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SMITH, KEVIN: Chasing Amy

One of the big hits at this year's Sundance Film Festival was Chasing Amy - the story of a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian. It's the third and most successful film for writer/director Kevin Smith who breaks new ground with this unusual slant on a popular genre. At the Festival, PAUL FISCHER spoke to director Smith as well as the film's hot new stars, Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck for some personal observations on this film.

In a smoke filled bar at Sundance, Kevin Smith, director of the new boy-meets-dyke comedy, Chasing Amy, admits his successor to Clerks and Mallrats, is semi-autobiographical - up to a point. "I guess it's somewhat semi-autobiographical except that I don't recall ever falling in love with a lesbian."

The film revolves around two close friends, Holden and Banky who are authors of a popular comic book called "Bluntman and Chronic" (based on Jay and Silent Bob of Clerks and Mallrats fame). Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in love with Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), also a comic book artist, who happens to be a lesbian. Holden's new relationship with Alyssa strains his life-long friendship with Banky, and soon the relationship between Holden and Alyssa hits a wall due to Holden not being able to deal with her unexpected past.

"The Holden character is very close to who I am and who I was." Smith tackles a very controversial subject, and admits that it was something of a risk to do a film involving a heterosexual in love and in bed with a lesbian. "It's a very ballsy movie as much as there is a white, straight male taking on these gay-themed topics that we address in the film. So what I wanted to do was get beyond what's superficial here and get to the heart of the movie. It's a movie that you view from the heart, as opposed to the head. If you approach it from the head, you're going to find lots of road blocks about these issues. You'll probably even say to yourself: how dare he make that sorts of assumption about a community he's not a part of. "

Indeed, Smith adds, part of the challenge of writing this script "was that I was writing for cultures that I'm so clearly not a part of. I mean, writing for a woman was a stretch, writing for a gay woman was a bigger stretch as was writing for a black, gay guy. So it was nice to get out on those limbs. There's no way I would have gone out and made the flick had I not had it proofread first. I tossed the script to a gay friend of ours to check how far from the mark I was on and she was pleased with it."

The role of Alyssa was created especially for Smith's girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams, whom the director first met on Mallrats. Adams relished the opportunity to bring this dichotomous character to life. "For me, as an actor, this was by far the largest girl I've been allowed to play. It was also great to work with Kevin again with whom I developed such a great rapport on Mallrats." Adams even admits that Alyssa "is very much like me."

The actress, who first came to public notice in the idiotic Bio Dome, admits that she was under enormous pressure doing Chasing Amy for a variety of reasons.

"Firstly I was Kevin's girlfriend and people were rolling their eyes at that, especially since the money-people wanted Drew Barrymore for the part, originally." Playing a lesbian presented its own challenges, and prior to shooting she tried to undertake some research on the subject. "I went to some gay bars in New York and hung out with Gwen Turner from the Go Fish. But after going to these bars and looking around, I just realised that I should do nothing different. To do so, would be very wrong of me, because a person's sexuality does not dictate their personality or physicality. Sure there were girls in there who'd fit in your text book, short haired dyke, yet there were others who looked like they just walked out of The Gap fashion store. There is no putting your finger on what a lesbian is. I even found myself, when I wasn't sure about how to deliver a line or play a scene and immediately thought that I should be delivering it tough, that was ME falling into stereotype. And that's wrong to do, so I tried to stay away from that and just play the character as the girl that she was."

It's clear that Adams has a very close affinity with Alyssa, including her own self-confessed attraction to women. "I've always surrounded myself with open-minded people, and I've always been one to experiment. I remember the first time I felt a sexual attraction to another woman. I was sitting in a restaurant, drinking, and I felt completely comfortable to say: wow, I really want to sleep with that woman; how weird is that? And my friends would have completely supported it. On the other hand, I don't think a guy could turn to his best friend and say: hey, I really want to suck your cock, without impacting on the friendship in some way. One of the good things about my character in Chasing Amy is that it's not a matter of you're gay or you're not gay. For that reason, we ARE going to get a lot of heat from some of the lesbians because clearly there are no bounds. The lines are no longer clear, and to draw the lines is a bad thing."

Ben Affleck has the unenviable task of playing the straight guy who falls in love with Alyssa only to find the relationship thwarted by her admission at one point that he was not her first male sexual experience. As with co-star Adams, Smith wrote the part of Holden specifically with Affleck in mind. "Kevin actually called me up and said: hey, I'm writing this script and I want you to be in it. I knew him from Mallrats, and we'd become close friends, which is very handy. I was so flattered and honoured that he was going to let me play this kind of character, it was something I started preparing for long before the movie started."

Smith feels that Affleck had the tougher role. "In many ways he's the guy that has to look worst when the movie's all set and done. He has to carry the picture on his shoulders and end up looking like a schmuck towards the end. Asking actors with as high an ego as Ben to come off so poorly, takes a lot", he adds laughingly. "In real life, Ben's a more charming guy than Holden."

The film's romantic comedy style switches gear dramatically when Holden finds out that Alyssa has a past and refuses to deal with it. Both Smith and his actors knew that audiences would find it tough to deal with the apparent inconsistencies in a character who, on the one hand, accepts Alyssa's sexuality without question, but dares to be hurt when he discovers that she had experimented with heterosexuality well before Holden burst on the scene. "To me the real gist of this movie is this guy, who's a really great guy, but just has something wrong in his make-up and has some unresolved issues to sort out," Smith says.

Affleck elaborates. "I think he's a perfectly alert, aware, sort of nineties sensitive person, who could intellectually say: I can understand this and accept it. But the one thing I discovered while playing Holden was the realisation that we're NOT consistent as people or characters, and there ARE things that effect and bother us in ways that we don't particularly like and that we don't expect. I think Holden's dilemma is that he feels something that he doesn't want to feel."

Adams feels that Chasing Amy turned out to be a cathartic experience for her. "I'm not a vocal person, nor am I as articulate or as quick with the fast come-backs, so for me it was very therapeutic to scream about this guilt trip that Holden was forcing onto me, because I've had that in my life. I've known guys who have given me a really hard time about things that I've done in my past. There were probably guys from high school who called me a slut, but I never dealt with that the way I get to do in this movie."

(Adams and Affleck will also be starring in Kevin Smith's next film a complete change of pace, dealing with the hypocrisies of religion in Dogma.)

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