When you book Johnny Knoxville for a one-on-one, it’s a safe bet to expect the unexpected. With our bet firmly placed, the “Jackass” star delivered just that during our chat with him at SXSW.
Knoxville’s been to the festival before, but never for a film (he previously attended to support his cousin, musician Roger Alan Wade). For his inaugural official year at the event, Knoxville has two films: “Nature Calls” from director/writer Todd Rohal (“The Cataclysm Catechism”) and Jonas Akerlund’s star-studded ensemble drama, “Small Apartments.” In “Nature Calls,” Knoxville plays brother to Randy Stevens (Patton Oswalt), a Scoutmaster who essentially kidnaps Knoxville’s kid for a weekend scout trip. “Small Aparments” finds Knoxville in dramatic mode, sporting a black shaggy wig as a pot-smoking loon, oblivious to the fact that his neighbor (“Little Britain” star Matt Lucas) is harboring a dead body in his apartment.
Both films are borderline absurdist oddities — one a comedy, the other a drama — destined to divide audiences, much like the “Jackass” franchise Knoxville is best known for.
Knoxville showed up promptly for our talk, held at a dimly lit bar, the morning after “Small Apartments'” late-night premiere. It began rather conventionally, with the actor waxing on about his love for Austin and his two directors. But things took a turn for the bizarre (fitting, given the films) when Rohal and his “Nature Calls” co-star Rob Riggle (“The Hangover”) came out of nowhere, sat down across from us and proceeded to play catch up with Knoxville. Where was the publicist during all of this? Nowhere, although he showed up promptly at the 15-minute mark to wrap it up.
Below find our attempted one-on-one with Knoxville a few minutes into the talk, when it got interesting.
It’s funny to note that your character in “Nature Calls” undergoes the most torture in the film. You get set on fire; you get shot out of a car. Do you think that factored into why Todd approached you?
Knoxville: I don’t know (laughs). You’d have to ask him…
[It’s at this moment that Rohal and Riggle enter the space and plunk themselves down on the couch across from us.]
Knoxville: You son of a bitches. Good morning. How you feeling?
Riggle: You’re going to love this — I rolled in at six am. I woke up two hours ago. [A waitress comes by] A mocha? I need a coffee, I’m a cold coffee guy. That’s how I do.
Knoxville: This is Indiewire.
We were just talking about the torture inflincted upon Johnny’s character in the film.
Knoxville: The stunt was the cross thing.
Rohal: Well, if a stunt is considered being dragged eight feet on a cross, I don’t know.
Well you shoot him out of a car, hoist him up on a cross, burn him…
Knoxville: It’s funny. On a “Jackass” movie I can do any stunt I want. On a regular movie, I don’t get to do any stunts. It makes no sense. And on a regular movie, they’re much safer. Except for that cross going through the car window – that was a little shady.
Wait, somebody was on the cross? I figured it was a dummy.
Rohal: It was a child.
Knoxville: Kids ain’t got no feelings.
Nice of you guys to put your scouts to work.
Knoxville: [To Rohal and Riggle] Look at what they allowed for my picture!
[He proceeds to show off his SXSW badge. He brings it over to me. In his picture, Knoxville appears to have Kleenex stuffed into his nostrils.]
Knoxville: [Observing the bar’s dark space and big leather chairs.] It’s like the “Godfather” study in here!
[The waitress comes by to ask if we’d like the blinds opened. We all say they’re fine closed.]
Back when I saw “Jackass 3D” in theaters, the audience was filled with mostly 10 year-olds accompanied by their parents – kids the same age as the ones in “Nature Calls.” Did they look up to you on set Johnny?
Knoxville: I don’t know if they’d seen the “Jackass” films.
[Todd nods his head.]
Knoxville: Oh, they had?
They come across as the type of kids that would.
Knoxville: You cast really cute kids, man.
Rohal: There’s a couple. [Laughs]
How was working with such a young cast?
Knoxville: Kids are like little drunks, just so excited all the time, running around screaming. It’s funny watching Todd direct them.
Which one of you three has been a boy scout?
Rohal: I was for two years. Some of the stuff in the movie is real. I don’t think you guys were?
Riggle: I made it to Webelos.
Knoxville: I wanted to, but I had asthma and allergies. I was too sickly. I sat home and watched TV.
Johnny, in “Small Apartments” you share scenes with a slew of varied performers, including Billy Crystal. How did you two vibe on set?
Knoxville: We got along really well. He’s very relaxed and easygoing on the set. I got to work with James Caan and Amanda Plummer, too.
Poor Amanda Plummer. We were shooting this one scene where I was dead, lying on a gurney in a morgue. In the scene, she’s crying over the body. I thought, it would be 15 seconds. Problem is, when I close my eyes, I twitch. It stretched for like 45 seconds to a minute and the corpse’s eyes were crying and twitching and she still didn’t fall out of character! It’s so embarrassing. I want to get the footage of her crying over a corpse with turrets (laughs).
Have you long been a fan of Jonas’ work?
Knoxville: Yeah, I’ve wanted to work with him for a long time. When I first met him, he was trying to do a circus. He was shooting videos, but he was also trying to put a circus together for Vegas.
[At the time] we were getting ready to shoot the pilot for “Jackass.” I didn’t know how that was going to go. Steve-O, who’s a friend of mine, he was working as circus clown on ships. I told Jonas about Steve-O, saying he should hire him. I didn’t know if “Jackass” was going to do anything. Jonas I think was going to hire him, but then the circus fell through and “Jackass” went on the air.
Do you have a favorite Jonas video?
Knoxville: “Smack My Bitch Up” is pretty great. Doesn’t it have nudity?
Knoxville: Anything with nudity.