Behind the Scenes with Johnny Knoxville
PHOTOS BY SEAN CLIVER
INTERVIEW BY JESSE PEARSON
Vice: It’s been four years since Jackass 2. Were you guys always going to do a number three, or was it up in the air for a while?
Johnny Knoxville: Totally up in the air. Everyone, all the guys, wanted to do one, except for me. I didn’t feel like we needed, or I needed, to do another one. I didn’t see it.
After a Jackass movie finishes shooting, you must be feeling pretty destroyed. It probably takes a long time to recover.
Yeah, but that’s never my concern when I’m thinking about doing another one or not. I don’t know what is. Somewhere deep inside me, I just get an overwhelming urge. I find myself watching Tom and Jerry and Buster Keaton films a lot, and then just jotting stuff down, and then the next thing I know, I’m like, “Fuck.” I just want to get the guys together immediately and start shooting. Lucky enough, when I got that feeling for number three, all the guys were down to do it. Really down to do it.
Just ready to go.
Yeah, everyone was really ready.
It’s interesting you brought up Buster Keaton because I was going to ask you if you ever think about the place of Jackass in the history of comedy. I think of it as having roots that go all the way back to vaudeville.
I’m a huge fan of slapstick comedy and a big fan of cartoons and all the stuff they get away with and, you know, we try to get away with that stuff. I never think about Jackass in a historical context, but now that you ask me that, yeah, I guess that hopefully it’s in line with the slapstick stars like Buster Keaton and with Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry are, like, two of my heroes.
That’s awesome, to think of cartoons as inspirations for real-life stunts.
I know that, in Jackass 2 when I was blindfolded and got hit by a yak, that was straight from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Tom gets a blindfold on him and a bull hits him.
And I guess I didn’t see this in a cartoon, but that giant hand—the high-five in Jackass 3...
Right, the huge hand full of powder that slams into Bam.
Yeah, that is cartoony for sure. But I don’t think I saw it in a cartoon. I just thought it would be funny to hit someone with a hand that’s five feet long.
And it is. It really is.
What’s the creative process like when you’re coming up with stunts for a new movie? Do a few of you sit down and talk, or do you shoot around emails or phone calls?
Sometimes, Jeff [Tremaine, Jackass co-creator and director] and I will sit together in the office and think of stuff. But mostly, I work the best when I get up before my son wakes up. At least on number three, I would wake up a couple hours before him and then I’d just sit there either watching cartoons or thinking about this or that, or looking on the internet trying to find a funny picture and then going, “Oh, here’s what I can do off of that.” Like, I was looking on the internet one day and I saw this Chinese artist who was painting himself into the backgrounds of paintings…
Oh yeah, the guy who paints his whole body to match his larger work.
Yeah, and I thought that was great! I was like, “Well, that’s a good start of an idea for Jackass.” So I think, “I can’t just paint myself into a background and, you know, embarrass someone.” So I tried to think how I could up the stakes on it, and it was like, “Oh, if I paint myself into a background in a bullring, I can become a not-so-invisible man.”
And I’m looking at this photo of you right now as, like, a half-rainbow, half-tree man. I was wondering where you’re standing in it, because your feet are in the mud. So you’re in a bullring?
Yeah. I’m in a bullring, painted into the background, moments before they release the bull. Like, probably about two minutes before. Bulls don’t see color. Everyone says that bulls hate red, but they don’t. They don’t even see red. They go after movement. So the idea was that I was going to stand still in the background when the bull was released and when it got closer to me I was going to move and then we’d get some footage. But the bull passed me a couple times. He’d run at me and I would move, and he would run at me again and then he would veer off around the side of the painting. He did that a couple times and then on the third time, he got behind the wall and I didn’t know where he was. I was like, “Is he close?” and right as I said that he looked around the corner and was like, “There you are! I’m more than close.” What a cunt. And then he smoked me.
What’s going through your mind at a time like that? I don’t suppose you’re worried about camera placement or anything like that anymore.
No, I leave all the cameras and shit. We’ve done this enough that that’s not a concern. I know that Jeff and Dimitry [Elyashkevich, longtime Jackass camera operator and producer] have that covered. We have the big-rig camera set up and we also have a lot of guys with hi-def cams, those little handhelds. So somebody’s gonna get it… Well, I’m gonna get it, but somebody’s gonna film it.
So cameras are the least of my worries at that point. You never really know what’s going to happen with a bull. If I get knocked out while I’m on the ground, he could just be stomping my head and face. But also we shoot with Gary Leffew, who was a world-champion bull rider in the 70s. He supplies all the bulls. He’s got the best bullfighters and great bulls—“great” as in “mean.” So I know that the bullfighters who are there have my back if I go down.
I always liked how when you guys do something like this, you bring in experts for that sense of authenticity.
And with Gary Leffew, you bring his spirit along too. He’s a real positive guy and he’s like, “When you’re working with bulls, you’ve got to be positive. If anyone’s negative, someone is going to get injured, badly.” If he walks on a set and there is anyone being negative, they’re gone. We stand behind him on that. And that made it over into the cast. If Gary Leffew isn’t even around and we’re doing a stunt one day and there are negative vibes going around, we won’t do it. We’re like, “Fuck it. Let’s either do it another day or just not do it at all.”
That seems smart. And by negative vibes you mean someone acting kind of squirrelly or pissy or freaked out?
Yeah. We were shooting this one thing where we were going to go down this huge hill up at Mammoth Mountain in California—it’s bigger than an Olympic ski jump—in one of those blowup kid things, for parties. A bouncy thing? A bouncy house?
Right, a bouncy castle. Jesus.
We were up there getting it ready, and someone on the same mountain we were on, not associated with our film crew or cast or anything, had died on the slopes that day. And that was just a huge, huge, gnarly negative thing. And also, the Donner Party died on the mountain we were on way back in the day.
It was probably an Indian burial ground at some point too.
Yeah. So there were these two huge strikes. And then one cast member, I forget who it was, saw that behind the bouncy house was a 150-pound generator that would be towed down with the thing behind us, and was like, “I think this is fucked, I don’t think we should do it.” That just ate its way though the whole cast, and so we didn’t do the stunt. But if everyone can’t wait to do a stunt, then it gets done.
OK, now I’m looking at the photo of you with a huge bowl of dildos.
Oh! Am I smiling?
Yeah, it’s what I’d call a shit-eating grin.
Yeah, that was for the end of the movie. We shot the beginning and the end of the movie on film, like big Hollywood-style sequences. Jackass is anything but Hollywood. It’s very backyard. But the beginning and ending of the movies are always proper productions. So for the new movie, for the last shot at the end of the ending sequence, everyone gets stuff blown up on them or around them. Spike [Jonze, Jackass co-creator and director] and Jeff and me, we were all sitting there like, “What should blow up on me?” And I just threw out there: “How about a bowl of dicks blows up in my face?” [laughs] I was just joking, but Spike was like, “Yeah! That sounds great!”
We have the action shot too, with Spike behind the camera.
In that picture the bowl of dicks just blew up, but Spike and Jeff—actually, I blame this mostly on Spike—had an air cannon filled with dildos about five feet from my head to the left of me. He turned it up so high that, and I didn’t know this until a week later, it knocked one of my top teeth out.
I was going to say, you could chip a tooth on one of those things.
I had to go to the dentist and tell them, you know, “What happened to you, sir?” “Well, a bowl of dicks blew up in my face.” It wasn’t a real tooth. It was an implant, with a cap on it. The implant had set in there for six months and they finally put the cap on, and a week later Spike explodes it out of my jaw with a bowl of dicks.
What about this photo that looks like it’s a post-football tackle?
That big dude standing over me is Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings.
Oh, right! Of course.
I had an idea where I wanted to catch a pass running across the middle and have an NFL player hit me while I was all stretched out. Jared Allen, when we reached out to him, was just the perfect guy for it. He’s funny and he’s a big dude, man. He hits hard. He had a great sense of humor about it, but he did have a reservation or two because when he showed up I was like, “We’re going full speed today. I want you to just smoke me.” And he was like, “No problem.” But right before we were ready to do it, he was like, “Man, I’m having mixed emotions. I think I was raised better than this.” [laughs] But he chuckled after he said it, because he was still going do it—and he wasn’t afraid to talk a little smack after it either.
So did he go easy the first couple of times? Or did he just lay into you from the start?
He didn’t go easy at all. You know, we did it three times across the middle. The first two hits were really hard, but something about the way they looked didn’t satisfy me. On the third one, he knocked me completely out of picture frame.
Holy shit. That’s great.
Yeah. And then he’s like, “Man, you know I play defensive end, and sacking is the thing I do best. Can I blindside you?” and I was like, “Uh, sure...” So, I dropped back to pass and he just completely smoked me again. He rammed my helmet into the ground so far that I had about two or three inches of sod in my facemask when I stood up.
When a guy like that hits you, is it like when you get in a car wreck, where you don’t remember the actual impact? Or are you pretty much aware the whole time?
On the first two I was aware. The third one didn’t knock me out, but I was spinning a little. It didn’t knock the air out of me. On the second one my sternum kind of just, I don’t know what you would call it... It was sticking out. That took a few weeks to get over. But it turned out really good because he had such a good spirit about it. We were just having a ball. I like that dude.
I have a photo here now of Steve-O holding a trumpet, wearing a band-major kind of uniform, getting hit in the balls by a ram...
That bit turned out really great. I wanted to see if music could calm the wild beast. So Ryan Dunn and Steve-O jumped in there with the ram to, you know, see if it would. And thank God it didn’t. I was supposed to be in that because I wrote the idea, but the Jared Allen thing was the next day and I didn’t want to get a ticky-tack sprained ankle or something, or a busted knee, and not be able to do the Jared Allen stunt. So I stepped out.
Is it hard to get an animal wrangler who knows how to get a ram to come at you like that?
Well, we know enough animal wranglers, so depending on what animal it is, we know who to call. “We need a ram. A really fucking pissed-off ram. Do ya got one?”
Now this next picture, I don’t know what’s going on in it but it looks like it could be really bad. It’s Steve-O, and it looks like he’s about to drink something kind of disgusting.
Oh yeah, that was more than kind of disgusting. That was the Sweatsuit Cocktail. We got Preston Lacy in a heated room, put him on a treadmill, and then scraped the sweat off him into a cup. Then we were wringing sweat out of shirts too. I had the room painted red because Lance Bangs [Jackass camera operator] doesn’t like red. It makes him angry and a little disoriented. He ended up puking. We couldn’t even put it in the movie because there was just too much explanation involved, but yeah, he hates red.
That’s funny as hell.
We’re gonna release a DVD at Christmas of all the stuff that we love but that we didn’t put in 3. So we’ll explain more of that in 3.5.
The final photo here looks like it’s making fun of those old Maxell ads from the 80s, where the guy is getting his hair blown back by his stereo.
That’s Ryan Dunn. We had a jet engine and we were just thinking of ideas to do behind it, so the Maxell ads came up and it worked really well.
Do you go on the shoots even when it’s not you in the stunts?
Yeah, I’m on every shoot. It’s fun, man. On the first film I was just out partying all the time. They could never find me. But on the second and third films, I was there every day.
Have you curtailed your partying since back in the early days?
Well, I’m there for the work during the day, and then I hit the bar at night. I regret that I wasn’t there every day on the first movie. Now I don’t want to miss anything. I love it.
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