Q&A: ‘Bad Grandpa’ star Johnny Knoxville

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Johnny Knoxville stars as Irving Zisman, an 86-year-old who takes his grandson on a prankster road trip across the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures Entertainment).

Jackass star Johnny Knoxville’s comedy movie Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa hit the theatres Friday, topping the weekend box office charts with US$32 million in ticket sales opening weekend. Using hidden camera footage, the movie follows 86-year-old Irving Zisman and his eight-year-old grandson Billy (played by Jackson Nicoll) as they pull pranks on unsuspecting people on a road trip across the U.S.

The prankster comedian discussed his role and the movie’s divergence from past Jackass productions with The Ryersonian’s Nicholas Carafa and 26 other student media organizations in a teleconference interview earlier this month.


RYERSONIAN: How did you break through and get the courage to start pranking people absolutely ruthlessly? Because some of your pranks are completely outrageous – and great, don’t get me wrong.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE: When we first started doing pranks, I remember, you kind of laugh when you’re getting ready. So I would laugh like the first couple of times. But [if] you laugh, you get no footage. Now I’m able to be stone-faced when I’m breaking someone because I don’t want to lose footage. And how I get the courage up, I just think everyone else did their job. And if I walk into it and blow it, then I’m not doing my job.

PACE UNIVERSITY: What was the most exciting part of this movie?

J.K.: You’ll be surprised at how much you’re going to be invested in the relationship between me and my grandson. There’s a loose narrative in the movie. [I] take my grandson across country, deliver him to his father and across the way, we prank people. And the reactions we get in the pranks are really surprising but I think the most surprising will be how much you like our relationship.

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Now, you’re the grandpa the whole time and you’ve got a kid with you so it’s a little scarier. Were there any times when you thought you might be in over your head with the prank?

J.K.: If I’m just doing pranks as Irving on someone, then there is not as much at stake as if I have an eight-year-old next to me. So when – before I go – if I walk up to prank someone or get the situation, I kind of size them up before I will commit to it. And if we’re talking to someone for a couple of sentences and I think this guy is probably unsafe, I just walk on. We always have people all ready to jump in if anything went bad.

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY: In the movie, you dressed up as Irving, as a grandfather, but in real life you have three kids of your own. When you do become a real grandfather, is this character just going to become a full-time thing?

J.K.: I hope that I’ll be a much better grandfather than Irving Zisman but hopefully I’m years away from being a grandfather. I won’t be downing beers with my grandchildren.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Was there any reaction you had during the filming of Bad Grandpa that you were not expecting?

J.K.: Yes. There were many reactions. We had this one [prank] where I don’t want to drive Billy across country at one point in the movie. So we put him in a cardboard box and try to ship him. But before the prank, I’m like “OK. This one is way, way in [left field].” No one is going to fall for this. But we found two ladies in North Carolina. I was pranking them for 30 minutes and I had to stop because I didn’t know what else to do. It was a really unbelievable reaction. It was pretty, pretty magical.

NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SAN JUAN: Did you ever regret a prank?

J.K.: I’ve had instances where I don’t know what that person is on [or] is in his or her right mind. And I would just stop pranking him because I don’t want to take advantage of anyone. So in the moment you feel like bad but I’ll just end it and walk away because that’s not what we’re trying to do. So, I don’t like to get to the point where I just go through with it

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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