Published October 23, 2002
Turning the hit MTV series Jackass into a feature-length film only sent star Johnny Knoxville to the emergency room three or four times -- he can’t really recall.
One stunt left him in an overturned vehicle with a bloody gash on his head.
"It’s healed, I think," Knoxville says over lunch at a West Hollywood dive. "Not that many stitches. Seven or eight."
The injury came after a series of concussions he suffered on the TV show, and Knoxville began having bouts of vertigo.
"Finally, they gave me some medicine that made it go away a little, but I still get it," he says.
Jackass, which ended after three seasons as MTV’s highest-rated show at the time, was all about this kind of self-destruction.
Knoxville and his cohorts pioneered a new brand of squirm-inducing, moronic-yet-riveting diversions in segments such as "beard of leeches," "human BBQ" and "slingshot skateboarding."
It was a new low for reality TV: idiotic pratfalls almost guaranteed to fail, executed by gutsy young men who would do anything.
The 90-minute Jackass, the Movie, which opens on Friday, takes the breakneck stunts and nudity-filled shenanigans to even greater extremes.
"The guys really just let loose," says "Jackass" co-creator and director Jeff Tremaine.
"They were all pent up and ready to go. When Paramount committed to an R-rated movie, everyone was just gung-ho."
Some would say they’re lucky to have a movie at all.
After a rash of backyard imitators, including a 13-year-old Connecticut boy who suffered second- and third-degree burns while attempting a Jackass-type stunt, there were threats of legal action and demands that MTV pull the show, most notably from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).
"I do feel horrible that it happened to that kid," Knoxville says. "But no, I don’t feel responsible for that."
He and Tremaine emphasize that the show and the movie carry strict warnings against copying anything shown and that videotapes sent in by viewers are returned unopened.
"In every interview that I’ve given, I stress, ‘Don’t do this at home,'" Knoxville says.
Even Knoxville was initially cool to the idea of a film version -- he believed the television series had gone as far as it could go.
Four months after the last show aired, however, Tremaine says, "I think everyone missed the antics. The ideas were flying out of us."
Among the arsenal of props assembled for their big-screen debauchery: alligators, mousetraps, tightropes, panda outfits and all manner of human excretion.
With an upgrade to a $5 million budget, the Jackass troupe was able to go international, wreaking havoc from Mexico to Japan.
The result: "one of the naughtiest films ever to get an R rating," says Knoxville. "They should have given us an R-plus."
Knoxville sees Jackass, the Movie as a coda to the series and is unenthusiastic about the prospect of a sequel. "People become inured to the type of comedy we do after a time," Knoxville says. "We all want to quit before that happens."
For now, Knoxville, who lives in L.A., will focus on his fledgling movie career, which has included supporting parts in this year’s Men in Black II, Big Trouble and Deuces Wild.
He still hopes to star in the comedy The Ringer, which the Farrelly Brothers are producing, and the action-comedy Big Ticket, both of which have been stuck in development.
Meanwhile, other Jackass members are making their own assault on Hollywood. Chris Pontius -- whose Jackass alter egos include "Bunny the Lifeguard" -- has a role in next summer’s Charlie’s Angels sequel.
Steve-O -- a professionally-trained circus clown -- will soon release a video of his cross-country tour, a Jackass live of sorts.
Director Spike Jonze’s second feature, Adaptation, with Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, opens in December. (His first was Being John Malkovich.)
Though their careers may begin to diverge, Knoxville is confident the group will stay tight. "They’re my sincere friends, so they’ll always be around," he says.