Since Jackass first debuted, in 2000, as a series on MTV, thousands of attention-starved masochists have sought to mimic its formula by punishing themselves for laughs, then posting record of their exploits on sites like YouTube. None, however, have come close to achieving the kind of glorious lunacy that results whenever Johnny Knoxville and his merry cohorts assemble in front of a camera. Ten years into their improbable run, they’re still the best in the biz when it comes to the fine art of videotaped self-harm. With his third feature-length collection of hilarious, grotesque, and hilariously grotesque stunts, Jackass 3D, set to arrive in theaters this week, Knoxville took time out to chat with us via telephone:
This film seemed to come together pretty quickly. What was the impetus behind it?
I think everyone had been wanting to make one since the last one. Once I start shooting, I don’t want to stop, but once I’m done, I’m done. I was the last one to come around [to making a third Jackass] and it was to the point where I could not stop thinking about making another film. I asked Jeff, “Do you think it’s time to make another one?” He was into it. I put out phone calls to all the guys and they were into it.
Was it always your intention to do it in 3D or did that evolve later in the process?
No, it was never our intention to do it in 3D. We just wanted to do another film. Paramount suggested it and we were against it, cause we didn’t want to change the way we shot. You can’t run and gun with 3D cameras; it’s going to take a long time. We can’t have guys thinking about running out of frame. It’s not what we do. It’s just a train wreck. We need to be able to continue to do it that way. But we did some tests with it. They had some nice handheld rigs and we realized it didn’t limit the way we shot, and actually it was fun. That’s when we decided to do it in 3D.
When you guys are assigning sketches and stunts, is there a hierarchy in terms of who gets to do what?
Yeah. If you’re terrified of something, like snakes, you’ll probably get the snake bits. If we know what you’re scared of, that’s what you’re going to get. If we’re working with poop it’s Dave England because he’s our professional pooper. If it’s heights, Preston hates heights, so he tends to get those. We tend to do it like that.
When you pull a prank, is there anyone who is off limits?
Outsiders … We’re not mean, we just give each other hell. But it’s all got to be the right spirit. We’ll make ourselves look like assholes, but we don’t want to make other people look like assholes.
What does it take for a new person to gain entry into the Jackass crew? This film features a lot of guest stars, but most of the main guys are familiar faces.
You have to be our friend. Or you have to play for the Minnesota Vikings. Or have a special skill, like Will the Farter. No one has that skill.
Yeah. Does he have some sort of rare intestinal disorder?
No, he’s just rather gassy. Thank god. We got some great bits out of him.
You did one sequence in which the guys perform various feats while stationed directly behind a fighter jet while its engine is running. I have to think that violates some kind of FAA regulation, right?
Well, the jet was grounded. As soon as we jumped in its afterburners we were grounded pretty quick too.
That to me seemed among this film’s most intense stunts, if only because of the sheer power of that jet stream.
Yeah, that was fun. And it was pretty scary. I mean, you don’t know whats going to happen. These things we do, no one’s done them. We’re the world’s test dummies. And we’re also scientists. You can look at the movie and see that we’re scientists.
There’s certainly a lot of physics involved.
Gravity has been our friend. Newton’s third law of motion, we’re big fans of it. Get the guys in the air and something funny is going to happen.
How did the stunt with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen come about? Do he approach you guys or did you approach him?
We approached him. I just wanted to get hit going over the middle by some big NFL defensive player. Luckily Jared said yes and he just showed up with such a good spirit, wanting to murder my face. But there’s nothing mean to it; he was just doing what we asked. At one point he said, “I think I was raised better than this. I don’t know about this.” He’s just a good dude. And then while we were there, after he hit me across the middle, he was like, “You know, I’m a defensive end. The best thing I do is rush the quarterback. Do you want me to blindside you?” And I was like, “Oookaaay. It’s too good of an idea not to do it. I’ll do it.” And he hits really hard.
Did that give you a greater appreciation for what the typical NFL quarterback or wide receiver goes through?
I had a great appreciation before, but that was just … I mean, play after play with that dude hitting you? Jesus.
Did you do more than one take of that?
I did three takes going over the middle. You want it to look a certain way and each time hurt like hell. He’s just smoking me every time. And we had these little league football helmets and he said he hadn’t seen once since he was eight. But you do it.
Are you even able to get health insurance?
Yeah. They dropped our insurance for the TV show. But then all the insurers were like, “Wait a second, these idiots are a goldmine. Let’s insure them, but charge them through the nose.” So they’ve been killing us ever since. A lot of our money goes towards insurance.
Are you amused at how much people attempt to intellectualize Jackass?
That does make us giggle. Then they ask us about it, and we’re like, “That’s not our job, bub.” Our job is to make each other laugh and hopefully other people laugh. How other people perceive it, that’s their thing.
You brought in your Dukes of Hazzard co-star, Seann William Scott, for a cameo in this film. Any plans for future collaborations with him?
Yeah, I just did a Farrelly brothers picture that’s a series of comedic shorts. It’s like a Kentucky Fried type of movie. And I did a bit in that with him and Gerard Butler. Brett Ratner directed it. We kidnap some leprechauns and maybe some leprechauns turn up dead. But yeah, we’re friends and we’re really happy to have him in the movie.
Can you see yourself doing more feature-film acting down the line?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m looking for films right now. I took about three years off after Jackass Number 2. And I’m just now getting back into it. Looking forward to it.
Specifically comedic stuff?
No I’d like to do different things besides comedic things.
I noticed at the end of Jackass 3D you have a sentimental montage where you show baby pictures of all the castmembers. It gave me the impression that we might be seeing the last Jackass movie.
After the first one, we said that’s it. After the second, that’s it. But we’re not going to make any more predictions. We do film each one like it’s the last. We get everything out there. We honestly don’t know. But we’re the wrong people to ask but we’re the only people to ask.
Can you give me a sense of what we can expect from the DVD?
So much great stuff didn’t make the movie. We shot two full movies’ worth of footage. We have a lot of extras that will come out on the DVD. But we have a whole other DVD of stuff that didn’t make it called Jackass 3.5 that comes out in January. That’s got some real gems on there.
Jackass 3D opens everywhere this Friday, October 15, 2010.