Johnny Knoxville has taken the theory that scars are sexy to a disturbing extreme.
Hands, arms, he says, ticking off his history of bone fractures. Ankles two or three times apiece. I never really counted. Certifiable behaviorwhen it doesnt net $80 million, the Jackass movie franchises total haul to date (the film cost $5 million to make). The sequel, Jackass: Number Two, is currently in production. I think I might have to have surgery on my shoulder after this movie, Knoxville muses nonchalantly, as if he is talking about helping himself to seconds of chicken-fried steak. I postponed one earlier becausewell, no sense in getting it fixed if Im just going to rip it again.
Jackass, which premiered as a 30-minute television series for MTV six years ago and will spawn its second feature-length movie this fall, began with Knoxville, a handgun, a Kevlar vest, and a simple idea. For a skateboarding magazine, Knoxville videotaped himself testing various types of self-defense weaponry, including a 38-millimeter handgun that he borrowed from his neighbors wife and with which he shot himself in the chest. He Tasered and stun-gunned himself. He shot pepper spray directly into his eyes, a stunt that he counts as his most painful to date. Its in your eyes for 15 minutes, he says. Someone told me to pour milk in my eyes. Milk doesnt do a thing.
These videotapes begat Jackass and jump-started Knoxvilles acting career. We didnt even think it could be a television show, he says. I didnt realize it would take off and do what it didwhatever that was. Six-foot-one with a dark, square-jawed face, fine abs, and a pickup truckowners sense of style (he actually drives a black 1970 Cadillac), his look would help him get his foot in the door. Jackass added the necessary rsum item and helped him land roles as a manipulative skateboard promoter in Lords of Dogtown, as a chronically aroused Luke Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard, and as the leader of a band of sex addicts in A Dirty Shame, where director John Waters dubbed the Jackass team his most favorite gay straight guys ever.
During the filming of A Dirty Shamea film credited for bringing gay bears into the collective American consciousnessKnoxville developed a thing for bear culture and tried to get himself on the cover of American Grizzly magazine. They said they dont do celebrity endorsements, he laments. I was so angry and hurt. I asked John, Do you have a number for the editor? But he didnt want me to grovel. Instead, Knoxville tattooed a bear on his arm with Grrr! written across its belly. Then he bought all the MTV executives subscriptions to American Grizzly, whether they liked it or not.
Which pretty much sums up the Jackass mentality. Its devoted fan base knows that not only is Jackass really juvenile, its also perceived as really, really gay, a quality that Knoxville appears to relish. A few different publications gave us awards for, uh, gayness, he says. After this next movie comes out we might be looking at some lifetime achievement awards. The franchise is essentially Girls Gone Wild for homos, an amateurish production where jockish straight boys get naked and, as Knoxville says, wrestle around and hurt each other. Theres ass play, giggling. It just comes real natural. So natural that while shooting Wildboyzthe Jackass crews current MTV venture, which is like National Geographic with G-strings and injuriesthey got some notes from above saying, OK, guys, this is almost too gay. Can you tone down the gayness? And so they tried to make it not as gay, but then it just got gayer, Knoxville says. So it seems we are no longer driving the ship.
Pick up the September issue of Out to read more about Johnny and Jackass: Number Two.