Johnny Knoxville Talks About “Bad Grandpa”

The show “Jackass” has a very special place in my heart. Just like so many kids who grew up in the suburbs, my brothers and I were inspired by the painful and degrading antics of Johnny Knoxville and his crew of puckish rogues. We were part of that first generation of youngsters who took to the culdesacs and playgrounds of their youth and threw themselves off monkey bars, hit each other in the face with wiffle ball bats and intentionally ran their skateboards into trees and community pools all over the U.S.

Essentially, it was because of kids like us that they had to start putting that “don’t try this at home” message at the beginning of each episode.

For my own part, I was about eight when I first started watching the show and my brothers, tasked with shielding me from self-harm during the summer, only let me watch as they brutalized their bodies on video. The closest I came to being involved with our home-grown versions of “Jackass” was when my brothers let me tie a denim jacket around my neck and, while screaming “I’m Superman!” run full force into the oak door of our local pool shack. We still have the video.

So when one of my editors here at The Spectator asked me if I would ask Mr. Knoxville some questions about his new movie over a conference call, I didn’t have to do much thinking. I was in.

The movie is called “Bad Grandpa” and follows Irving Zisman (Knoxville) and his eight-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) as they travel across the country to deliver him to his father. Unlike the other “Jackass” films, the movie has a basic narrative running throughout, and Knoxville plays Irving—a beloved character from the show—the entire film; but the action is still centered on pranking unsuspecting bystanders. Knoxvill’s Irving looks to be the same as the one we grew up with: loud, offensive, and not uncomfortable with taking his grandson to the occasional strip club.

A number of college journalists from around the country—myself included—got to sit in on a conference call with Knoxville to talk about the new film. Here are a few of the things he had to say:


Interviewer: What’s the most exciting part of this movie?

Knoxville: 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.

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

Knoxville: I mean we had a ball making this film. And it’s – 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 we managed to pull it off – so I’m very proud of that and I’m just happy to be shooting again. I like doing pranks and stunts.

Interviewer: I hear a lot about the lengthy process that goes into getting makeup done for movies like this. And also the Bad Grandpa character is a very makeup-heavy character because of how different he looks from you. I’m just wondering what that was like for you going through that.

Knoxville: 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.

Interviewer: Has there ever been a prank that you just couldn’t do because it went too far?

Knoxville: When we are in the writing process, we throw out the worst stuff. First shit comes out of our mouth, ideas. It just awful stuff, way over the line. And then, you know, we’ll – so that’s just to like make your friends in the room laugh. But, you know, and then between that, we’ll work out actual ideas that we’re going to be shooting. But God, it’s – terrible things are said.

Interviewer: Was there any reaction you had during the filming of Bad Grandpa that you are not expecting?

Knoxville: 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.

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

Knoxville: 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.


The film comes to theatres Friday, Oct. 25.