."

Since then, she's had both mainstream success and indy cred, from playing the compassionate Dr. Ella Delamico (ph) on "E.R.," to her critically praised role in David Cronenberg's "The History of Violence." But Maria has never given up doing what she knew she was born to do. She's co-founded numerous organizations, focusing on international women's rights, Haitian earthquake relief, and inner city youth. It seems that Maria has found a way to straddle the line between a successful actor and the caretaker to the world.

Everybody, please say hello to Maria Bello.


BELLO: Good to see you again.


BELLO: Thank you. Hello, everybody.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Welcome to the show.

BELLO: Thank you. I'm so thrilled to be here.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: We'll have fun. Plenty to talk about. I just wonder for your own mind when you know you have got two movies that are so different to talk about. And we want you to talk about movies, but you have a Paul Haggis movie, which is beautiful but not fun.

BELLO: It's quite intense.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: And you have "Grownups 2."

BELLO: Yes. The great similarity between them is they were both so much fun to shoot. Can you imagine being on marblehead all summer above Boston, on the beach with Chris Rock, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph? I mean, we just don't stop laughing. It's like summer camp. STROUMBOULOPOULOS: But do you feel like, do you have that inner competitiveness? Were you like oh my God, the level of jokes in that room are so heavy, you have to bring them.

BELLO: You do. You do have to bring them. And the girls, we always have to like fight to bring them, because the guys are such a team and have been together for so long. But it's a joy. It's a fun, fun, fun movie. I loved the first one. It had such heart.

And then the Paul one we shot in Rome. So as intense as it was, we were in Rome, eating and drinking great wine every night.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: But can you leave those intense moments on the set?

BELLO: I can. I've never been that actor, I've never been that actor that sort of holds on to something or has to live in my parts. I'm just kind of -- I like to be in the moment. I like to actually talk to someone, you know, and listen. I feel like acting is all about listening.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I suppose because you didn't -- like being actor wasn't your thing, when you were young, right?

BELLO: It wasn't. I didn't even know I could be an actor. I really didn't. My dad was a construction worker, my mom was a nurse. I'm from outside of Philly. And as much as I love novels, and I always pretended I was a character in a novel, it wasn't until I was at university, studying women's rights and peace and justice education, on my way to law school, that someone said I could take an acting class as an elective, and I had a crush on a boy called Drew who was in that class. So I said oh, OK, I'll take it. And I knew from the first monologue I did, that this was my way of being of service. This is what I was supposed to do.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Because in that moment, you became self-aware of the fact that you could get your humanity or your message or whatever it was out?

BELLO: I did, but I was terrified. I went to my mentor, who was an Augustinian priest, Father Ray Jackson. The reason I met him, I did one of his classes, peace and justice education. He wrote a book that I edited for a whole summer. But the first paper was on, who are your heroes? And I wrote Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, whatever I wrote. So when I decided to be an actor instead, I went to him really and cried, and said I don't know what to do. I know I'm supposed to be of service, you know? I was working on the women's law project, I was on that trajectory, and now I feel like I'm supposed to act, and I feel like it's such a selfish possession. And he gave the greatest advice of my life. He said you serve best by doing the thing you love most.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Can I play you something? A little time traveling? Let's time travel for a second and play this clip here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BELLO: Neither of us is leaving here until you tell me exactly what world I have stumbled into.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can go around you or I can go through you.

BELLO: You're clever, I'll give you that.


BELLO: Where did you find that?

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I have my entire personal collection of Maria Bello stuff.

BELLO: That was the first TV show I ever did, called "Mr. And Mrs. Smith." It was with Scott Bakula, it was so much fun. I can't believe you have that.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: When you got the call that said you got that job, what is the first call you made?

BELLO: My mother. My mother. To say, you know, literally the first day I came to L.A., I got a job. I struggled in New York for eight years doing theater. I was a bartender, I was homeless at some point. I mean, I was really beating the streets. And when I came out here to visit a guy I was dating at the time, I went to an audition with him, and he came out and he said oh, the casting director is from Philly. And I went in and talked, and she said, can you read this? I said, sure. And I read it, and she gave me this role in a pilot. I couldn't believe it. And I've been so fortunate that I've worked ever since.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Tell me about the homeless experience. Those moments when you were really -- that's a really tenuous place to be in one's life.

BELLO: But even then, at the time I was moving from couch to couch to couch all over New York City. My family was so supportive. My mom would literally take the train up to bring me medicine when I was sick and bring me meatballs. She still -- she still talks about it.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: In many cultures, meatballs are medicine. So you got a double dose.

BELLO: But I was about to give up once, I have to tell you. And my mom always taught us to believe in signs. Right? That the universe, that God would lead you on your journey where you're supposed to go. So in the same day when I was 23 years old, 22, I had just gone to New York City, I had gone to an audition. My agent fired me and my manager called me to say when you went to this audition, they said never send her to us again. She needs to go to acting school.

I was devastated. It's the first time I thought about giving up, going maybe I'm not supposed to do this, I suck. And I'm going down 23rd Street in my Army boots and crying, and it's snowing. All of a sudden I see something glinting in the snow. And I stop and it's a shoe, like a golden high heel glittery shoe. And in the middle of the street, I look at it and I go, oh, my God, I take off my boot, I sit down and I put it on, and it fit. And I was like, thank you, God. Thank you.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: What are you going to do with one shoe?

BELLO: Well, OK, it gets better. Years later, about three or four years ago, four years ago, I'm looking at my shoe and I thought, I've been blessed. I've gotten everything I ever wanted in this career that I thought the shoe represented. And my mom always said what you give away comes back to you tenfold. I took it to New York City, outside of my hotel at the Bowery I decided to do this. I put a piece of cardboard with the shoe stuck on it. Whoever took that shoe, I would love to hear if they took that shoe. And it said "size 9, please stop if you are, try this on, and read the below." And I wrote a little note. I didn't say who it was, but I wrote a note how I promise if you find this shoe, that it's a sign that your life is going to become.

A month later, I'm on the beach in Santa Monica, and my son comes up to me, mom, mom, I found your shoe. It was a gold ballet slipper. A month later, I'm walking out of the Hollywood Bowl with my boyfriend at the time, we're walking, walking, I look down, and there's a gold spray painted Ugg in front of me. I went, what? I picked that up. I walked two steps further, there was a gold spray painted sneaker. It was apparently leading you to an art exhibit. So five shoes.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: So you're open to things, you're open to experiencing life in a magical way then?

BELLO: I am. I want to believe that life is magical. I think it's a choice.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Stick around. More with Maria Bello right after this.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Maria Bello on why women in Haiti must have the power in order for things to change there, right after this.



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: We're back here. I hope you're enjoying your evening wherever you may be. Maria Bello is with us. You wanted to be an international women's rights lawyer?

BELLO: That's right.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: And how old were you when you made that call?

BELLO: I was 19 when I started working at the Women's Law Project. So it's interesting now having my own NGO, and that's what we do. So working in Haiti, I started my own organization after the earthquake, because such a tiny percentage of money was going for women's organizations. And I find in developing countries like this, especially a beautiful nation like Haiti, the women really know what their communities need. The women in the camp were so organized. They came up to us, they all had these green t-shirts on, these young women, and they showed us these notebooks and they said these are all the women in the camp and this is what they need. Can you help us do something? So within a day, we put up a tent. Within three days, we had doctors and nurses there and lines outside the door. Within two weeks, the women were running the clinic.

And when I went to these organizations, one that made $432 million from the earthquake, and when I said, hey, you could start these in all the camps, it only costs $5,000. They all said the same thing. Well, you need a proposal, and you know, you guys are quite -- I was like, I'm sorry, I'm not going to say the f word, but really, really got angry. And we would like to say that started We Advance because we were pissed off about that.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: How do you get these enormous organizations to be more maneuverable on the ground?

BELLO: I find big aid, most big aid just full of bureaucracy. I heard someone speak from the U.N., who's a fantastic person. This was in September, and they were talking about what they learned after the Haiti earthquake. The No. 1 thing they learned is that they can't go in and tell people what they need. The people know what the people need. And I was like, you just figured that out?

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: There is someone who I think ran for mayor. Take a look at this video here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please join us. Together, we will learn, connect, and explore our true potential as empowered women.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Talk about Barbara.

BELLO: Barbara Guillome (ph), my partner in We Advance and my inspiration.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I love that photo. Clearly your transportation, as well.

BELLO: That's our clinic. I met Barbara, who is an artist and an activist, and a singer, singing about social justice, and she did run for mayor of City Soleil (ph). And years ago, when there was so much corruption on that day that she got arrested.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Would you characterize yourself as tough? Are you tough?

BELLO: Yes, I think in some ways I'm very tough. You know, people ask all the time in Haiti and during the war, you know, Kosovo and Africa and the things I've seen. And you've been to the morgue in Haiti, and there were the children, isn't it so hard? Don't you have post traumatic distress. I don't. One of my best characteristics and worst is that I'm really tough. STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Right, what a pleasure. Thank you very much.

BELLO: Thank you, lovely to be with you and speak to you.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Maria Bello, everybody.

BELLO: Thank you.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: He's one of the great filmmakers of his generation, and we have got him right across from us. Kevin Smith coming right up.



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Welcome back to the program. You know, what you want in life is to be surrounded by friends who have got your back, and sometimes you want to be the person that has to have your friend's back. And when you do it at a great level, it doesn't matter what the rest of your output is, does not matter what you do for a living, does not matter -- and none of that matters. Are you a good friend, are you a good person? And the next guest is definitely that guy. He's also complicated a lot of parents' lives, because he's the one that turned a comic book collection into an empire -- movies, reality series. Thus giving kids ammunition against their parents, every day they go buy a new one.

You may know him as Silent Bob. He won't be silent tonight. Kevin Smith!



SMITH: Thank you. This is weird and cool for me. I don't know how to say this without sounding condescending, but I'm so proud. We met, if you remember, probably going back to around the time of "Clerks 2," because I still had that office over near Sunset Boulevard. And you were coming out here, I don't even know if you were doing a bunch of interviews, but like you kept saying, I want an interview, and I haven't met you prior to that. And you came out to the office, we sat down, did an interview like on the porch. You were so amenable about doing it wherever we were doing it. And you made me so damn comfortable. It was like one of the first times, it was like oh, these one on ones could be really fun. Like, normally when you're on the interview circuit, you go through the junkets and they're kind of grueling. I love to talk so it doesn't matter, but it's always -- as you can see. You haven't even started talking yet and it's your show.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: It's our show, bro.

SMITH: For the moment, it's my show. I love the talking, but it's so much better to have a conversation. So you and I did that. There was no like, we've got to get through this in five minutes and I'm out of here. We just chatted for a long, long time.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I remember when I first started seeing your films, thinking, right, this is a guy who speaks my language, our language. This was a filmmaker that we used to read about, used to read about the generations of filmmakers that told stories the audience could connect to and felt like it was their voice. You were our guy.

SMITH: Really?

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: You and Tarantino, man. You were the guys that told--

SMITH: Me I could get. Because like I write about -- I don't write about epic things. Quentin would write about bank robberies or like drug deals gone awry and needles into chests. I am the guy that writes movies about I saw a movie about a drug deal. They're both huge parts of our life.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: By the way, next year is 20 years, man, for "Clerks."

SMITH: We are. We are coming up on 20 years for "Clerks," 20 years that I've been doing this professionally.

When we made the deal to sell the movie, they bought it in perpetuity here in the United States. But abroad, in England, we got it back I think it was in 25 years. And me and Scott Mojer (ph), my producer, would joke about like yeah, man, in 25 years, we own "Clerks" in England, what's that going to be worth? It's worth a lot now.


SMITH: It really turned into something. Like in the beginning, we all talked about being independent. Like I'm an indy filmmaker, I don't need no studio help, and I'll do it by myself, tell the stories I want to tell, the hell with everybody else. Until we were done, then we were like, I've got to sell this. Will you buy it? I'm sorry about all that stuff I said about being independent. So I never really felt truly like an independent filmmaker, except for that first time that I made "Clerks." And that was like, when there was no -- I had no expectation, there was no, like, I'm going to sell this and enter the business. We made it as a calling card movie, simply to say to somebody in the future, look, man, we know how to move a camera around, put images together, will you give us money to do this next time so I don't have to put it on credit cards? And so like I kind of entered the business with piss and vinegar and love with art, you know, like I'd seen Richard Linklater's movie "Slacker" on my 21st birthday. That made me want to go into filmmaking.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Let's play a "Slacker" clip.

SMITH: Yeah, show the clip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you do to earn a living? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean work? To hell with that kind of work you have to do to earn a living. All that does is fill the bellies of the pigs who exploit us. Hey, look at me, I'm making it.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: You remember seeing that film?

SMITH: I saw it with my friend, Vinnie Perrera (ph). Vinnie Perrera, who I worked at the Quickstop, and we didn't talk to each other for like four, five months as I was working there. I'd be like, hey, Vinnie, he's like, uh-huh. Real emo kid, went right in the back, did his job, and then at night we'd close and walk away from each other. This was around the time of "Twin Peaks," and so I was recording it on VHS tapes. So I'd bring in the VCR, TV, and I'd sit there and watch "Twin Peaks," man. And Vinnie comes in one night, and for the first time in six months he stops dead and he said, "you like Lynch?" David Lynch? Oh, I love David Lynch. I love "Twin Peaks," and I was a big fan of "Blue Velvet" and stuff like that. And suddenly, that began this friendship, and we started talking. He talked about wanting to be a filmmaker. And I'd never met anyone like that before.

You know, my brother is gay, he's been gay forever, since he was born, but he's been married to a dude for 20 years. He didn't wait for the country to be like, you can get married. He was like, I am going to marry who I want. He did it in a Unitarian church 20 years ago. He talks about the moment he realized he was gay, like the moment it all fit and what not, and he was talking to other people, and it makes it even more clear when you talk to other cats who have similar, like- minded feelings to yourself. That's what I kind of had with Vincent. It was like coming out in film, because suddenly it was like meeting a guy in the bathroom and tapping under the stall, like we had this thing in common, like you like Lynch? You know? I like Lynch.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: You're (inaudible).

SMITH: Very, like this, totally, you know? I'd worked the bar. So suddenly I had this buddy, like I had friends and we'd talk movies, but this guy talked film, he was like my first film school teacher. So he wanted to make films, and I was like, I can write, I'll write the movies, you make them. This will be great.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: How did you know you can write?

SMITH: My sister, when I was a little boy, my sister, I saw her with this composition notebook she was always writing in. And one day I grabbed it from her and I opened, and there was all this writing. You know, like, all work no play makes Jack a dull boy. Just pages and pages of writing and stuff. And I was like, what is this? She's like, I'm writing a book. I'm like, what do you mean you're writing a book? She is like, I'm just writing a book about me and my friends. We go on an adventure. And I'm like, you can't just write a book. Like what will the government say? Like, you know, I didn't understand. Because I was like, this is a book, and I had books all around me. And I was like, this is not a book. And she's like, anybody can write a book, Kevin. Like these books had been published, but before they were this, they were this. And I was like, huh. So it always kind of lodged in my mind, like anybody can do this, anybody can write.

So years later, we're going to go see my relatives, and I hated going to see my relatives. We'd always do it on the weekends. So I started writing on the big electric typewriter. These kind of like Gene Sheppard-esque (ph) essays about going to my relatives house. Everything is larger than life and they're all monsters and stuff like that to some degree, very satirical for a young age. I think I was about 11 at this point. So I typed one up, it was about five pages, and I gave it to my brother. First audience member I ever had. And he was like, what are you doing? I said, I'm writing this story. And he's just like, you can't just write a story. And I said, Virginia said we could do this kind of thing.

So here, take this. And so he read it and he started laughing, like on the first page, he started laughing. Then when he got to my descriptions of my aunts and stuff, he was laughing even more.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: How did you feel when you heard that?

SMITH: Amazing. That was like the waking up moment of the story teller. Film would come way later, but at this moment, I was like, writing. I can write a story and I can get this kind of reaction. I respected my brother, still do. He's four years older than me to the day. I was born on his birthday.

My sister was born August 10, one year prior to that, we got five years between us. So my parents loved to have sex in November.

So I looked up to him.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: New Jersey, November, what else are you going to do?

SMITH: Totally. It's also after every election, like we lost, let's do it.


SMITH: So I always looked up to him, and the fact that I could make him laugh. This is magic, this is what I want. So I always thought I'd be a writer. When I went to college, in New York, I went for writing. My biggest dream was I wanted to write for "Saturday Night Live." I was a huge SNL fan. So I was living in New York, I was just like every day after class, I'll walk uptown, sit in the lobby of 30 Rock and wait to be discovered. Just thought Lorne Michaels would walk by and be like, that fat kid is hysterical, you know? And the journey would begin.


SMITH: Never happened.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Did you ever even see him? SMITH: I never even saw famous people, dude. Like I never saw anybody coming out. I was like, are you sure this is where it all happens? So I eventually gave that up, and never thought about working at SNL after that. Like I kind of crashed and burned in my mind in New York in 1989 after I graduated high school in '88. I went to try to accomplish something and checked out early. I started hanging out with my friends, Walter and Brian at that point, Walter and Brian in particularly was the guy that was like, here, man, read comics. He gave me a copy of Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns." I used to love them as a kid, but now I am like, this is what a comic book is now? The next thing Walter gives me is hockey. He's a huge Devils fans. They've been in our state for about seven years at that point. And so he was an ardent follower, and so he taught me about hockey, he also taught me how to play hockey. So it was those friendships, man, that kind of fueled everything. And it's 20 years ago now.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Stick around. More with Kevin right after this.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: More with the man behind "Chasing Amy," "Mallrats" and "Dogma," next.



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Welcome back. We're hanging out with Kevin Smith. Your parents didn't dig what you did for a living, right?

SMITH: No. Not at first. They didn't quite understand it. We didn't come from doers or anything like that. My parents, wonderful people.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Unless it's November.

SMITH: Yes. Then they were doing it like crazy, as we found out.

But they weren't like real achievers. My mom stayed at home to take care of the kids, my dad worked at the post office. A government job. So my parents were like products of the like, get a job, pay for your dream, which is to get married, have kids.

So when I said, hey, I want to be a filmmaker, they weren't like, absolutely not, they just thought it was like some phase I'd go through. And they knew it was an expensive phase, because like that doesn't sound cheap or anything like that. But I didn't bug them for money. You know? I had credit cards that I kind of put together in a contest with my friend Brian Johnson to see who could get more credit cards and stuff like that. And I'd amassed about 12, you know, because I worked at RST (ph) Video, the video store in "Clerks," and I would put on my application that I was the manager of RST Video and I made $50,000 a year. So they would call that number, which is RST, and I would answer, and I'd be like, hello. And they were like, yes, we're checking, doing the finance check on Kevin Smith. I was like, oh, our manager? He makes $50,000 a year.


SMITH: They were, good to know, thanks. So they would send me credit cards like crazy. And I would never use them, because my parents were like, don't use plastic, we're cash-only family. And then one day, I was like, oh, maybe I can use these to finance the dream.

So my parents, you know, their mind-set -- I talked to my brother at one point, I was like, what does mom and dad say about me doing this movie stuff? And my brother said, they say you'll get it out of your system, you'll wind up working at a restaurant or something like that.

I was like, OK, good to know, they have a backup plan for me.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: That didn't piss you off?

SMITH: Not at all. Why would they -- I might as well have gone into my parents and said, I'm going to go to the moon and be an astronaut. It was so outside of the realm of possibility for our world. So for them, I'm sure they were just like, here he goes again. But when it mattered, when I really needed them, they came through, in a big bad pinch. We had been using credit cards to pay for everything right up until the time we were about to start. Spirit Corps (ph), the company we rented our equipment from, we rented this old RESR2 (ph), very loud camera, a 16 millimeter. We had to pay cash for it. They wouldn't take credit cards. And I did not have cash, man. So it was going to be $3,000 to rent the camera for three weeks.

So I turned to my parents and I was just like, look, if we don't do this, this is the crucial part. Like we've got everything ready. I've got Scott Mojer, my producer, Dave Klein (ph) has flown out to make this movie, we rehearsed, but we can't shoot it without cameras. Like do you guys have any loot? My parents like didn't have a lot of money. I think at that point, my father was making maybe like 21k a year, something like that. So my parents were like, we've got 3 grand, and that's all we got. That's our nest egg and that's everything. So I was like, if you can spare it, I'll try to get it back.

So they gave me the cash. They believed enough to be like, here. But you know, when they finally saw the movie, my mom wasn't like oh, my God, you've done it, my son! Not at all. Not at all. I showed them the flick, and after the credits rolled, I was like, what do you think? And my mom is like, you spent $28,000 on that piece of garbage? Because all anyone does is curse. That's the first thing she said. She's like, everyone is going to think that I taught you all those horrible words. She thought it would reflect on her.

So when the movie got picked up, we went to Sundance and what not, when it first got into the festival, then she was like oh, is this something? And I was explaining like it's kind of a big deal. Everyone knows what Sundance is now; then not so much. So I was explaining, like this is a good thing. They only pick 16 movies, and we were one of them. Like what are the chances, man? They had 400 entries. That's got to mean something good. And I've heard of movies going to Sundance like "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and being picked up. So I don't know, maybe it's in the cards for us or something like that. So suddenly there was kind of hope, and my mom was like, oh, that's interesting. Like, people like this movie of yours, even though they curse so much? I'm like, ma, they like it because they curse so much.


SMITH: So I went to Sundance, and then the rest was kind of history, man. Like, Harvey Weinstein bought the flick. And I remember calling my mom as soon as the deal was done, and I was like, you can rest easy, I'm going to give you back your money, I'm going to pay off all my credit cards. She's like, what happened? I was like, that man, Harvey Weinstein, Miramax, they bought the movie. She was like, oh, my God, thank God he has such bad taste.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: And none of that ever held you back?

SMITH: No. It was always done with affection. She was never like one of these parents to kick you when you're down or something like that.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: What about your dad? What about your dad?

SMITH: Dad was different. Dad was the kind of guy, who -- he was very supportive, but not like you can follow your dreams, son. Do anything you want in life. Like, my parents weren't from that school of thought. My father was the kind of guy who was like, see that mountain, son? Never climb it.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Stick around. More with Kevin after this.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Next on STROUMBOULOPOULOS, lots to talk about still with Kevin Smith.



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: We're back here. We've got Kevin Smith with us. So your father is -- ten years since your father passed away?

SMITH: We just passed the ten-year anniversary. And we come from a pretty Catholic family. So as much as you celebrate people's birthdays, you also like mark the day they die. You leave this calendar in my kitchen growing up, and my friends would come over and they were like, you know a lot of people with birthdays, because my mom would write on the calendar. And I was like, those people are dead. Those are all relatives who've passed away. So it's like Aunt Connie's anniversary, Aunt Marie's anniversary. So death was always a big thing in our house. And my mom from a young age was always very terrified of death. I guess she went to Catholic school when she was a kid, and the nuns put the fear of death in her in a big, bad way. Not a negative like beating her with rulers way, but they didn't quite, you know, explain the concept of death well enough to her satisfaction that it didn't leave her terrified and clutching the coach in fear.

So we were raised in a real fear-based environment. You know, we pulled our shades and curtains down at night. My father, like, didn't want anyone looking in the house. We were all home by 5:00, and what not, lock the doors. Even though we lived in an insanely safe bedroom community. So I came from people that were kind of very obsessed with death. And then my mother eventually, she was on the table and she died during an operation. She was getting a stent put in her heart, and she died, and she went out for like three minutes. And I talked to her about it, what was it like? And because for her she had been so terrified of dying her whole life, right? I said, what was it? She goes, well, first thing I felt was like all the pressure was gone, like I suddenly felt like, I don't owe anybody anything. Or I am not responsible for anything. She was like, I felt so at peace. I was like, did you see a light and stuff like that? She goes no, I was just kind of floating. I was like, did you see dead people? She goes no, but I knew I was dead.

So I'm trying to explain like the latest theories to my mother and stuff and things I've read, and my mom is like, I don't know how else to explain it, but she is going, I was insanely comforted. I had been scared my whole life, but the peace that I felt, she was going, I really enjoyed that. And that came at a time when it was essential, because my father would pass away a couple of years later, and that was her best friend in life. They didn't have a network of people they hung out with. They lived for each other and for their kids. So when he left, like if she hadn't gone through that experience herself of knowing oh, he'll be at peace or whatever, I don't think she could have made the transition to being a widow as well as she did. And even that took five years.

He died in a kind of wonderful, epic way. We were at dinner all together, the whole family, we were in Philadelphia. I was there at a ComicCon, I was doing a Q and A. Whole family was there, my brother, my sister, my mom and my dad. Afterwards, we'd all go out to eat at Morton's that night, the steakhouse, get a back room, and we're sitting around the table, having a great time. Dad was just sitting back, enjoying the heck out of it. You can tell. Like as a parent now, it's very easy to read, like they were like, we did it. We kept all three of these from being dead.


SMITH: Like that's your job as a parent.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: And they like each other.

SMITH: Yes. They were like, they're getting along, they like us, we like them, and they're alive. We're done. You know? Such a fantastic night. And what we didn't notice was my old man, who had health problems, he had a couple of heart attacks, a stroke as well, fought diabetes his whole life, diabetes won quite often . The whole night he's eating fillet mignon, he is having like a sneak of cheesecake while we're all talking. He's like, that's really funny, and he's eating some cheesecake. He threw back a couple of Manhattans, and stuff like that. So he had himself a real good old meal, and you could tell -- he was laughing. He enjoyed what he put together with this woman he met like he felt really good about it and stuff. So we finished the meal, put him in a cab, I was going to a different hotel, and I was going to see him the next day. So I kissed him and said I'll see you guys tomorrow, have a good night, and they went off.

And then I got a phone call like 5:00, 6:00 in the morning, and it was my brother. He called my hotel room, he was like, hello, and he's just like, you got to get down to the hospital. I said, what are you talking about? He is like, dad is in the hospital, get down to the hospital. There's a hospital at Longmat (ph), or something like that. So I hang up, and my wife is like, what's the matter? I was like, oh, my dad's in the hospital again. She was like, do you know where it is? I think it's on -- let me go find it, it's a couple of blocks away. I jump in the cab. And she's like, do you want me to go? I was like, stay, it's fine, he's always in there.

So I get to the hospital, I walk into the emergency room door and I saw the scariest thing I ever saw in my life. My mother terrified and bargaining with God. I had seen my mother cry before, and I'd seen her be panicked and I'd seen her be worried and stuff. I had never seen this. She was sweating bullets, crying, just white as a ghost. And I could see her and she could see me when I came in, and I was like, hey. And she said, Tiger. And immediately -- because that's what she calls me -- and immediately went back into oh, Jesus, God, no, please, not now. Please, Jesus, not now. Like really emotional and stuff.

So I am looking at her and I looked to my brother, and my brother, you know, because my mother is turned now, and my brother is embracing her. So I got my brother's face (inaudible), and I look at my brother and my brother just gives it to me, and goes. And suddenly, I was like, no. And I go to the back where in the emergency room they lay out people and stuff, and there was a nurse there and she goes, come on in.

And my father is laid out on a stretcher, and he had an intubation tube in him and stuff, still, has a raincoat on the floor (ph), man, he's just gone, no life in him.

You know, I had experienced death, I had lost relatives and stuff, but not someone who is so vital and whom I had just seen hours before, a living mass of person, having a great time and stuff.

So I'd always spend time with my father growing up watching a lot of TV. We only had like three channels in those days. One of them would play "Bowling for Dollars." So we would always watch "Bowling for Dollars," and he would lay kind of on his back on the floor looking at the TV this way, and I would lay on top of his belly, like this, watching the TV. And I was just struck by like, this is it. At this point, I was like 33 years old. I was like, you're a 33-year-old man who is never going to have the chance to do this again. You're not going to weird him out if you're like, dad, can I lay on your belly? Because he ain't here anymore, go for it. And I just laid on his belly for the first time in a lot of years, and I was like, I'm alone, that's it, he's gone.

So I went out, I saw my mom, and she was still processing it. And I went outside to have a cigarette. I was a cigarette smoker in those days. So I go -- my brother comes out, and I have a smoke, and I offer him one, he's not a smoker. And I said oh, right, we're half orphans now. I said, we're halfway to Batman. I was trying to make fun. And he goes, yeah, I guess so. I said, what was it like? Because my brother was there, sharing a room with my parents. And he goes, dad died screaming. And I said, what? He goes, dad died screaming. I said, what does that mean? He's like, don't know how to make it any more clear. He's like, he woke up, he was complaining to mom, like sharply he got right up, he was like, I'm hot, Grace, I'm hot, and he was pushing the sheets off him. And my mom was like, I don't understand, we got the air conditioning on, like I'll get you water. She went to get him water, he bolted straight up in bed and he was doing this stuff, and she was like, Donald, something is going on with your dad. My dad, my brother got in there. And he went to the bed, he was like, are you all right? My dad wasn't responding, and he was holding my dad, and he said my dad seized up and he was screaming right at the end. He was just ahh, went down like screaming as if he was on a plane, and then gone.

And that profoundly impacted me. Life doesn't care how cool you are. Life doesn't care that you made "Clerks." Life doesn't care if you're a hero. You're going to go out that way. And I realized there's no point in this life in not trying to accomplish even the stupidest, dopiest dreams that you have. Because you get one shot at it.

Now, if you're someone out there going, my dopey dream is to kill children, I'm not talking to you.


SMITH: Don't do that.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Thank you so much. Kevin Smith. We'll be right back.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: When you make black America better, you make all of America better. So said Tavis Smiley, and we have him in the red chair, next.



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Welcome back to the program. So the guy sitting beside me has done it all. He is a broadcaster, a New York Times best- seller, he's a CEO, he's a philanthropist, and when I first heard of him, it was him as a radio guy, a live call-in guy. And now he's returning to his roots and he's back doing that one. And I dig him so much. Tavis Smiley is here. Welcome, man.

SMILEY: Thank you, man.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: How are you. Congratulations.

SMILEY: Thank you. Thank you.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: True story, when CNN and I agreed that we were going to do this program, when I came down here to meet and they said, who do you want on? One of the first names I said, was Tavis, we've got to get Tavis Smiley on the program. Because you've been able to kind of build a career sort of outside the mainstream, yet be mainstream. Has it felt that way to you?

SMILEY: One of the things I love about being on PBS for 10 years now and 2,000 shows is I get a chance to put people in their comfort zone. On shows like these, at our best, we use these platforms to introduce Americans to each other.

Harrison Ford famously in this town doesn't like to sit for conversations, and he came to see me. And his body language was all -- he sat in a chair like this. Leaned all like this. It was clear to me he didn't want to be there. It was nothing against me personally, I'd never met him at this occasion.

So rather than try to fight that for a 30-minute conversation, I just leaned in like you are right now, and I said, you don't really want to be here, do you? You hate these conversations. Tell me why, why do you hate them? He said no, I don't hate them. Yes, you do, I can tell by your body language, you really don't want to do this. So if you don't want to do this, then why do it? He said, I'll tell you why I hate these interviews. I hate them for this, I hate them for this, I hate them for this, I am tired of being asked about Callista (ph) everywhere I go. I can't talk about my project or what matters to me, and he started to open up about why he really hated interviews.

By the time we got to the end, he was singing like a humming bird. Because you have to put people in their comfort zone. To let them express what's in their heart, what's in their soul, and when you do that, conversations become great.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I want to go back a little bit. Because we just recently passed -- there was a big anniversary of Denver Smith, talk about the killing of Denver.

SMILEY: The thing that got me involved in wanting to be a change agent and wanting to be involved politically, to your question, and socially and culturally was losing a friend to a police shooting. Now, they shot Denver Smith -- I was a student at Indiana University.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: He was a ball player, right?

SMILEY: He was a football player, a great football player, and they shot Denver what, 21 times, mostly in his back, and said it was in self-defense. I was a student leader and I was involved and I would speak out about various issues, but this was the issue that really got me. In every one of our lives, I believe hopefully for you, it's not your friend being shot and killed by the cops, but in every one of our lives, something ought to happen that makes us decide I want to do more with my life than just chase success. I want to be great. As Americans, George, whether we're Republican or Democrat, white or black, rich or poor, urban or suburban, Christian or atheist, we all want the same thing, to live in a nation that will one day be as good as its promise.

There's a report called the Rasmussen report, where they found that a slight majority of Americans now believe that our best days as a nation are behind us. So we have got to do something about the hopelessness amongst all people, black, white, red, brown and yellow. There's a hopelessness quotient that's rising in this country, that we have to do something about.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Your radio show is going to be part of it, because you're taking phone calls. And I think much of what's happened in the news talk and political talk has become about partisanship. So I think that's an important component. Are you looking forward to talking to Americans that way again?

SMILEY: I am excited. The PBS show is great. But I'm talking -- letting people talk to the nation.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: (inaudible) radio guy, let's go back, look at his radio picture here. I love this, wait. Look at that man.

SMILEY: That's an old one. We call that the high top phase.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I love that. (inaudible). I'm going for that.

SMILEY: Remember "House Party?"


SMILEY: That was my tribute to it. I don't have that anymore, but that was my (inaudible).

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Kid and Play were influential.

SMILEY: Yeah, they made their mark.

I've always loved radio. I love TV, but I love radio. Radio gives you time, you get a chance to get into the good stuff. And this (inaudible), this Tavis Smiley network allows me to talk to people on the radio, to hear their points of views, to engage in some discourse, but it also allows me, since it's a network, it's not just me, it's the Tavis Smiley network, to produce other talk show hosts. So I'm loving this opportunity to expose the nation to other people who I think have something to say and let them have their voice, as well. That's what I mean by what BlogTalk Radio does. To democratize the airwaves.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: I was thinking about this in a couple of contexts. When I interviewed Bob Newhart, he said to me that a Richard Pryor record was a window into a neighborhood you never saw. Then Chuck D said hip hop or rap music was the CNN of the ghetto, his words. So using pop culture today, if someone put on a hip-hop radio station, or listen to whatever, what are they learning about the culture?

SMILEY: That's a scary question. That's a scary question. I'm going to give you my honest and authentic answer. I believe that hip-hop is still a viable art form, but it's not what it used to be. I think that everything in music, and you are a music guy more than -- I love music, but you're really a music guy. Everything about music is cyclical. And I think overtime, you come back around and people understand that there's nothing wrong with music having a message and a beat and being funky, and being soulful. You can do all that in one piece. Marvin Gaye is a good example, where not everything you do has to be socially redemptive.


SMILEY: Marvin sang "What's Going on," but he also sang "Let's Get It on."


SMILEY: So everything does not have to be socially redemptive.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: One often feeds into the other.

SMILEY: Absolutely.


STROUMBOULOPOULOS: So let's say it's 2:00 in the morning, you're having a moment. You've got a go-to song. Set the mood. Press play on the phone or however you listen, drop the needle.

SMILEY: What am I going to?

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Listen, Tavis, I -- your dream night. It's your choice.

SMILEY: 2:00 in the morning.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Yes, it's good, you don't have to get up in the morning.

SMILEY: Oh, OK. I ain't got to get up. It's hard. There's a lot of good stuff to choose from, but it is hard, really hard to beat "Adore" by Prince.


SMILEY: Oh, the lyrics to that song. One day God struck me blind, your beauty I would still see. Because that's just what you mean to me. Oh, Jesus, help me.

STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Tavis Smiley, everybody!



STROUMBOULOPOULOS: -- with you again tonight.