WALKING TALL - Q&A with JOHNNY KNOXVILLE
So Johnny. You're known from your JACKASS days for stunts like crashing into walls, shooting yourself with a gun, putting live leeches on your face and swimming in shit - all the while reveling in the deep discomfort. The question is, why?
Call it dimwitted optimism. Man, I've done some very naughty things.
In your latest movie, WALKING TALL, you and The Rock become sheriffs who bust up bad guys. Were the WALKING TALL stunts harder than the JACKASS stunts?
Oh this was a lot easier! On JACKASS, we did it for real. In WALKING TALL, it was all make-believe. But it was a little difficult in its own way. In the past, I've had to fail doing stunts. In this, I had to actually succeed. The stuntmen walked me through and showed me how to do it.
So until this point in your life, you could say your aim was always to fail?
Yeah - that's been the idea so far in my life.
There's a scene in WALKING TALL where you get smash tackled into the ground in a football match. Did that hurt?
I got the wind knocked out of me a couple of times but it wasn't too bad compared to going to the hospital or anything.
So no broken bones this time around?
No, no. It was all gravy, compared to my earlier work. It's all uphill from there, man!
Are you any good at sports generally?
I'm good at jumping into bushes. I played baseball and football growing up. I was decent at baseball, alright at football. I like sports but I am kind of uncoordinated.
Working on WALKING TALL must have been boring for you, then...
No, it's fun but a different kind of fun. It wasn't boring. But it wasn't traveling around the world with my mates. It was still fun. I mean I get to hang out in Vancouver for the summer. Come on!
So did they send the stuntman home?
No, because I need a stuntman. During rehearsal, they walked me through everything and showed me how to do it. Without them, I would have looked even worse than I did.
What was it like working with The Rock?
He was a cool guy. I'd heard he was nice but when I showed up he was easy going, funny, seems like a guy you grew up with. There's no pretence bullshit about him, he's cool.
Did you get him to show you some wrestling moves?
I'm not much of a wrestler. He was a big boy. We didn't get to talk much wrestling. But we got to hang out in Vancouver for the summer. Men grappling was the least of our concerns.
In one WALKING TALL scene, you destroy a truck with a chainsaw and sledgehammer. That must have been fun...
Yeah, man. That was fun. I would turn up on set and say, "Right, what are we doing today?" That's because I don't read the script. And they hand me a chainsaw and say, "Destroy this truck." I'm like, "Sure thing. I can do that." And I did.
Do you have more fun with JACKASS or making movies?
Well, compared to digging ditches, they're all great, man. Digging ditches is what I'm qualified to be doing. But JACKASS was great. It was just me and my friends. I don't think anything will ever eclipse the fun of JACKASS for me. But making movies is a whole different type of fun.
What's that tattoo you've got on your arm?
It's an American punk band called The Germs. That was their symbol. I have a bunch of bad tattoos. But none worse than this! [Shows off a massive Leon Spinks tattoo on his right shoulder] I just got it. I got it in Austin about ten days ago. It says LEON and it's a picture of the former heavyweight boxer Leon Spinks. Yeah, good thinking, huh?
Was the tattoo something you'd planned for a long time?
No, no! I thought of it the night before I got it. I was sitting in a bar, thinking "I should get a tattoo of Leon Spinks on my arm!" I wrote, "Get a tattoo of Leon Spinks tomorrow on your left bicep." I was pretty well oiled that night. And I woke up and I thought, "Wow! That's an awesome idea!" I just wish the guy that thought of it could talk to the guy who has to do it. They are two different people.
So what's your interest in Leon Spinks? Was it his outlandish lifestyle?
Well, there wasn't one! [Laughs] That's the damndest thing about it! I just had a vision!
You must have been pretty drunk?
Oh yeah... But I wasn't drunk when I got it. I don't know why I got it.
Did it hurt?
No. It just hurt for a second. Here [shows tattoo on inside of wrist] it hurts.
So how did a small-town kid from Tennessee grow up to be an internationally-recognized star? How did JACKASS come about?
About two months after graduating high school, I moved from Knoxville to go to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, California. I dropped out after two weeks and then knocked around Hollywood for about five or six years. Then my then-girlfriend got pregnant so I went, "Oh - now I gotta do something." So I started writing for some skateboarding magazines. I was working on a story for Big Brother magazine, about self-defense equipment. I was testing the devices on myself and the magazine's editor, Jeff Tremaine, convinced me to start filming my articles. Soon my antics were being put in skateboard videos and it kinda took off. It turned into a TV show, which turned into a movie. Then I got other offers for movies.
Do you sometimes sit back in bewilderment at how it all came off?
Yeah. I try to not think about it too much. I try to pretend it's all normal. But it's pretty incredible, how everything came together.
What is the worst injury you have had?
I went to the hospital four times for the show, three times for the movie. Mostly it wasn't too bad. It was just sprains or concussions. I don't remember having breaks on the show but I have broken a lot of bones in my life just because I am really clumsy. I was kind of lucky in terms of JACKASS.
But was there one particular stunt where you thought, "What the hell am I thinking?"
Anytime I worked with guns or bulls, I pretty much thought, "What the hell am I doing?" I rode a bull called Mr. Mean which none of the cowboys would get on. Sitting on his back in the shoot before they unleashed us was one of the loneliest moments of my life. He was bucking and snorting. I got a sprained elbow out of that but luckily he didn't get me too bad. The thing I did for Big Brother, I was testing self defense equipment on myself and someone else was supposed to shoot me with a .38 in a vest, which I just bought off the Internet. I didn't have much money at the time so I had to buy the cheapest vest they had. When we got out there my friend refused to shoot me so I had to shoot myself. I haven't messed with guns that much and I was preying the vest would work. It did and I am here.
We know you have thousands of female admirers. What's the weirdest offer you've received from a female fan?
I have had girls come up to me and punch me in the mouth and say, "I love your show". Or they'll burn me with cigarettes or lighters. I have cigarette burns all up my arm. Look. Some will say, "Can I ask you a question? Are you looking for a little pussy tonight?" I'm like, "A little?" It's weird. Most times they come up and say hello but other times you get the extreme version of that.
That's what you get for being a star, Johnny.
It's what I deserve.
That's what you get for dragging down American culture.
And international culture.
Were you amazed at the success of JACKASS?
We didn't think it could be a TV show much less a hit TV show. We were confused as anybody. And it was really successful in a lot of countries. I travel abroad a lot and I get recognized all over from Singapore to Tokyo to somewhere in Europe.
Who is the most famous person you've got to meet as a result of your JACKASS fame?
Me and the JACKASS boys met Brad Pitt. He couldn't have been any nicer or any cooler. He hung out with us in our van for half a day and he was just like one of the guys. He was up for doing whatever and finally at the end of the day he gets out of the van and leaves. All the guys are sitting there and everyone looks at one another and is like, "Yeah, I'd do him." Even we had to admit how good-looking he was. He was a cool guy.
So you obviously like a drink. What is your alcoholic drink of choice?
What have you got? I like scotch but if they don't have scotch, tequila's good. If they are out of that I'll drink vodka and if they are out of that, gin's real good. I will drink whatever you got. Anything that's too thin to eat.
Are you a smoker?
No, I don't even smoke that much weed. It always hits me wrong. It hits me so wrong.
And then you'd wind up getting a tattoo, right?
No, that was just booze.
Because, given your extracurricular activities, it would be pretty funny if you said you didn't smoke because it was bad for your health.
No, I'm asthmatic. And it is bad for your health!
Looking back to your youth, was there any sign that you would one day injure yourself for laughs?
I wasn't that much of a daredevil. I was always getting injured because I was clumsy. And I was always active. But I was real sick with asthma growing up so I really never was that big of a daredevil. My old man was always pulling shit and stunts and pranks and what not. So I guess I always tried to emulate him. He had a tire company and he was always trying to pull pranks on his employees whether it be making dodgy milkshakes for them or staging gun fights at Christmas parties with blank guns. He would send letters to my sister's friends from the health department and it had 'VD Clinic' written on it. The letters said they had contracted VD and asked them to list their last ten partners. It was signed Dr Highland C. Titmore. People would go down to the health department with these VD clinic letters which were completely bogus. So he's full of all kinds of s**t. I guess it rubbed off.
So if you learned how to be a clown from your dad, maybe your 8 year-old daughter will learn from you? Are you scared she'll try to emulate her father?
No, my kid is in no danger. She is a little girl and she is so feminine and she has a good sense of humor but she doesn't care to engage in any of those activities nor would I encourage it.
So you've been to England and Europe a few times. What kind of music are you into there?
I like Turbo Negro. They are one of our favorite bands. Some of their songs like Rock Against Ass, I love. We love Eilert Pilarm from Sweden. What's that song he sings? Oh, good God, what is it? I'm so fucking stupid now! I have been in New York and I have been drinking so my mind's not working that well. Yellow House Rock! That's it. Eilert Pilarm was considered the village idiot for a while and now he's like the global village. And The Hives. I like The Hives.
Which skateboarder do you admire most?
I don't know which one I admire most but the Finish skateboarder Arto Saari is really good friends with my JACKASS buddy Bam Margera and is one of the best in the world. I met him in Paris and Pennsylvania and we've hung out together. I like him. I don't have tattoos of him on my body like Bam does but I like him a lot.
Can you think of what you might be doing today if you hadn't made JACKASS?
Before all this started I tried to get a job doing construction and they wouldn't hire me. I couldn't even get a f***ing job doing construction. I'd be doing some minimum wage job, I am sure. I'd be probably putting ketchup on your hamburger at McDonald's or something.
Will there ever be more JACKASS?
No, we are done. We let the movie be the exclamation on the show. Bam and Steve Owen and Pontius have shows on MTV which are amazing. I'm really proud of the guys.
Were you all mates before JACKASS or did you come together for the show?
Everyone on the west coast was friends. I hadn't met Bam at that point but some of the boys had. Then we all joined up to do JACKASS. We all still talk. I just went to Indonesia with Steve-O and Pontius to film some episodes of their show, Wild Boys. Boy, they are naughty. Oh gees. You should see Steve-O in a country where he can't score weed. There's a death sentence for drugs in Indonesia. Compound that with us drinking Indonesian moonshine called jungle juice. Steve-O comes home one night and rips everything down in the hotel room. Everything is beaten up, there are broken walls everywhere. My room was next door and I heard it and I was like, "Oh s**t. That's going to cost." So we wake up the next morning and we go to the front desk and they are like, "OK, that's going to be 500 American dollars!" And we were like, "All of us would have broken everything if we knew it was only going to be that much."
What kind of parts do you want to take in your film career?
I want to stick with comedies and I want to do some more action. I am getting ready to do this small part in this film called LORDS OF DOGTOWN. I want to be able to do a number of things. I am producing a movie at Paramount right now which I am starring in. I want to do my own material.
And you've been working with the Farrelly Brothers recently, who are the kings of gross-out comedy...
Yeah, I did a movie with them in Austin, Texas called THE RINGER, which is one of the coolest things I ever did, if not the hardest. I get hard up for dough and my uncle, Brian Cox, gets in debt to some bookies, convinces me to rig a challenge in the Special Olympics. On the surface that sounds like it would be mean spirited but it's not because mean stuff happens to me. We cast real competitors in the roles and they are amazing. And they have such a great perspective on things and they are so positive and each one of them is unique. I am going out bowling with one of the guys tomorrow night, he is in town. He likes blonde girls. We're going to try to find him a blonde girl. He's in the right spot, here in Hollywood.
You're obviously a wild, funny man who loves life. But what really pisses you off in life?
Every night around 2am when they yell, "Closing time!" Last call gets me angry every time. Last call always makes me angry or cry, depending on what mood I am in. I am nothing if not sensitive.
Question & Answer Text Copyright Twentieth Century Fox