Lisa Spoonauer’s acting career was brief, consisting of only two movies and a handful of ancillary projects related to one of them. A New Jersey native who was part of Kevin Smith’s cast of unknowns and later dated, and was briefly married to Jeff Anderson, Spoonauer starred in Smith’s seminal 1994 film Clerks as Caitlin Bree, the sultry, suspenders-clad ex-girlfriend pined over by star Dante (Brian O’Halloran).
It may have been Spoonauer’s first movie, but she made it count, with a character resolution – she mistakenly has sex with a dead guy, believing him to be Dante, in the bathroom of the Quickstop – that likely wasn’t forgotten by anyone who saw the film, and was even wistfully recalled years later by characters in other Smith movies like Chasing Amy.
Lisa Spoonauer died this week at the age of 44, Smith announced on his Instagram page (see his post below). No cause of death has been announced. Spoonauer was just 20 years old when Smith cast her in Clerks, his famously low-budget, convenience store-set comedy, in 1992.
Devastated to report that #LisaSpoonauer, who played Caitlin in #clerks, has passed away. In 1992, I went looking for Lisa without knowing either who she was or the integral role she'd play in my life. I'd held a night of open auditions at the #firstavenueplayhouse (where we found @briancohalloran and @marilynghigliotti) but the perfect Caitlin Bree never walked through the door. So I popped into an acting class at Brookdale Community College and watched the students from the back. Lisa was easily the most natural and authentic voice in the room. She didn't sound like she was acting at all; she delivered scripted dialogue as if she was inventing her conversation in the moment, like people do in real life. Captivated, I approached Lisa cold in the parking lot after the class and said "This is gonna sound creepy but... Do you wanna be in a movie?" Fearlessly, she replied "Not if it's porn." I told her a bit about Clerks and gave her a copy of the script and my phone number. She called me a few days later and said "Well it's not porn, but everybody talks like it is. It's funny. I'll do it." A complete stranger at first, Lisa quickly became one of the most important people I'd ever meet when she joined Brian, #JeffAnderson, Marilyn, @jaymewes, @samosier, @davidkleinasc and me as one of the chief architects of my first film. We rehearsed for a month straight in the store after hours, where Lisa perfected Caitlin (and fell in love with Jeff). The first night of the shoot, Lisa had to maneuver her way through a seven minute scene with Brian in the video store, when Caitlin finally shows up in the movie. Lisa and Brian CRUSHED it in one long take that still remains one of my favorite scenes I've ever shot - not because it shows off any directorial flare (it doesn't) but because it exemplified how great the performers were since we never had to cut away from their 2-shot. But as strong an actress as she was, Lisa was an even more excellent Mother to her daughter Mia. Whenever we'd Facebook later in life, she'd gush about her baby girl proudly. My heart goes out to Tom, Mia and Lisa's family. Thank you for dreaming my dream with me. You changed my life, Lisa.
Smith, as he told the story in the Instagram post, discovered Spoonauer in an acting class at Brookdale Community College and approached her afterwards about appearing in the movie. After Clerks, Spoonauer’s only other movie credit was the 1997 indie comedy Bartender, although she would appear in a few Clerks-related projects, including a voice part in 2000’s Clerks: The Animated Series and participation in the 2016 documentary Shooting Clerks. Spoonauer, who dated Anderson on the set of the movie and was married to him for a few years, went on to remarry, have a daughter and spend most of her professional life as a restaurant manager and event planner, in her native New Jersey.
Spoonauer’s story shows that even as moments and performances from beloved movies become part of the public consciousness over time, they might only encompass a very small part in the life of the actors involved. Lisa Spoonauer likely only spent a couple of weeks playing Caitlin Bree, and just a little bit more time than that on movie acting in general.
Clerks may have been weird, crude, and vulgar, and may have stood as a peak for Smith right at the beginning of his career, but it’s also an important moment in the history of the 1990s Miramax era and American independent film in general, and it has attained cinematic immortality. Lisa Spoonauer, despite her brief career, will always be a part of that.
R.I.P. Lisa Spoonauer: December 16, 1972 – May 20, 2017