Johnny Knoxville on His SXSW Boy Scout Comedy, the Future of Jackass, and Going to Hell

Johnny Knoxville. Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt play a pair of dueling brothers in Todd Rohal’s new comedy, Nature Calls, about a Boy Scouts outing gone wrong. Knoxville plays a douche-y suburban dad who hosts an age-inappropriate sleepover party in his McMansion for his adopted son and a gaggle of his friends; Oswalt plays the earnest troop-leader brother who just wants to make their dad proud. Knoxville says he had a blast shooting the film in upstate New York, but we were curious about how he balances all of his new “scripted” roles with projects where he's used to having a lot more freedom — like Jackass. We caught up with Knoxville in Austin, where the movie had its world premiere at SXSW, to talk about the future of Jackass, and what mom might think when she catches his new film.

At this year’s SXSW you have two films premiering: Nature Calls, and Jonas Åkerlund’s Small Apartments. How does working on a feature film compare to working on Jackass?
Both are very fun — it’s just two very different mind-sets. I don’t have to worry about getting blown up on a rocket when I go to a regular set, you know? The only thing is, on Jackass, I can do any stunt I want, but on regular movies they won’t let me do any stunts.
But you have so much stunt experience!
It’s so weird! The silliest and smallest stuff, they’re like, “Nah! We gotta … we gotta bring in the stunt guy.” And I’m like, “Well, you know I’m totally up for this.” And they go, “Yeah, but we can’t chance it.” I think in Jackass, our stunts are meant to fail, and in movies, they are meant to succeed. And I don’t know if they trust that I can succeed in stunts. The most they let me do in this movie was they lit my ass on fire. I wanted to do the full burn. And they’re like, “Nah, we can’t let you do the full burn.” I was like, “But I’ve done one before!” And they go, “Sorry, can’t let you do it.” So I go, “Alright, light my ass on fire.” They lit my ass on fire, but then they hired a stunt man to do the full burn.
Do you have any plans to take on more varied roles in scripted films? You’re always playing such douche-y characters.
Ha! I definitely want to do other things. I don’t think my character in Small Apartments is that douche-y. It’s kind of an underachieving overachiever, kinda thinks he’s one thing but he’s another thing, just stuck in this rut. But I don’t think he’s a douche. He’s sweet ... he’s fundamentally sweet. He’s just kind of lost. I definitely want to do more dramatic roles in the future. I have an appetite for it. I think I can do it.
Are you going to do another Jackass?
Jackass is like a whole different animal. It feels like, it’s … it’s what we do, you know? I know it’s silly, but I love the guys and we love doing it and we’re constantly coming up with new stuff. We’re always writing — I’m always writing. Written a lot of stuff for Jackass lately.
What kind of stuff?
I mean, I could try to describe them but … you gotta see them. Like, there’s one [stunt] that was in number three, if I was like, “Oh yeah, we got this idea where we wanna put an apple in Preston’s ass and have a 400-pound pig eat the apple out of his ass,” you might be like, “Uh … that sounds kinda borderline dark.” But once we shoot it with all the personalities, it makes it funny. So, yeah, sometimes you try to describe the ideas and it just sounds wrong. And then sometimes, even when you see them, it’s also wrong.
Where do your ideas come from?
That one with the apple was Preston’s idea, actually — I think he wanted a horse or something to do it. As for me, I love cartoons. The stuff I write, most of it is very cartoon-y. Some of the guys say I don’t know the difference between real life and cartoons.
What appealed to you about Nature Calls? Were you a Boy Scout ever?
Nah, I tried to be but I had allergies and asthma. I was so sick when I was little that if I went out in the woods I’d be even sicker. I always played, like, football, basketball, baseball all year-round, but then on the basketball court I’d always have my asthma inhaler in my sock. In a lot of the pictures I’m roly-poly cause I’m on steroids. Prednisone! I was always the fat kid with the buzz cut and an inhaler in his sock.
So did you feel like you had a lot of limitations has a kid?
I never knew that I was “limited” until I got older. Then I was like, “Fuck, you were pretty sick.” But as a kid you don’t look at it like that. You’re like, “I just wanna do everything." You don’t look at yourself like, “Oh, I have all these things wrong with me. I can’t do stuff.” I guess I had a positive outlook on it because I didn’t see myself being held back.
In Nature Calls, there’s an extended sequence where your character is lashed to a makeshift cross and carried through the forest by a bunch of boy scouts. How did you feel about being crucified?
I was raised Southern Baptist, so I don’t know how mom’s gonna feel about seeing me on a cross.
You’ve done some pretty transgressive stuff — you’d think a crucifixion would be the least of her issues.
We did a special for Jackass when the TV show was on and I did something that mom didn’t approve of, and so she called me up and told me, “You’re grounded!” I don’t even remember what it was — I think one of the guys we had taped to a chair and I was trying to … I was unzipping my fly and acting like I was gonna put my penis in his mouth and mom thought that was awful. She wasn’t happy with me so she grounded me.
What about you personally? Did you feel like being crucified crossed a line for you?
No. Well, maybe. There were a couple of times like, “Man, if I wasn’t going to hell before this, I am now.” But then I was like, “Uh, you’re going to hell anyway so it really doesn’t matter.”