‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’ Goes Down in a, You Know, Pleasurable Way

Zack and Miri Make a Porno movie poster

Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is the first movie he made which takes place outside of New Jersey. Instead, he takes us to Pittsburgh where we follow the exploits of the title characters who share an apartment and have been the best of friends since they were kids. When we first meet them, their lives are hanging by a thread as they are behind on all their bills, and soon after they lose their water and electricity. Both work at a Starbucks-like shop called Bean n’ Gone where they waste their lives away like those two guys from “Clerks. “Sound like anyone you know?

These two end up going to their high school reunion where Miri ends up connecting with her biggest crush, football hero Bobby Long (Brandon Routh), in the hopes of having a nice little fling. She has yet to find Bobby doesn’t “swing that way.” This soon becomes clear as we see Zack talking with Bobby’s boyfriend, Brandon (Justin Long, who is frackin’ hilarious), who reveals to Zack he is in fact an actor in gay porno films, the stuff Zack doesn’t quite fit the demographic for.

Later on, when both Zack and Miri are in very dire straits, Zack comes up with the idea of the two of them doing a porno. Miri is not quite up to the idea, but the way Zack sees it, porno is now so mainstream that even Paris Hilton (albeit unintentionally) did one and now hawks her own line of perfume to “tweens.” They end up committing to it despite one thing; they have never had sex with each other before. The way they saw it beforehand was they get along so great that they both believe sex will just get in the way of the friendship they have a la “When Harry Met Sally.” Of course, you can’t help but get the feeling Zack would love an opportunity to get up close and personal with Miri, you know?

There’s this line from “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones” which keeps floating around in my head of when Anakin meets up with Padme again and tells her how she has grown more beautiful since the last time they were together. To this, Padme replies, “Anakin, you’ll always be that little boy I remember from Tatooine.” I totally remember the audiences groaning after she said this, and the line kind of sums up the relationship between Zack and Miri, and we feel we have a pretty good idea of where their relationship will end up.

Zack is played Seth Rogen who, for a moment, appeared to be Smith’s new man crush since Ben Affleck was far too busy with his acting career at the time. Rogen is perfect as he handles the raunchy and profane material of the movie with the confidence of a pro, and at the same time he projects a sweet side to his character which really wins the audience over. Elizabeth Banks (“W.“) plays Miri who stays close to Zack throughout their hardships and spends nights with him in front of a trash can in which all their unpaid bills are burned to a crisp. The chemistry between these two is very good, and they play off of each other really well.

In addition, Smith has rounded out a great cast to keep the laughs going throughout this ode to porn. Some of his regulars show up here like Jason Mewes who plays Lester, a hopelessly dense individual who also yearns to be a porn star. Another is Jeff Anderson (the immortal Randal Graves from “Clerks”) who plays Deacon the cameraman. How he manages to get a movie out of all this insanity is beyond me.

Smith even goes out of his way to even cast actual porno stars as well. The most noticeable one is Katie Morgan who has been featured on some documentaries on HBO about her career (how I know this, I refuse to reveal). She is as perky here as she is in those interviews, and her cheerful presence here is kind of a surprise compared to other actresses in her line of work. Traci Lords co-stars as well, and she shows us an amazing new way to blow bubbles. A former porn actress herself, Lords has long since escaped adult entertainment and has dived into the bad taste escapades of John Waters to a delightful effect. Both of the actresses being in this movie should show just how mainstream porn is getting and of how much this scares conservative politicians to death.

But one of the truly scene stealing performances in this movie belongs to Craig Robinson who plays the producer of the porno, Delaney. Robinson is a big kick to watch here as he delivers his lines in a terrifically deadpan manner. At once disgusted at what he has been hired to do, Delaney suddenly becomes incredibly enthusiastic when he realizes he gets to do. He also has a pretty hilarious response to when he is asked to work “Black Friday,” and it serves as a reminder of how some people take things a little too literally.

Smith also has loads of fun skewering the porn films we know from our past but never really admit to ever having watched. Zack and Miri end up coming up with the title “Star Whores” for their porno, and this in reference to how so many of these pornos are typically named after Hollywood blockbusters. See if any of these remind you of anything (some of these I made up):

“Pulp Friction”

“Robocock”

“The Hard Knight”

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Boner” (Justin Long’s character could easily be cast in this one.)

Smith directs this movie to those who are more familiar with pornos than they would ever admit during a sales pitch. It’s also an ode to when he started as a filmmaker all those years ago with “Clerks.” Using a hockey stick as a boom mike holder? You can believe he utilized things like these to get his first movie done.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is not as consistently funny as some of Smith’s other movies like “Clerks” or “Dogma” among others. Like “Jersey Girl,” it follows a certain formula to where we pretty much know where the story is going to end up. At the same time, he gleefully skewers the formula by adding his own brand of raunchy humor. There was one moment I laughed so hard that I almost passed out, something which does not always happen if at all. I fell over, the color went out of my eyes for a second, and things got fuzzy. Yes, that’s how hard I was laughing. I refuse to spoil this particular moment for you, but I will say I will never look at cake frosting in the same way ever again.

Smith also makes clear the difference between having sex and making love, and this difference is made clear at a pivotal moment in the movie which changes everything for the characters. There’s the one nighter, and then there’s the sex which reveals true feelings and which proves to be more than extraordinary. I may not be an expert on the subject for reasons I will plead the fifth on, but I do know this much. Smith, after all these years, still gives us down to earth characters which shows how he has not come even close to forgetting where he came from.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” may not be the best movie of Kevin Smith’s career, but it definitely has its moments of utter hilarity. It also shows there is more to him than making movies in New Jersey. By making a break from his usual comic territory, we can and should expect him to go beyond his comfort zone for a good dose of naughty laughs filled with heart from here on out.

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Exclusive Interview with Karl Glusman about Gaspar Noe’s ‘Love 3D’

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As many will expect, Gaspar Noe’s film “Love” is full of nudity and sex, much of it unsimulated. However, it is also his most personal film as he explores the power love can have over people and how it can be mesmerizing and yet so painful at the same time. Karl Glusman stars as Murphy, a young film student who is in a deeply romantic and sexual relationship with Electra (Aomi Muyock). Then one day they invite another young woman, Omi (Klara Kristin), to their bed to fulfill a sexual fantasy, and soon after everything falls apart. Murphy ends up having sex with Omi which leads to an unplanned pregnancy, and Electra ends their relationship as a result. In the process of trying to get her back, Murphy reflects on the highs and lows of his time with Electra as he sinks into a deep depression.

I got to talk with Glusman over the phone about what it was like to work on “Love.” It marks his debut in a live-action film, and he has since been cast in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” and Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals.” Many have asked Glusman about what it was like to be fully naked throughout “Love,” but I was more interested in finding out what it was like for him to give such an emotionally naked performance. He also described in detail the way Noe makes his movies, and he shared his experience of working with Refn on “The Neon Demon.”

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Ben Kenber: “Love” is a very hypnotic movie as most Gaspar Noe movies are. The thing I admired most about your performance is how it is more emotionally naked than physically naked, and that’s something I hope people will realize when they watch it. Just how emotionally taxing was the role of Murphy for you?

Karl Glusman: You are the first person to ask me that because the focus is always kind of on the flesh. It was tough. Gaspar liked to surprise us a lot. He wouldn’t tell us what we were going to shoot the day we were shooting. He would kind of put us into position and let us run for 45 minutes at a time and then change the cameras around. There would be screaming at each other and spitting on each other. In Paris I was alone and I didn’t really know anybody, and I don’t really speak very good French at all. I could understand a little more by the end than when we started shooting, but when you are doing stuff like this you become part of a smaller group of people that really understands the work you are doing. It’s hard to talk to friends back home about it because they don’t really know what you’re going through. You feel a little isolated. It’s hard to talk to people about it when they have no concept of what you’re doing. There were definitely times where I felt kind of crazy. I felt like Gaspar was really having a laugh like he was sort of manic and he’s like the master manipulator. I had a nightmare before I went over to France and before he even hired me. In my dream I was in sort of a spherical compartment. The walls were lined with cameras from every angle, and I was being shaken and tossed around. That sort of in a nutshell was what the experience was like at times because he really asked a lot of his actors. He wanted you to cry, he wanted you to strip down naked, he wanted you to scream and spit on each other, and he tried to charm you constantly and get you to fall in love with each other and didn’t really allow you to prepare for it because there is no script. How do you prepare for something like that? You kind of just have to take a breath and jump off a cliff and hope that the parachute is going to open at some point.

BK: I read that you and the actresses didn’t have any dialogue to work with. How would you go about preparing to do a scene with Gaspar?

KG: I’ll take you through one day of shooting. Without giving any of the plot away, there was one day where I got up, I had my little coffee in the morning, I’m waiting for the car to pick me up to take me to set and I get a call from Gaspar and he’s like, “Hey I’m at a café not too far from you. Can you come over and meet me here?” I said, “Yeah but the car is coming to pick me up like right now.” And he’s like, “Oh no, no, no, I called them and I told them not to get you. Just come over to the café which is a couple of blocks down on the left and meet me there. There is somebody I want you to meet.” Okay, so I walk over to the café and there is a young guy there whose name is Juan and he’s actually in the movie. Juan didn’t know it, but Gaspar wanted to put him in the movie so he has me meet him to see if he can play my best friend. So I meet that guy and he’s like nice and we talked for a minute. He had done this with a couple of other actors and I tried to give him the thumbs up. And he turns to Juan says, “So can you come by to the set today for a little screen test? Would you be cool with that?” The guy was like, “Sure, cool.” Gaspar then said, “Cool, just make sure you’re not late.” So then we go to set and a couple hours later Juan shows up and he thinks that he’s just doing a little audition or something, and both the cameras are set up. I don’t know what the shot’s going to be, neither does Gaspar, neither does Benoît Debie (the director of photography). They (Gaspar and Benoît) play with the lights for 45 minutes before they find a shot that they like, and that’s literally how they work. He just knew that if he put me in this position or if he put her in that position, then maybe he could match cut it with a different scene. He is giving himself options in the editing room. And then before Juan knows it he’s signing his NDA and he’s cast in the movie, and like 10 minutes later I’m like screaming at him that I’m going to kill him for like fucking my girlfriend and this and that. It was like that the whole time. We wouldn’t have an actor cast and he’d say we gotta go find an actor, and we would go out that night and go trolling the bars looking for someone who might be able to play the police commissioner and then we would run it through Vincent Maraval, our producer at Wild Bunch. Gaspar would tell them, “Hey you should be in the movie” and they were like “nah, nah, nah.” And Gaspar was like, “No, no, no, you should show up tomorrow.” And that’s how it was. Gaspar would have friends show up on set and make cameos, and it was all very, very improvised, very in the moment, very immediate. The whole nature of the movie and in terms of his process is surprising himself, surprising everybody around him and kind of not planning. That’s kind of the way it was with him. It was just like go, go, go and you never knew what you were going to get that day. His whole mantra was every day is Christmas. What do you want for Christmas today? And I think that he kind of lives by that; that life is short and that the only promise that God ever made to man is that you’re going to die and you might as well enjoy it now because you don’t know what dreams may come.

BK: I imagine many people, especially in America, will be quick to dismiss “Love” as just a porno, but it really isn’t. What’s fascinating is how it portrays sex in its different forms.

KG: Yeah, sex is a necessary component to love. Let’s get real here; real love requires that. You can love someone without having sex with them, but if you are in love with someone, especially when you are young, you’d probably, I think, would want to have sex with them. The whole porno conversation is a bit of a joke and a bit of a marketing thing. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have gotten a lot out of this. They had an experience, and I think those who are patient with the film will see something much bigger than what they might assume is some raunchy porno. I would be hard-pressed to think that Pierre Rissient who runs the Cannes Film Festival would let some piece of trash into his festival. He has high standards usually.

BK: Your character of Murphy is very self-absorbed.

KG: Definitely (laughs).

BK: But that reminded me of how self-absorbed we can get when we are young or when we are in love. It’s like the outside world almost doesn’t exist and the movie does a very good job of making us remember a time like that in our own lives?

KG: He’s a bit of a bitter loser, not making films. He’s a young filmmaker guided by passion.

BK: While Murphy may not be altogether likable, we are still compelled to follow him throughout this movie. How did you approach this character?

KG: I went to school, I studied seriously and I had incredible teachers that I admire. I admire talented and great actors and I have no interest in just being in a porno. Gaspar Noe is someone who I consider to be a brilliant filmmaker and someone I always wanted to work with, and it was all about trusting him and his vision and being part of that. When we talked about the characters I was asking all these questions. Who is this guy? What is he like? What does he want? He’s so secretive and he’s always kind of withholding information. Gaspar was like, “Well he’s kind of like sort of a funny guy, kind of clever at this and that.” At one point he said, “Maybe is kind of like my friend Harmony Korine when he was younger but not so drugged out. He’s just kind of funny in that way.” Gaspar was always complaining that I was too sweet to the girls and said, “I want you to ravage them. I want you to do this.” And I always thought that since we were making what some people might think of as sort of a dirty movie that I should be really sweet and really kinder. I always would try to insert jokes. I was always trying to make the crew laugh as much as possible while we were rolling. It’s kind of my fantasy that 10 years down the line maybe Gaspar will let me have a crack at editing my own version so that I could release a 3-D comedy because I think there is an alternate version where there’s a very sweet, a very funny Murphy which was what I was trying to do. But in the end he didn’t want it to be too funny. He didn’t want Rock Hudson. He wanted someone who was more bitter and had a lot of contradictions and would say one thing and like and then go do something else just like real people, he said. At one point, Murphy has sex with another girl at a party while his girlfriend Electra is in the other room and I was like, what was that? That makes me a total liar and he said, “Yeah, just like real life. People lie and people cheat on each other.” And I really had a moment where I was like, “Yeah you’re right.” We’re really just trying to make something that really felt honest. It’s not the smoothest, most cinematic piece where someone turns to their close-up mark perfectly so that the lover turns their collar and walks off into the rain. It’s not like that. It’s messy and it’s meant to feel much more like an honest depiction of what he or I or our friends relate to.

BK: I kept thinking that your character was more or less based on Gaspar especially in the moment where Murphy says his favorite movie is “2001.”

KG: There’s definitely a lot of that. I’m wearing Gaspar’s clothes in many of the scenes like T-shirts that he didn’t even wash. I would smell like his armpits. And sometimes he wouldn’t like the color of my pants and he would just pull his pants off and we would switch right there. He decided keep my belt because we had slightly different waist sizes. A lot of the story came from his own experiences. Not everything. There are certain things like I don’t think Gaspar ever impregnated the wrong woman, the woman he wasn’t in love with. He drew from some of his friends’ experiences and took them apart and put them together to create this portrait of a love story and tried to hit all aspects of it that he could think of. But as you see, a lot of the characters’ names are… Noe is the gallery owner, Gaspar is the child, and Murphy is actually Gaspar’s mother’s maiden name. He wanted to make what he felt was his most personal film, so there are little tombstones there to his loved ones and friends with the characters’ names. But obviously there’s also visual inside jokes. You can see the model of the Love Hotel from “Enter the Void” somewhere in the movie. I even tried to do little things that I think he kind of got a kick out of. I would change the time on the clocks to Gaspar’s birthday. I pulled out the DVD case of “I Stand Alone” at one point. It’s nice to have those Easter eggs there.

BK: There are a lot of easter eggs throughout this movie. He has all these posters of movies he really likes and which had an effect on him as a filmmaker like “Taxi Driver.”

KG: He’s got a pretty amazing poster collection. He keeps them all sort of rolled up or laid flat. He doesn’t hang them up, but he’s got some really rare ones. That “M” poster that you see at one point in my room is one of four existing “M” posters in the world. I think the Nazis destroyed most of them, and that one is one of four and I think it’s like one the nicest condition ones. I think he goes and does a commercial and get a bunch of money and then blows it all on old movie posters.

BK: I imagine a lot of people tried to dissuade you from doing this movie because of the nudity involved and the potentially negative effect it could have on your career. But you have since been cast in movies directed by Tom Ford and Nicolas Winding Refn.

KG: Nic is awesome.

BK: Working with Nic was fun?

KG: Yeah I would love to plug Nic right now. He, like Gaspar, is an auteur. He has final cut, he works from a script too, and he’s just one of these interesting guys who can paint his own picture. You’re not gonna tell him like, “No I need more green on this. I don’t like that. You need to change that.” He is someone who doesn’t like to be told what to do but however, like Gaspar, he is a collaborator and he’s very inclusive. When I was cast, I had this sort of blank canvas. I told him anyone can do this part and he said, “Karl if we cast you then you and I will build this character together and we will make it something.” And he was bringing me over to his house for meetings along with the other actors. He always asked everybody, what do you think of this? How do you think this should happen? What do you think you should do in the scene? Where should you be from, or how do you feel about that? And Nicolas shoots chronologically which is cool because then you can change where the story goes. I think the ending of the movie is completely different now than the draft I read initially before auditioning for it. He doesn’t know where he’s going, he doesn’t know what’s going to be, so that’s what’s exciting. So in a way I guess in a way he is similar to Gaspar like that in the sense of he wants to surprise himself. I think that’s pretty fun. I think Hitchcock was once quoted as saying “shooting a movie is the least exciting part of making a movie” because he already knew what everything was going to look like whereas I think these two filmmakers were talking about how that in a way they had no idea where they were going. They both want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I think Gaspar was really happy with the end product. He said it came out much better than he ever thought, and I think that was in big part because of hiring Aomi who I think is just lovely and just fantastic in the movie and Klara who’s just so brave as well. I think these girls were just so generous and so joyful on set, and we got something much better than what he ever anticipated. And Nic and I have stayed in touch. He needled me a little bit saying that just a hang tight and that we were going to make another movie together, and I told him he can’t fuck with me like that. If we’re going to bed and we’re gonna fuck then we better fuck. Let’s not talk about it. He once said that making a movie with an actor is like going to bed with them because you make this baby with a big movie.

BK: It sounds like “Love” has had a very positive effect on your career so far. How would you describe the overall effect it has had?

KG: Well I mean it’s just kind of like a more immediate and obvious level. I met Tom Ford at Cannes, and so I happened to be in the same venue as him and talked to him about his movie. A couple of months went by before he hired me, but that meeting led to a job. Gaspar actually called Nic Refn personally in front of me and sold him the movie and told him to hire me. He gave me this ridiculous pitch which sounded better than any agent saying “he is the most daring and most professional actor in the world!” I don’t know if he went out on a limb but he didn’t have to do that, and his recommendation meant a lot to Nicolas because Nicolas has a lot of respect for Gaspar. And the movie resonates with certain filmmakers and certain actors who I admire and would love to work with some day. The movie has had nothing but a positive effect. My mother, she cried when I told her that we were going to go to Cannes. That was a big deal for her that her son might get to go to a big international film festival like that. I always wanted to do things that made my mother proud of me and cheer her up. When I was a little kid actually I think that was kind of the first thing that got me into acting is when my parents split up. I used to entertain my mom in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans and putting a chef’s hat on my head and pretending to have a cooking show. I called it Thor’s Kitchen because my mom was really into Norse mythology and I would make imaginary recipes in front of her and try to make her laugh. I think she has always been the driving force for me. So although she hasn’t seen this movie yet, and it will probably be some time before she does, she’s very proud of it and I think my dad kind of understands it better than some people too that there is a theory to cinema. Not every movie is just entertainment. Some movies have political messages or social messages. Some movies have an ambition to do a little bit more than just entertaining for an hour and a half while you’re chewing on popcorn.

BK: And some movies are meant to be an experience more than anything else

KG: Exactly, and this is one of them. It is not an experience for everybody, but some people will like it a lot hopefully.

I want to thank Karl Glusman for taking the time to talk with me. Special thanks also goes to WooJae Chung for the use of his photo at the top of Glusman which comes from his film “Consilience.” Gaspar Noe’s “Love” is now available to own, watch and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

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