LAS VEGAS — With “Bad Grandpa” (opening Friday) “Jackass” creator Johnny Knoxville has turned one of is favorite characters — the outrageous 86-year-old Irving Zisman — into the star of his own full-length feature. In “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” Zisman and his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) take off on a cross-country journey — engaging in many over-the-top adventures.
Of course, as is always the case with these Knoxville-esque movies, the gist of the joke is the use of hidden cameras — exploiting the real-life reactions of unsuspecting people to the Jackass team’s crazy antics.
Knoxville — joined by young Nicoll — sat down with me at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas last weekend to chat about their film — and what goes into being in a “Jackass” project. Yet, as we started talking, Jackson made Knoxville double-up with laughter when he said he was glad his real grandpas were “nothing like neither Irving or Johnny!”
When I asked him if that was the truth, Jackson said, “Kids never lie, unless … they’re about to get into trouble — then all bets are off!”
Q: Johnny, I see you have quite the kid to play with in this film? What was that like?
A: More fun that I should legally be allowed to have. This kid is such a natural. It’s kind of scary. We sometimes think we’re pushing the envelope too far with him — and he wants to go further. Never thought you’d hear the “Jackass” guy say that, did you?!
Q: The best part in your films is the fact all these crazy scenes — from the body falling out of the casket during a funeral, to your Grandpa Irving mixing it up with the male strippers at a ladies entertainment club — is done, using real people who have no idea this is a set-up. Right?
A: You know, Jackson — for real — is a huge fisherman. And that’s what we’re doing all day. We just keep fishing and fishing — doing it and doing it — until we find the right people — until we find that perfect mark. But when you do — when you’ve done it for a while, as we have — finding that perfect mark? There is nothing more satisfying. It’s fun.
Q: Is Jackson a lot like Billy in real life?
A: That’s very true. [Jackson nodded vigorously]. He will and say just about anything, if it will make the scene work.
Q: What was your favorite scene in the movie?
A: There are several, but with Jackson — or as he’s known to millions — Billy, sitting by my side here: I’d have to say the beauty pageant scene where Grandpa Irving disguises Billy as a little girl, attempting to win a $5,000 grand prize in a little girl kiddie pageant.
That dance sequence was special. A lot of work went into that on the production side, because of difficulty hiding cameras, and all that, but most of the work went into it on Jackson’s end. He had to learn both routines — the sweet one, and then the raw, stripper-like dance sequence. Plus he had to be a little girl.
He had to pull it off. Not only did he pull it off, but he was in the running to win it! That was hilarious.
Q: How many hours did you spend in makeup to become Irving Zisman.
A: It was a lot. It was three hours for the regular Irviing. But an additional two hours, for scenes we shot of Irving with his shirt off, including showing him from the back. That was five hours total. It was too much. After we shot a couple of scenes, I thought it just wasn’t worth it. So we didn’t use that footage. I thought we just will have Irving keep his shirt on the whole time.