To mark the anniversary of the release of the indie hit film Clerks(1994) from writer/director Kevin Smith we talk to character actor/musician Scott Schiaffo who played ‘Chewlies Gum Guy’; a memorable comic character part in the film.
A native of New Jersey, Scott got his big screen début in 1994 with Clerks but has gone on to appear in many independent films and shorts; including another notable character part as Travis Lee in the film Vulgar(2000) from director Brian Johnson and executive producers Kevin Smith/Scott Mosier.
“Take classes and network with other actors, stay hungry and humble always”
Can you tell us about what lead you to become a film actor?
From a young age I was drawn to music and film/TV. I was raised by a single mother and she had her hands full with me for sure. But I was not much for sports but my earliest memories were being taught who the Beatles were by an awesome older cousin I had. He also got me into films and television at a young age and I remember always being fascinated by the power that music and visual story telling had on me and anyone who embraced it passionately.
Do you have any tips for aspiring actors wanting to get into independent film acting?
Hopefully they are getting into it for the artistic expression and the power of the medium, and not for a hopeful blast of fleeting fame or recognition. Because wow, it is a very tough business, even when you are fortunate to get some breaks.
As actors we hear and receive more rejection than acceptance or accolades. I encourage anyone to follow their heart and their dreams, but be prepared for a very bumpy ride. Take classes and network with other actors, stay hungry and humble always.
What do you think makes New Jersey the source of so much creative talent?
I think being so close to New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world for the arts is what makes all of us in the peripheral hungry and creative. There is a palpable creative energy on the east coast unlike anywhere else; at least that is what I believe. We’re a tough no nonsense type of place, but that said we are all heart too.
What is your relationship with technology?
I LOVE any and all technology – period! I am a total geek for computers though, I am a PC guy not a MAC maven but I am not at all a MAC hater. I am just so invested in Windows based technology in my home studio that I have stayed with it now since Windows 98 more or less.
I hopped on board with computers very late too. I did not have any real interest or exposure to computers until 1998. At that time my mother bought me my first PC and I just stared at it for like a week! LOL The internet really intrigued me and I wanted to be able to have a promotional website for my acting/music career. Then as I learned and began to immerse myself in the technology I was totally taken away with it and by it.
I just built 2 new really kick A$$ power PCs for my home studio this summer! I do full multi-track recording and video editing at my place. I had been fortunate along the way to also score and edit a few of the indie films I have been an actor in too, so I really was able to branch out and keep semi employed in many ways which is a good thing in indie film!
What was the experience like for you as an actor making the film ‘Clerks’?
It was an amazing ride from day one for me. I was chomping at the bit to get deep into the indie film community on the east coast at the time. It was all so new and exciting with people like Jarmusch, Hartley, Nick Zedd and just too many to laundry list here. But it seemed the possibilities in indie film were limitless and also there were more opportunities for a rogue non SAG actor like myself to break in being 3000 miles from Hollywood-land too!
But Kevin blew me away once I got to talk with him after I was cast. The guy has such a command of language, a real wordsmith ya know? I think we all felt in our gut we were making something very cool and different, but no clue how it would really come to be embraced worldwide and 20 years later he is on Clerks III! And that was also a character actor’s dream role, if you were not cast as one of the leads in that film; The Gum Guy and Rick Derris were the cherry character roles!
What was different about the experience of making the film ‘Vulgar’ compared to ‘Clerks’ and which do you prefer?
I could never pick one or a fave out of those 2; they are both so special and such centrepieces to my entire career. Bryan Johnson is another one of these really intense and intelligent cats, that guy’s mind is on another level; anyone who can go head to head with Smith has to be on that higher level. Sharp, witty and biting, both of those cats! And again I get to go toe to toe with consummate pro and one hell of as nice guy Brian O’Halloran – win – win!
My main instrument is guitar. I also play keyboards, bass and harmonica. Music is my first true love and I have been passionate about music and have been listening and playing since childhood.
Christmas 2013 I released a CD of film music entitled “The Shoestring Serenade” on Amazon. It is a collection of instrumental music that I wrote and recorded for a number of independent films over the last fifteen years. I am fortunate to be able to also work in film as a composer and I have also done some non-linear editing too.
You have worked in film, music and have published a book of poetry. Is there one of these areas you enjoy more or do you like being ‘multi-media’?
I do enjoy all mediums very much, and because one can flex different muscles in each it is hard to pick one as a fave. Writing is painful for me; well it is in a sense. It does not come easy at all; I think all writers suffer their muses. I do not write very much either, my book was written many moons ago and I was in many different altered states during the writing so I had a real artistic license. But writers who write novels, screenplays I really, really respect. That takes such discipline and dedication (…).
Music is the thing that is the most organic and brings me great joy whether it is professionally or just for my own enjoyment. And acting for a camera is the medium that intrigues me most; I respect the theatre and actors that take on theatre, which is like a damn sporting event. But the nuance and subtly of film, film knows when you are lying brother! LOL
You are a regular on the convention circuit, how do you find the experience of interacting with fans?
When I set out to pursue film acting seriously, the one thing I hoped for was to be cast in a “character or lead” role in a film that would be a cult classic. I grew up on Eraserhead, Rocky Horror, Repo Man and all of these cult-like films that had tons of style and people embraced them for many years after their release.
Needless to say early on I was blessed with my dream come true gig. Granted we did not know this at the time that 20 years later people would still be celebrating Clerks worldwide, but wow talk about really hitting the jackpot as far as seeing my dream come true in my lifetime.
It is an honour and a privilege to be invited to these conventions and meet all of the fans who love Kevin’s films as much as I do, because indeed I am super partial, but I love all the guy’s stuff – period! I am a total fan boy at heart myself so it is the ultimate celebration for myself and the fans. And I get to see and spend time with Brian O’Halloran, Marilyn Ghigliotti and that Rick Derris guy Ernie O’Donnell, total win – win for me sir!
What can you tell us about your involvement with fan film Shooting Clerks?
Those guys are the coolest peeps going man! Have you seen Get Greedo? I mean holy frikkin crap, all heart! I am thrilled to death to be on board playing “Donald Smith”. More I really cannot say now, but there is a ton out there to find on the project!
What was your experience like being on the AMC TV show Comic Book Men?
That was another truly awesome experience too. I love those guys and getting to beat their butts in bowling did my heart good! No, just being silly! What was a lot of fun was getting see everyone in one place for the day while we shot the “bowl off”. A nicer bunch of down to earth folks you’d be hard pressed to find.
I had not seen Jay Mewes in person for a very long time, not since Vulgar! He is a very sweet guy and got me all caught up on all the awesome stuff he was doing like an eager or excited nephew! Have you seen his animated film, Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie? WOW he hit that out of the park! And the crew that works on Comic Book Men are top notch! It was a banner day for me both professionally and personally. I lost my “reality show cherry” LOL
Scott’s CD ‘The Shoestring Serenade‘ is available on Amazon.
Please also check out my Interview with fellow ‘Clerks’ star Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica)