SXSW Interview: Johnny Knoxville

On Arnold Schwarzenegger's comeback film The Last Stand, Nature Calls and more Jackass.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Johnny Knoxville had two movies premiere at SXSW on the same day. Small Apartments casts him as Tommy Balls, pothead neighbor to Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas) in a run down apartment. Tommy sits around inventing bongs while Franklin sits around in his underwear playing the horn. Nature Calls casts him as Kirk, the A-hole brother of boy scout troop leader Randy (Patton Oswalt) who searches for his kids on a disastrous camping trip. Kirk ends up scorched with his Bluetooth headseat grafted to his ear, on an improvised stretcher that looks like a crucifix. On Knoxville’s 41st birthday, he shared a cupcake with us at the new Midnight Cowboy bar in Austin, the day we lost an hour to daylight savings time. Oh, and he’s in Last Stand also, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback movie.


Crave Online: In Small Apartments you got the “and” after James Caan. He’s with James Caan, you’re and Johnny Knoxville.

Johnny Knoxville: [Laughs] What is the difference?


“And” is more important.

Well, I have no clue. Talk to my agents about that. It should’ve been with James Caan, face!


Why does no man in this movie wear pants?

That’s true, I am in dolphin shorts, a pretty tough look to pull off.


How did you like dressing up as an emo goth rock type?

Well, we kind of based it on Phil “Filthy Animal” Taylor from Motorhead. I don't think he’s very goth but Tommy Balls, it was fun, man. Getting to wear guyliner, are you kidding me? What a romp.


What did you think of Tommy Balls’ bong inventions?

I didn’t know about the gravity bong. I had no clue. I think it’s a real thing. I like learning new stuff, even though weed hits me wrong. I completely support everyone who wanted to smoke it. It just makes me dizzy and deaf. Yeah, it hits me wrong. In my younger days I tried cocaine a few times and every time I would do it I’d get a sinus infection. I’m like, “This sucks. I don’t want a sinus infection.” You turn creepy after the second line and I have to go on antibiotics for 10 days. F*** this stuff.


Was that a real apartment or a set?

No, I think they were condemning those apartments and then we went in there and uncondemned them for a few days.


How did they smell?

I lost my sense of smell so you’ll have to ask someone else. My nose has been broken two times so I have like 5% of smell. I heard they smelled really mildewy.


Did you get any new injuries on Nature Calls?

No, because when I do a f***in’ regular movie they won’t let me do stunts. On Jackass there’s nothing said no to. I can do whatever I want. When I go on a regular movie, they’re like, “Um, we need to have the stuntman do that.” It’s very strange. I’m like, “Really? I’m totally up for it.”


In real life would you be Team Randy or Team Kirk?

Oh, I would be Team Randy in real life.


Are you into scouting and camping?

No, no, no. Randy just seems like a bit of a better person, although Kirk does come around in the end. But by the end he’s burned and crucified. If you’ve got to get burned and crucified to have an awakening then maybe I should just be Team Randy.


In Nature Calls you have some prosthetic makeup. How did the costumes compare?

Small Apartments I was in very light makeup and the wig. Man, Nature Calls, the first time they do the makeup it’s three hours. Then they get it done in a couple hours. It’s pretty extensive makeup in Nature Calls when I get burned and crucified.


Is it hard to be funny with all that stuff on you?

Well, you don’t have to try as hard because you already look ridiculous when you’re all burned with a Bluetooth melted into your air. It’s doing most of the heavy lifting right there.


Was the blinking remote controlled?

I believe it was. What they would do is I think it was a battery. You hit a button and then it would start blinking.


Is Nature Calls the first scripted comedy you’ve gotten that’s as wild as your sense of humor is?

Yeah, it’s pretty out there, huh? Well, I did John Waters’ A Dirty Shame. John Waters is the apex for me. I’m still trying to get out there.



After Jackass hit you did a lot of movies, then you focused on Jackass for many years. Are you back in a movie making mode?

Very much so because I took about three years off after Jackass Number Two, just worked on some documentaries and some TV shows. Working on that I didn’t do films but right before Jackass 3 I shot a bit with Seann William Scott and Brett Ratner for Movie 43. After Jackass I wanted to do more films so I did four last year and I’ll do some more this year.


What are you looking for in acting roles, some comedy and dramatic?

Yeah, I want to do both and I want to work with great filmmakers as everyone else does. And try to think more deeply about the things I choose as opposed to early in my career when I would just say, “Okay, where do they shoot?”


Did you learn lessons on the first round of films?

Yeah, yeah, I was like let’s not do that again. Let’s try to think it through.


You dabbled in action movies, action comedies, dramas. Were those good experiences or important lessons?

Some were both. After I was off for three years, I came back with a different energy and outlook on what I wanted to do.


What’s your role in The Last Stand?

Wow, switching gears, first of all, the director Kim Jee-woon is amazing. They’ve been trying to get him to do a movie in America for a long time. This is the first one he agreed to do. Very excited to see that. Have you seen The Good, the Bad and the Weird? I couldn’t wait to do the movie after that and of course to get a chance to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger?


So is it still an Arnold movie too?

It’s an Arnold movie first and then they get a great director. I get to have shootouts with Schwarzenegger. We’re on the same side and we’re going against the bad guys and a few scenes are just me and him. You pretty much just want to retire after that but I play a rather off beat hippie/gun nut. I own the gun museum in town and I’m a little bit out there. A little mercurial. Then sh*t hits the fan and they come to me because they need some more firepower. I say, “You can use me but I need to be deputized first.” Because Sheriff Owens (Schwarzenegger) is my hero and I’ve always wanted to be on the police force but they’re like, “Nah. No thanks.”


In this town the guns belong in a museum until they need more guns.

Well, they have guns but they’re just outgunned until they come to my place. Then we kind of even it up.


Is that better than swinging 2x4s with The Rock?

Oh man, both were wonderful. You don’t want to compare them. Lucky to do both.


Do you have any plans for more Jackass?

Maybe. We didn’t think there was going to be 2 or 3 but now we’re keeping our mind open. I’m always writing for it.


Is there anything still to do?

Oh, I looked through my e-mails the other day because I’ve got 50-60 ideas on top of all the stuff we didn’t get to shoot. We’ve got more than enough ideas. We’ve probably got enough ideas for two movies just sitting there.


Well, it’ll be 4 and 4.5 for the DVD.

Well, because we shoot so much because we don’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop.


Would it be hard to go back after losing Ryan Dunn?

I think about that. Yeah, that was a huge part of our family. Yeah, that’s a tough one.


What’s making you laugh in comedy these days?

Matt Lucas turned me onto this guy, his Twitter feed. @Elibraden. Apparently he just started standup and his tweets are hilarious. I know he’s passed away but I really love Mitch Hedberg. He’s very, very funny.


It’s amazing how many different avenues there are to discover things. You can find new artists on twitter.

It’s a great time to have ADD. It’s the best time in history to have ADD because you don’t have to concentrate on anything for more than two minutes.


Or you could focus entirely on Twitter and follow everyone.

Well, if you’re OCD. But if you’re ADD, maybe you don’t.