Exclusive 1:1 Interview: Bad Grandpa Star Johnny Knoxville!

On October 25th, Johnny Knoxville brings Irving Zisman to life in what may be the funniest film of the year. BAD GRANDPA follows the adventures of a young boy named Billy (played by Jackson Nicoll) and his Granddad on a super funny and super crude cross-country road trip. Knoxville clearly knows what the hell he is doing dressed as an 86-year-old man looking to cause some serious trouble and maybe even find a bond with his grandson.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Knoxville about his latest. We chatted about working with the very talented Nicoll and the risk of being “zipper punched.” He talked about bringing this character to life and the hours he spent in the make-up chair. Is there another JACKASS character that he’d like to bring to the forefront? We touch on that as well as how they were able to pull off some of these elaborate pranks.

You’ve played this character before, several times. What about it drove you to want to play it in a full-length feature film?

Johnny Knoxville: Well, initially it was Paramount’s suggestion over eight years ago and we just didn’t do it then. But a few years after that we started thinking ‘well if we did do it how would we do it.’ Attaching a loose narrative, specifically a Paper Moon type narrative to it was a best guess. And then about 2011 we started writing for a solid year before we went to the studio with it. Because we like to have all the ideas before we commit. It’s just too much pressure otherwise.

When you write the script, is it just a blueprint or is it just like writing a narrative script?

No it’s different from a regular script. We worked on the story and the story points and the outline but we also left ourselves room. For instance you don’t know what you’re gonna get, you don’t know the reaction, you don’t know where it’s gonna take you. If we get an insane reaction, we were gonna allow ourselves the latitude to switch gears story wise in the middle of the movie. So we were really flexible that way.

Now you’ve dealt with this character before and you’ve done the makeup for what, maybe a day shoot or something? Now you are basically living with it. Was it difficult or did you get used to it?

Yeah, we’ll shoot it a couple days for a JACKASS film. For this I was dreading the makeup. I was dreading doing a full prank movie and not getting any good footage. You don’t know what is going to happen. But after the first day of shooting, we got such great stuff all that fear washed away. And then I would use that three hours to just write and plan out the day.

So you’re writing while you’re getting this makeup done?

Oh absolutely!


It was like a script a day. I had to give Jack [Nicoll] like six pages of dialogue, a six page scene in one day. He learns that in like an hour or two.

And he was eight when you shot this?


That’s incredible! You met him on FUN SIZE, how did you know he was the one?

Well his temperament. First of all, he’s very smart and he’s a great actor and he’s cute. But he’s also fearless. He would insult you constantly, hit me in the zipper. I just fell in love with him. Most kids freeze up. Not him.

The relationship between you both is interesting to watch build. It makes the stunts almost more shocking.

How so?

Often times I believed it… I was almost in fear… The scene that really got to me was the scene with the biker gang.

Oh right. That was a different kind of prank we weren’t going for all out laughs there. I mean there were some laughs but there was some dramatic and intense [moments]. It was a different kind of thing we did, having to cry in the middle of a prank is a whole different kind of focus.

That’s the thing man, you go into these situations where it seems you are literally putting yourself in harm’s way. Was there ever a time, particularly in this film where you thought ‘we need to scale this thing back a little’ or ‘maybe we need to stop?’

Well, if it’s just me doing the prank I’m not really concerned about my safety. I figure I can gauge people, if I need to calm them down or heat them up. I’m pretty good at that type of thing, that manipulation. So I have confidence in myself that I can do that. Obviously, I don’t want anybody to hit me because I don’t want them to hit me wrong and hurt their hand. That’s just a whole bad thing. I’ve been hit a lot and it doesn’t bother me. But filming with an eight-year-old, you really have to gauge people’s reaction. If I thought it was ever unsafe, then I was the first line of defense for Jackson and we have a stunt guy within 10-12 feet of what we’re doing. So there is always someone around. There are several lines of defense. So you’ve got to really pay attention when you are working with an eight-year-old.

Let’s talk about the scene that I think is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on film. The beauty pageant…

Oh, that’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.

It’s brilliant, where did the idea come from and how hard was it to truly get it off the ground and make it work?

Well, I thought it would be funny to prank an eight-year-old’s beauty pageant. But that was just a small part of it and then we got together and wrote around that and then we reached out to these people in North Carolina who actually put on children’s beauty pageants. So we had them put on a beauty pageant, using all the people they usually use. So all the contestants and parents think they’re going to a beauty pageant. They’ve worked with these people before so it’s all real to them. We had false walls and cameras hidden all over the place. There was a lot of work put in it. Jackson spent two months learning the dance routine and he had to play a little girl. We had a choreographer working with him on the dance, we had a lady who does the pageants training the girls work with him on his routine, on his walk. It’s a lot to pull off.

How long was the shoot on that?

We did it twice on one day and we could have done it a third time the next day but after two we knew we had it.

Were the judges involved or were the judges actually surprised by the events?

The announcer was in on it. But he was just giving information. One judge knew about it because we had to have someone there to make the other two judges stay if they wanted to walk away. The ones that gave the great reactions… they weren’t in on it. If anyone is in on it and they give reaction, then we won’t use it because it’s a false reaction.

Honestly I was wondering how you could do this without it being staged because it’s so insane and then during the credits you guys give a little preview of how it happened and came together. I was even more awestruck that you guys actually pulled it off.

We will shoot for day on a bit just trying to get that perfect mark. Usually we can get within a day or two, sometimes half a day. We’re fishing and we won’t stop until we got it.

What is it about Irving that you like and connect with as an actor?

I can’t prank the public as myself anymore, so as Irving I have that freedom. Also as an 86-year-old man I’ve got sympathy so you can literally get away with murder. Four different people in North Carolina helped me dispose of what they thought was a dead body.

Does anyone ever call the police on you guys?

Oh sure

How often does that kind of thing happen?

We always alert the police what we are doing. But it never gets around the station and most of the time they show up. We have a policeman with us so that gets diffused quickly.

With everything you achieved with this film, would you like take on this role again?

I think we could do it again. I’d love to do it again. I have no plans to do it right now. It would be tougher because people would recognize you more but we could pull it off again.

What’s your proudest moment in regards to BAD GRANDPA?

I think the beauty pageant is one of the best things we ever shot. Jackson’s performance in that was unbelievable. His focus and commitment and how funny he was, how sweet. That’s a pretty great moment. Just pulling this movie off… Even trying to do it was ambitious. We did and we’re so proud of it. [Especially] how hard the cast and crew worked. I guess that’s what I’m most proud of.

You are coming from two worlds, doing major studio films and you’ve continued working with the JACKASS family. Doing this kind of narrative, did it change the world of Jackass for you?

It opened up more doors. We can apply this to different characters, different genres. It just really opened things up I think.

Are there different characters you think would be a perfect fit for this kind of film?

Well we’re talking… I’m trying to think of stuff right now. I haven’t landed on anything but there are a lot of possibilities right now.

I really like the fact that you took this film and you took these two characters, this grandfather and this little boy, and as much as it is crude and shocking there is this kind of familial relationship between you two. I think that says something about you two as actors.

I think people will really respond well to the relationship of Irving and Billy and we’re proud of that. We worked really hard on that. Even when Irving would say really rude things, I would say in code and not talk explicitly in front of a kid.

Was that a rule?

It was our rule. My cousin and I wrote out a whole dictionary of terms and phrases for the way Irving would speak. Things like ‘I’d like to hog wrench that spitooly.’ What does that mean? And if the kid doesn’t know what it means then it’s fine.

Source: JoBlo.com

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.