If Johnny Knoxville died tomorrow, the world would probably remember him this way: splayed out on the ground, in a slight daze, slowly rousing himself from a fall or collision that was probably more painful than it looked. In Jackass Number Two, Knoxville is seen recovering from his 3,000th or so bad idea, which involved riding an old-timey bicycle—the kind with the giant front wheel and tiny back one—off a ramp. Instead of getting air, the front wheel catches, launching the helmet-less Knoxville over the handlebars and face-first into the asphalt. The impact doesn't faze him much. "My head stopped my body from getting hurt on that," he says.
The scene is one of many, many painful (and/or disgusting, moronic, hilarious) vignettes from the sequel to the wildly successful 2002 big-screen adaptation of Knoxville's similarly popular MTV show. Knoxville—real name P.J. Clapp—ended the show in 2002 to focus on his burgeoning movie career. But the urges returned last year when he appeared on Jackass spinoff Wildboyz with his former co-stars Chris Pontius and Stephen Glover (a.k.a. Steve-O). Soon, he and director Jeff Tremaine had myriad new bad ideas for Number Two. (Said bodily function features prominently in the film, of course.)
Knoxville clearly enjoys himself in the movie, but it's easy to wonder if returning to Jackass says something about his film career, which mostly falls into three categories: forgotten (Big Trouble, Walking Tall, Grand Theft Parsons, A Dirty Shame), unremarkable (Men In Black II, The Ringer), and practically reviled (The Dukes Of Hazzard). Instead of being a small fish in a big pond, maybe the 35-year-old prefers life as Jackass' big fish. The A.V. Club spoke with a seemingly tipsy Knoxville (along with director Tremaine) about Jackass, taking it in the ass, and more.
The A.V. Club: Jeff said topping the first film wasn't the priority for Number Two.
Johnny Knoxville: He was trying to convince me that we should do another one, and I said, "How do we top it?" And he goes, "We don't have top it; we just have to be funny." It seemed to take all the pressure off. It was just a crazy energy going around the set—amphetamines. The guys weren't competitive on the last film to get footage, but on this film they were very competitive.
Jeff Tremaine: It's just an unhealthy way to approach something, trying to outdo your last thing. You've gotta trust evolution, you've gotta trust that the bar is moving, that you don't need to force the bar. It'll just happen. I just had to get everybody back on the ball. I don't think we intentionally outdid the last one. I think we definitely did outdo the last one, but I had the confidence that it would just naturally happen.
AVC: How were the guys competitive?
JK: Usually the guy who writes the bit does it, then there are some that are assigned, and you go around and ask. We didn't use it in the movie, but there's a thing that's going to shoot a huge projectile out of a shotgun… Guys you wouldn't think would do it were doing it in this film.
JF: Preston [Lacy] never did stunts before. All those guys, in this movie they're going for it so much harder than the last. Everyone just had it in them.
JK: Some got it put in 'em.
JF: The only thing people fear more than what's going to happen is not getting footage.
AVC: When you were done shooting, how much raw footage did you have?
JK: So much. We over-shot, we over-wrote. I was sitting at home on days off, banging the table, "I could be shooting right now!" Finally, at the end, Jeff just started sending cameramen to my house, just to get me off his back.
JF: He would never let us stop shooting. He was so amped. He's like, "We're not done shooting. We have this and this and this…" I was like, "We'll shoot it in November," even though the movie's coming out September 22.
AVC: How do you decide what makes the cut?
JK: If there's too much dirty stuff.
JF: We have a great bit where Steve-O threw up again, but how many times do you wanna put him throwing up in the movie? The best ones just made it. The other one's great, and it's ridiculous, and it's not right, but sometimes things get too gross, or there's too much stuff going up people's butts.
JK: Oh, there's never too much stuff going up people's butts.
AVC: Did you have any ideas that were too risky to try?
JF: We had one that we couldn't do because we can't find a plastic surgeon that will agree to release the substance we want, but beyond that, we have not said, "The bar is here. We can't cross this line."
JK: Apparently, the last [plastic surgeon] we tried to get had a problem with cannibalism. I didn't know so many people were so touchy about it.
JF: But when it's yourself, what's the problem?
AVC: A few hotels were thanked in the Number Two's credits. They must be accommodating.
JK: Wrecking hotel rooms doesn't even register. That's not trouble. [Laughs.]
JF: Remember when Steve-O wrecked that hotel room in Indonesia?
JK: I was in the hotel room next to him.
JF: We took pictures of him having sex with… never mind.
JK: He flattened his hotel room, which he usually does—that's not trouble. We went to pay the next morning. [Steve-O] gets his money, and he's like, "All right, dude, how much is it?" They were very angry. They were like, "That will be 500 American dollars!" He'd just leveled everything in the room, and he was upset that it didn't cost more. He was like, "Aw, really?"
AVC: It's funny to hear all of this considering you'd sworn off doing anything Jackass-related after the first film.
JK: After the first movie, all the guys were like, "Let's go out on a good note," if that's a good note. [Laughs.] I was done, and it wasn't until Jeff and I went out with Wildboyz to shoot that he convinced me… I don't know. But I'm gonna get another beer. You need one? That was a pretty good answer though, huh?
JF: But Knoxville, on his downtime, would come out with [Wildboyz], and for no money. We had no budget to pay him, so he was just coming out for the love of the game.
AVC: Were you feeling stifled by the other stuff you were working on?
JK: No, nothing like that. Fuck, I'd have a ball with the Wildboyz. I know what we do is silly, but I love it.
AVC: You've mentioned in the past how you wanted to work with Wes Anderson, but are you concerned at all that Number Two will reinforce your image as "that Jackass guy" with other producers and directors?
JK: I don't give a fuck. [Laughs.] I don't care. I do like your example, Wes Anderson, but if someone doesn't want to work with me, that's fine. What'd Paul Newman say? "I can always go back to scotch. It's been very good to me."
AVC: So you don't feel limited by this persona of "Hey, I'm Johnny Knoxville—I kick ass!"
JK: Is it that bad? Is it that fucking cheesy? [Laughs.]
JF: It's just what we do. It's not an apology. It's so fun to have the band back together.
JK: Fuck 'em. [Laughs.]
AVC: Is it true you once turned down joining Saturday Night Live?
JK: That was right before we were getting to shoot the pilot.
JF: The ball was rolling on Jackass, but it was going slow. We made a little tape basically showing what Jackass was. It was going around, and it was really popular. SNL got a hold of it. They made an offer, and it almost killed the deal because it was a sure thing for him, but he gambled on…
JK: My smart friends, most of which haven't even graduated high school. When we were doing the rocket stuff [a scene in which Knoxville rides a rocket over a lake], there were like 23 rocket scientists on the set. Two we hired, and the rest were everyone telling me what the rocket's going to do. I'm like, "These fuckers didn't graduate high school, and suddenly they're rocket scientists?" "The torque's gonna take you in this…" I'm like, "Are you fucking serious?
JF: Bam [Margera] gave you sound advice.
JK: Yeah: "Hold on like a motherfucker." And he didn't graduate high school, so see, you don't even fucking need high school.
AVC: You came out to California right after graduating high school, on a scholarship at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts. But you dropped out after just a few weeks. Why?
JK: Looks like I should have stayed in, huh? I could've used those extra few weeks—you've seen some of my films. I don't know; I was 18, man. I was two months out of high school, and I started at this place. I'd just sit in class and tap my foot.
AVC: How weird was it coming from your home state of Tennessee to Los Angeles?
JK: I took some years of adjusting. I was just going nuts—five, six years, doing nothing but getting loaded. I didn't know anybody. I'd always had family; I come from a really close family. Then, suddenly, "Have at it." And I had at it. What calmed me down finally was when my girlfriend got pregnant. It was like, "Oh, I guess I gotta do something." So I started writing for magazines. My next-door neighbor helped get a commercial agent for me. That's what gave me focus.
AVC: Now that you're 35, have you noticed a difference in how your body takes all of this punishment?
JK: Nah, I could just stand there. The only two things I can do, we decided, are "stand in that one spot" or "grab onto this." I can do that at 29; I can do that at 35. I'm in just as shitty shape now as I was then.
AVC: You don't feel more aches and pains like an old NFL quarterback? Supposedly John Elway needed help to get out of bed at the end of his career.
JF: That's probably coming.
JK: That's a pretty long distance, from Elway to me.
AVC: You're the John Elway of this.
JK: Of this. [Laughs.] Oh man, no. Hopefully I'm more of the Conrad Dobler.