“For a little while, I was worried that…after ‘Gigli,’ we’d never get a fair shake,” writer-director Kevin Smith said in a recent Dallas interview promoting his new film “Jersey Girl,” which, like Martin Brest’s notorious flop of last year, stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. The release of the picture, about a guy (Affleck) who raises his daughter alone after his wife (Lopez) dies in childbirth and finds new romance with a video store clerk (Liv Tyler) when his kid’s a precocious seven-year old, has been delayed several times, partially as a result of the failure of the earlier one. And Smith takes pains to distinguish his movie from Brest’s; when asked about reshoots, he said, “That was ‘Gigli’–I always try to delineate the difference between the two,” adding “I’m not a reshoot guy.”

Still, Smith says that he actually enjoyed “Gigli.” He saw it three times–once in a long cut, once at a test screening, and then at the much-delayed premiere. “Did I like it? I did, actually. I enjoyed it for what it was.” He recalled the preview screening vividly. “It was weird, the disparity between the audience in the room and what was on the [comment] cards. And the audience wasn’t laughing at the picture, they were laughing with it.” He also recalled that after five million dollars of reshoots, the test numbers remained the same, and of the opening he said, “I’ve never seen a less celebratory premiere.” But, he reiterated he liked the picture: “People used to think that I had to say that because I had a movie with them coming out too, but enough time has passed that if I really hated it, I would say so. It was totally watchable.”

Smith also feels that enough time has now passed so that “Jersey Girl” will be judged on its own merits. It’s a change of pace for him after the five edgy, often interconnected pictures he’s previously made. “My movies only showcase the shit that’s happened to me…or that I wish would happen to me,” he said. I’m not a very creative person, not at all.” It just so happens that this is the first picture he’s done about being a husband and father. “The first fifty pages were kind of a Valentine to my wife,” he explained. He wrote them while he was working on the animated series based on his first picture, “Clerks,” which he described as “not weighty material,” after he came home and watched his wife taking care of their child. It caused him to wonder whether he could handle that responsibility. “I started writing it, sat down for two hours and wrote what became the first fifty pages and gave it to my wife the next morning and said, ‘This is for you, because I love you so much,’ and she was, like, ‘I don’t get it–you love me so much that I die?’ And I said, ‘Well, I didn’t think of it that way.’ And when the movie was finished, she was like, ‘Well, I still don’t believe it’s a Valentine, Kevin, because you kill me off in the first fifteen minutes and end up with Liv Tyler. This is more a fantasy movie.’” Referring to the fact that Affleck’s character goes back to Jersey to live with his father (played by George Carlin) after losing his Manhattan job, Smith added: “It became clear it was also a movie about my dad and me as well. Thankfully, he got to see it before he passed.”

Still, making the picture was a challenge. “The trepidation comes from moving away from the familiar, in not interconnecting the movie with the previous five. It was nice to do something where the bag of tricks was empty, and you’re trying to tell one story that you don’t need to see five other movies to appreciate, to tell one story that stands on its own, that isn’t just an inside joke for your fan base. But there was something thrilling about it, too.”

Smith had great praise for his cast in “Jersey Girl,” though he joked regularly about his old friend, Affleck. Making a picture with a child, he said, is “kind of puppetry, to some degree–you are kind of pulling strings, more so than you do with most actors, with the exception of Affleck.” He had particularly warm words for Raquel Castro, the young girl who plays Affleck’s daughter. “She fell in love with Jennifer,” he recalled. “Raquel’s perfect movie would have been, like, Ben drops dead in the first fifteen minutes. It took a while for her to warm up to Ben. Ben was always going, ‘Dude, this kid don’t like me.’ And I said, ‘She’s a girl–she’s got instincts.’ She was also in that place where she’s like, ‘I don’t want to hug a boy.’ I’m like, ‘He’s not a boy, hon–he’s a playboy.’ She didn’t understand that.”

Smith also was pleased to have had the opportunity to write a substantial role for Carlin, who’d had a brief part in his previous film, “Dogma.” He explained that Carlin had gone into comedy to get into acting, but had never gotten a big break. “He’s had a shot here and there,” he said, “but he’s never had the chance to bite into something really meaty. So I think he relished the opportunity.” And he was overjoyed with Tyler. “Liv came in and played it more bookish and geeky, but didn’t change the words,” he said of her reading. “It was far more wonderful than what I had actually laid out, or what I had heard in my head. She knocked it out of the park.”

Smith insisted, though, that he’ll be going back to the edgier tone of his pre-“Jersey Girl” movies. “I’m not turning into John Hughes, where now I’m obsessed with children, in a Michael Jackson-like fashion, to keep telling stories about kids,” he said. “This is all I have to say about fatherhood at this time. One [movie] was fine, for now. Now I’ll move on to something else”–the “something else” being a big-screen version of “The Green Hornet,” which he was reluctant to take on, despite his heavy comic book interests, until Harvey Weinstein, head man at Miramax, persuaded him it was time to try something different from his word-based efforts. And he was convinced he’d be able to pull it off by relying on a good crew. “I’m not a one-man show,” Smith observed. “I just write and direct–badly sometimes. But I surround myself with people who know what they’re doing.”

The old Smith re-emerged when he was asked about the video store set in “Jersey Girl,” which appears to be stocked only with titles distributed by Miramax, which is also releasing his picture. “You can see we’re kind of whoring for Miramax,” he said. “I said that to them, I’m like, none of you guys have ever operated a video store. Can’t I throw other stuff in there? And they’re like, ‘We’d have to clear it, and that’s a big process. And do we really want to lend ink to other people’s movies?’ And I was, like, to avoid sitting in an interview where people go, ‘I notice only Miramax titles,’ yeah. But they didn’t see it my way. They were like, ‘Why don’t you just put your posters up?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, that would be a little self-aggrandizing.’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, like “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” wasn’t.’ They had me there.”