Johnny Knoxville made his name as the star of MTV’s series “Jackass,”and the start of his big-screen career was the feature-length version of the show in 2002. That collection of daredevil sketches, filled with scatological gags, nudity and sexual innuendo, was savaged by critics, but made a big profit on its nothing budget.
So it’s no surprise that there’s now a “Jackass Number Two,” and Knoxville visited Dallas recently to promote it. Looking rather the worse for wear—not so much the result of getting pummeled by a bull and bitten by a snake in two of the movie’s major scenes, as from a long night in local watering holes—he shielded his eyes with sunglasses as he spoke about the sequel in a hotel conference room, with friend and director Jeff Tremaine sitting beside him.
“When we started pitching ‘Jackass’ [to networks],” Tremaine recalled, “we didn’t know where it would go. The first place we went was HBO. We played [the audition tape] for the HBO executives, and it was the quietest room. There was this lady, and she just didn’t get it.” Knoxville added, “We didn’t have our whole pitch down! None of us were really on point.”
And then, after the show became a phenomenon on MTV, trouble arose when viewers—especially youngsters—began trying to emulate the stunts and some suffered serious injuries. Politicians demanded the show be cancelled, and the network responded by toning things down.
“The problem for us was that MTV was making it so hard for us to do what we wanted to do,” Tremaine said. “There was a lot of pressure, and it got to the point where we couldn’t really make the show we wanted to make.”
“We were only on the air nine months,” Knoxville emphasized.
“And we decided if we made an R-rated movie, [it would] keep the younger kids out,” Tremaine explained. So came the first “Jackass” movie, and now the second.
The rowdy guys who make up “Jackass” troupe can, Tremaine admitted, be hard to control at times. “It’s absolutely as anarchic as it looks—probably more,” Tremaine said. “I’ll have to run around and yank beers out of their hands and try to keep it as calm as possible. But the whole time I have to have my back to the wall and my hand over my nuts, ’cause it comes my way, too.”
“But he has to maintain order while asking people to do this crazy stuff,” Knoxville interjected. “Manipulating us. If you don’t want to do a stunt, he’s got all kinds of ways to come at you. The guys know he’s coming at you. You know he’s coming at you, but you’re defenseless. He’s the greatest salesman alive.”
The bits included in the new “Jackass” result from brainstorming—if one can use that term in this instance—among members of the troupe. “The ideas cost about two cents, and they’re worth every penny,” Knoxville joked. And asked whether anything was off limits, he added, “Apparently not anymore.” Tremaine added, “We didn’t necessarily try to outdo the last one, but it just happened. You put all [the guys] together, and it’s just magic.” And the shooting method was different from most movies, which film straight through using a finished script. “We shoot for two weeks and then go down for two weeks. We start editing the day we start shooting, pretty much,” Tremaine said. “We’re sort of writing as we go. It’s sort of a group project,” although, Knoxville noted to Tremaine, “You do more of that [editing] than anybody. I don’t have the patience.”
Putting the picture together, Tremaine added, was a difficult process. “It’s like a puzzle,” he explained. “Everything’s just a little vignette, so you can shuffle it around however you want.” In the process some good stuff falls by the wayside. “Maybe there’s too much vomiting, too many things going up butts,” Tremaine began, to which Knoxville interjected: “Bite your tongue!”
Some of the material that didn’t make it into the final cut included bits by guest stars. Though John Waters, in one of whose movies Knoxville starred, made the final cut (“He couldn’t have been any more patient with a bunch of idiots like us,” Knoxville observed, “it was just such a sweet thing for him to do”), others, like Luke Wilson and Mike Judge, are relegated to the credit crawls. Judge’s scene, in particular, wasn’t used because it went so far. “We had so much naughty stuff,” Tremaine said, “that would have put it way over the top.”
Fans may be surprised by the last sequence in “Jackass: Number Two”—an elaborate dance choreographed as in an old Hollywood musical to Jerry Herman’s “I Am What I Am.”
“I had that idea for a while, and it was probably the most difficult thing we’ve ever done,” Tremaine said. “One, to convince the guys to take it seriously—it wouldn’t work if they didn’t really try—and then they had to rehearse and learn it. Everyone committed wholeheartedly to it.”
“We filmed that at Paramount,” Knoxville said, “and those days we had a proper film crew. We had three stages at Paramount, one for rehearsal and two for shooting. One sound stage was where they shot ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ It was surreal. I was really sad when that shoot was over. And all the guys, we didn’t have to convince them to take it seriously. They were really focusing on getting it down.”