World’s worst grandpa: Johnny Knoxville interview

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Edited by Gina Catalano

North Central College was one of 27 universities to partake in a conference call with the man behind “Jackass”, Johnny Knoxville. His latest film, “Jackass presents: Bad Grandpa“, was the topic of conversation as the film is set to release on October 25. Here’s the full transcript of the call:

Q: In previous Jackass films, you pulled pranks and stunts amongst one another whereas “Bad Grandpa” has a storyline. Why the sudden change in “Bad Grandpa”?

A: Well, we did a lot of pranks on the public on the TV show and as we became well – more well known, we kind of have to focus. But when we do pranks on the public, when I would think the public, it was primarily the old man as the movies went on.  So we’ve been thinking about this movie for a long time doing a whole movie with the old man.  And we just decided to commit to it.  I’m glad we did because I think you guys are really going to like it.

Q: What was the most exciting part of this movie?

A: I think you’ll be surprised at how much you’re going to be invested in the relationship between me and my grandson.  There’s a loose narrative in the movie, you know take my grandson across country, deliver him to his father and across the way, we prank people.  And the reactions we get in the pranks are really surprising but I think the most surprising will be how much you like our relationship.  And Billy like – he’s Billy in the movie, Jackson is his real name, is unbelievable.

Q: Was it difficult to stay in character and were there any moments that (go off) character?

A: Yes.  I mean, well, yes, I mean, I don’t think it was difficult to stay in character, you know, that you – I mean, s***, there’s a couple of times, more than a few times in the film where I’m – my voice is Irving and then, hey, my voice is Knoxville.  But yes it wasn’t that – I wasn’t doing a hyper method thing.  I was just finding to keep the energy up and, you know, have it be funny.  So that was more important for me than staying in character.

Q: Were there any times when you thought you might be in over your head with the prank?

A: It’s a good question because if I’m just doing pranks as Irving on someone, then there is not as much at stake as if I have an 8-year-old next to me.  So when – before I go – if I walk up to prank someone or get the situation, I kind of size them up before I will – you go, you know, commit to it.  And if we’re talking to someone for couple of sentences and I think this guy is probably unsafe way, I just walk on. So you really have to gauge things that way.  (We) really had someone stay close by and playing close.  Like I’m the person for Jackson but we always have people already to jump in if anything went bad.  And so, I didn’t feel that – I thought we were well-covered.

Q: Were there any difficulties with this film compared to like other things you’ve done?

A: Well, yes, because we’re trying to service a story as well.  But with this, we have a story and we’re doing pranks on people but sometimes we’ll try to work story points into the pranks.  And everything has to connect and makes sense.  So that was – it was very unique to this film.

Q: When you’ve come up with these ideas and then you see the final product on screen, what is that experience like for you?

A: Well, we just finally got the movie delivered which, you know, is a lot of work from the sound and color corrected, and finally just delivered it.  And so they’re making a bunch of prints so that they can, you know, deliver them to all the exhibiters. So it’s – I’ve been so busy.  But it is – it’s – I feel pretty proud right now really because we’re – I think we – this is a special film that people will like and we work our ass off for – God, we spent well over a year writing it and then ten months shooting it.  So I feel – I’m pretty happy.

Q: How are you able to hide the cameras during a prank?

A: Well, that’s – we would have a van look like a work van that we would station close to where we’re shooting.  And, you know, you couldn’t see in but we could film out of it.  And we would have cameras inside, baby strollers.  And we would have (first cams).  We have all kinds of things.  And sometimes we will get permission for pranking employees of a different – of a certain place.  We’ll go in the night before and put up two-way mirrors.  And so, it’s a whole involved process to hide the cameras so no one knows what’s going on.

Q: With all the pranks that you do, have you ever been part of a lawsuit because of them?

A: You know, I can’t recall of anything but someone tried to sue us a few years ago because his name was Jack Ass and he just thought that our movie ruined his good name and credibility.  So that actually happened. You could look it up, someone tried to sue us.

Q: It’s been a number of years since you first started doing “Jackass” and your career has changed a lot since then. What is it like to coming back to “Jackass” and doing the pranks again?

A: I mean we had a ball making this film.  And it’s – it pertains the, you know, there’s a couple of stunts and a lot of pranks ala “Jackass” but it’s own unique thing because of the story.  So it’s a natural progression.  But once we managed the pull off – so I’m very proud of that and I’m just happy to be shooting again.  I like doing pranks and stunts.

Q: What was the makeup process like for the character of Irving?

A: The – before we started shooting, I was dreading makeup process because I knew is going to take three hours each day.  And I was dreading it.  But after the first of couple of days of shooting we start getting all this great footage and then I started looking forward to it because I could spend those three hours in the chair thinking about what we are doing that day and writing and thinking about the scenario we’re going to try and just trying to troubleshoot every possible thing that’s could happened. And so, if something happens I, you know, I’m one step ahead.  So that was actually very beneficial.  There was a couple of times where I would wear my – I have had my chest and back like an old man and that’s a five hours in the chair, but after two times doing that, five hours is too much because the last two hours I had to do it standing up.

Q: Is there anybody you model yourself off of for the physicality and voice of Irving?

A: The – the voice, I just like (the old) for my voice and not so well, you know.  The physicality, you know, I work, I’m trying to get the right walk in everything down and, you know, trying to imagine what it would be like to, you know, be 86 but my body is so banged up that I was almost walk like Irving anywhere.  So – but I do like lot of just the character comes from myself and mannerisms and, you know, I love the old comedians growing up and it’s really a more of a version of myself.

Q: In the movie, you dressed up as a grandfather but in real life you have three kids of your own.  If and when you do become a real grandfather, is this character just going to become like a full time thing?

A: Oh I hope that I’ll be a much better grandfather than Irving Zisman but hopefully I’m years away for being a grandfather, but I – yes, I think – yes, I won’t be downing beers with my grandchildren.

Q: Was there any reaction you had during the filming of “Bad Grandpa” that you were not expecting?

A: Yes.  There were many.  There were many reactions.  You know, sometimes you’ll go into a prank like we had this one where – I don’t want to drive Billy across country at one point in the movie.  I’m just going to ship him.  So we put him in a cardboard box and try to ship him.  But before the prank, I’m like “OK.  This one is way, way in (left field).”  No one is going to fall for this or buy it because soon as he pops out of the box, so they hear him talking in the box, they’re just going to “OK.  Where are the cameras?”  But we found two ladies in North Carolina who – I mean – I was pranking them for 30 minutes and I had to stop because I didn’t know what else to do.  It was a really unbelievable reaction. So those – yes, it was pretty, pretty magical.  I mean, at one point like, I was like people would walk in the store and in he’d broken out the box by then and I’m like “Cover up the box, cover up the box. We don’t want anyone to see.”  And they were covering up the box like they were trying to hide Billy in the box.  It was great.

Q: Was there anything during any stage of production of this film where you’ve had serious reservation or refuse to participate?

A: Any part in the film they’re refused to participate.  It wasn’t – I mean we’ll be talking about things the night before.  And let’s do this, let’s do that, and I would, you know – I don’t want do that, why don’t we do this.  But nothing like that it was like a heated thing or like I drew a line in the sand.  It was just – you just have conversation about what we’re doing the next day.  It wasn’t anything that dramatic.

Q: This is your first “Jackass” related role since your daughter was born.  How’s your approach to these movies changed now that you’re becoming more of a family man?

A: Well I didn’t start doing stunts until my first daughter who’s now 17, was born.  So it’s not like having the kid calm me down.  At that point, I was like “Holy s***.  I going to do something make some kind of mark and quick because I had nothing going.”  And, you know, it’s different now, but I enjoy doing pranks and stunts.  As far as being a father, I think I’m going to – different place in my life and I’m a better father and better husband. But my approach to doing this film is and stunts are, you know, it didn’t start until my first kid was born.

Q: Many of your films have taken place in public settings. How many of the individuals that we see on camera that aren’t part of your crew do the stunts before they take place?

A: Like, you know, obviously, we’re pranking the public and if we think someone is on to us pranking them and they know what’s going on, we won’t use the reaction.  We will use real reactions.  But inside of that, if we’re, say like in the funeral, we have to find a funeral that will let us do a prank there. We found these two brothers and I think –they let us use their funeral home to do a prank. And that was difficult one to figure out because it’s a fictitious character and who’s going to come to the funeral.  So, the brothers knew they had to give us access.  We kept them out of the thing.  We always have inside, like if we’re pranking like in the shipping place, the owner of the place has to allow us to prank the employees, the employees don’t know but the owner does.  But we just have them stay out of the picture. And at funeral, what we did is to get an audience, we hired caterers and drivers, and Baptist choir.  And when they got there, we said, you know, “This is a lonely old man, his wife died.  There’s no one here to be at the funeral.”  Can you just sit in the audience and comfort him.  Even the preacher didn’t know.  The preacher we just gave a bunch of information to and he just went up and did this really pretty speech it was not on the movie.  But, it was – yes, it was – we’re pretty proud after, you know, we pulled that off.

Q: In “Jackass”, the pranks are usually pretty short.  How do you make the transition from short pranks into a whole movie with just this one character?

A: Jesus, it was over a year of writing and coming up with gags and coming up with story.  And even as we’re shooting like we’re still refining the story and writing more gags.  It was a lot of work.  I mean it’s fun.  We love what we do but we’ve really had to spend a lot of time on story and myself just creating – flashing out the character even more. So, yes.

Q: Previous “Jackass” movies have not really had much of a plot. What was the inspiration for adding in this story of a grandfather taking his grandson across country, as well as establishing that kind emotional connection?

A: Well, we – Paramount wanted us years ago to do a whole movie with Irving Zisman.  And eight – nine years ago, I didn’t see it.  But in 2008, he was just trying to develop films and we thought, “Well, if we were going to do a whole movie with him, what would we do?  We’d had to have a loose type narrative.”  And we – the inspiration to the narrative we came up with was Paper Moon.  You know, Peter Bogdanovich classic with Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal and he did this – where he didn’t know it was about her but he has actually drive her to a cousin or something.  He has to drive to her two states over.  And so that’s how we – that was the inspiration for Irving having to drive his grandson across country, it was Paper Moon.

Q: How did Jackson respond to playing a role in the movie?

A: We could not have found any kid more gifted than Jackson.  He is eight years old and completely fearless.  You know, we’ve done pranks with kids in the past and sometimes they just freeze up and they just – and when they’re trying to prank an adult, they cannot – it’s just too much.  But never do we enter a situation where he was intimidated or frightened.  He just looked forward to it. And sometimes, if we were pranking someone and we didn’t get the desired result, he would yell an insult at them and they walk away.  “All right, Jackson, you can’t do that.  You know, we can’t yell at people like that, so they don’t know – if doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”  “Oh, “OK.  I’m sorry.”  But he just fearless and he’s – I mean, in the little kids beauty pageant, where he’s in drag and hadn’t learn a whole weeks and weeks for a dance routine.  And I – he’s unbelievable.  He’s unbelievable.  I can’t wait for you guys to see Jackson.

Q: How did you breakthrough and get the courage to start pranking people?

A: Yes, you know the – when we first started doing pranks, it was – I remember, you kind of laugh when you’re getting ready to – you’re pranking – so I would laugh like the first couple of times.  But after that, you laugh, you get no footage and at that now I’m just – I’m able to be stone face when I’m breaking someone because I don’t want to lose footage. And how I get the courage up, I just – I don’t know.  I think into (accomplish) and so everyone else did their job.  And if I walk into it and blow it, then I’m not doing my job.  And I just kind of – I mean, I’m having fun but I have to think of it like that.  I just – something I need to accomplish and I’m going to do it.

Q: There are a number of times notably after you guys finished up the show and movie where you all said that “Jackass” was done. What just keeps bringing us back do you think?

A: Yes, after the first and second movie or after the TV show are like well – after the first movie, we said we weren’t going to do another one, but we did another one.  So, now we’re not going to say, “No we’re not doing anything else but then we just look like asshole the third time.”  And what brings us back, I know we – I love it, we love it and it’s, you know, we enjoy what we do and I that’s what keeps bringing it back.

Q: How difficult was it to persuade Jackson’s parent s to let him be a part of such an outrageous movie?

A: Oh, Jackson’s parents are the best, they are like – there is a reason he is solid and fearless and competent, and just – he’s just a brilliant kid.  And it’s because he’s got great parents and they trusted us, thank God, and I mean Jackson has a sister who is just a smart and confident as he is and I just wish they would go back to having babies because they have some wonderful children.

Q: Since the character of Irving is such a popular character in other “Jackass” films, did anyone recognize you while filming “Bad Grandpa”?

A: Yes.  You would have that sometimes but when I’m pranking someone in the street, I will try to not prank them because they look like possible Jackass fan.  You have to think about that before approaching them because otherwise this is just a big waste of time.  And if we’re pranking a business, we’ll get intelligence from the owner, OK, you know, tell us about, you know, you’re workers and who are your target people who aren’t in, you know, might be “Jackass” fans.

Q: “Jackass” is always expected to push social boundaries way out of their limits to shock the audience. How will “Bad Grandpa” out do all the shocks from your previous films?

A: God, I don’t know if that’s our goal, we just – whatever we think is funny.  We’re not trying the push boundaries, we’re just trying to – in the room where we’re pitching ideas, we try to make each other laugh.  And that’s – and you know as the years go by, it takes more to make each other laugh in the room.  But, yes, our goal is, you know, we think about it differently. I think – yes, everyone is, I mean, just the relationship with (Billy) and I and what we were able to pull off together as a tandem for pranking people, I think I’m really excited for everyone to see this film and I definitely think it’s as good as anything we’ve ever done.

Q: Have you ever pulled a prank that you regretted?

A: Oh, let me see, let me – I need to think.  I don’t know because I’ve been in the middle, like I’ll (walk) up to someone and, you know, start pranking them.  And I’ve had instances where, men, I don’t know what that person is on is in his or her right mind.  And I would just stop pranking him because I’m not going to – I don’t want to take advantage of anyone.  So in the moment you feel like bad for momentarily be in that situation but I’ll just end it and walk away because, you know, that’s not what we’re trying to do.  So – but I don’t think – I don’t like to get to the point where I just go through with it and feel with – it’s just common sense, you know.

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