Jeff Tremaine interview: Jackass, Bad Grandpa, sweat

The director behind the Jackass movies, as well as new spin-off Bad Grandpa, chats to us about make-up, Knoxville, and escalation...

“Should I walk in and immediately kick him in the groin?” I asked Den of Geek editor Simon Brew, not really listening to his answer.

“No Matt” I think he responded “There are lots of other, more professional, better interviewers I could have asked to do this. I’ve offered this to you because I know you’re a fan but I will need you to just do the interview properly.”

“Maybe I should set myself on fire and see how many questions I can ask.”

Under usual circumstances, I wouldn’t conduct an interview while engulfed in flames. But this one was with Jackass co-creator, and the director of the Jackass TV shows and movies, Jeff Tremaine, and so I thought that something a bit more extreme might be required.

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Ultimately, I decided against doing anything with fire as I value my physical wellbeing too highly. I am a big Jackass fan, though, and I wanted to make the best impression I could to Tremaine. I was becoming concerned, though, that seeing someone doing something silly and causing a serious injury would be too much like a day at work for him. A bit of a busman’s holiday. I therefore resolved to do my professional best, although I’d like to assure this website’s editorial team that my decision had nothing to do with their requests.

Jackass, the scrappy, brilliant TV show featuring people being incredibly, often painfully silly, launched back in 2000, more than a decade ago. Three films have now released, each proving more successful than the last and culminating in the insanely fun Jackass 3D (which grossed more than $100m at the US box office). With the release of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa now upon us, I sat down for an entirely fire and groin-strike free chat with its director, the downright delightful Jeff Tremaine.

What made you go with Bad Grandpa over another Jackass film or over a different Jackass presents?

I’m gonna say in 2006 was when I first remember thinking ‘we could try to spin Irving out into his own movie’. We didn’t start getting serious about it until about two years ago, when we started thinking ‘oh, the story could be…’ We just wanted to try something new. Something interesting, you know?

But it’s a terrible idea for a movie from a production standpoint. Like, you have Irving who has to go through four hours of make-up. We put our star through four hours of make up before we start shooting. So half your day is already committed to putting him in make-up. Then we decided to have it be about his eight year old grandson. One eight year old comes with a lot of production stumbles. And then, it’s all shot out in the real world. We’re counting on reactions, and we didn’t think of a smart enough way to have cameras out so it’s all hidden cameras on top of it all.

So it’s a really terrible idea, but we were able to pull it off.

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You do have an eight year old kid in this film. How do you prep him for scenes where he’s confronting people out in public?

Well, Jackson has no fear at all. That kid has got almost the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever worked with. In fact, most of my job was to calm him down, to say “Don’t insult that person. Be nice to that person. Be nice. Be nice.”

Jackson would be walking up and then all of a sudden, his little microphone is on the inside of his shirt, *whispers into microphone* “Hey Jeff, fuck off!” and then he’d start shooting the scene. That’s the relationship we had.

Going back to Johnny Knoxville, he’d spend four hours in make-up, but then he’s playing a character that he played in a $100m movie, Jackass 3. Did you have any issues with, we’ve had him in make-up for four hours, we’ve sent him in and everyone has said “Hey! It’s Johnny Knoxville in his old man make-up!”?

We got busted a couple of times. We know the type of people that will recognise him and we try to steer clear of them. I mean, if I see a kid walking up the street with a skateboard, we’re not going to go put a prank on that kid. One of my biggest jobs is to sit there and look around all the background and see who might bust him. We’ll sit back and wait until someone we even suspect will bust it leaves.

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Johnny Knoxville starts the day off in Irving’s voice, he has this character voice that he puts on, but he forgets in about the first fifteen minutes to do Irving’s voice. So half the time he’s just Johnny Knoxville in the old man make up and he has a pretty distinctive voice.

He seems like he’s a lot of fun in the make-up. Are there things he does around set in the make-up that he wouldn’t normally do?

It’s funny, he really does become the character. That four hours seem like it would be a bad idea for the movie. It seemed like it would be really hard on him. But he turned it into a positive where that four hours let him to wrap his head around what we were going to shoot that day. He would just be writing all the things he wanted to say. We’d kind of know what scenarios we’re putting him in, so he could kind of think of funny things to say. He would just use the four hours really productively. It turned into a plus for the movie.

On a normal Jackass film…

…a normal Jackass film?

…yeah, I appreciate that’s…

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[Laughs]

One of the things I think makes a Jackass film work is the, well it seems authentic to me, camaraderie amongst the guys. But you obviously couldn’t have that on this movie. Was there any concern about that element being missing?

Well, that’s what Jackass is and this isn’t Jackass. We’re not trying to say this is the next Jackass movie; this is its own thing. But I think everything we do we put heart into to it.  The Jackass movies have their own…it’s heart, you know? And this movie does have an emotional heart to it. I think that’s what people will be surprised by when they see it.

I was, actually. Especially the car scenes. By the end of the film it seems like they’d genuinely bonded. They’re quite poignant.

We tried to put as much story into scenarios that involve people who had no idea what the fuck we were doing. But at the end of the day we had to connect all of the scenes, so we had to shoot some sort of acting scenes in the car.

I was going to ask something about the enduring legacy of Jackass, which of itself feels like a weird thing to say for such a small show starting out…

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Are you saying we’re getting old?

I’m definitely getting old. I was 18 when you started out. I feel really old now, so I guess you guys must too. Especially because the guys have been wrecking their bodies all these years.

Yeah.

But you must be pretty proud, too.

Yeah. Look, we never expected anything out of this. We were lucky to have any kind of success. We were just trying to make a stupid TV show. I never expected it to turn into a movie, and I never expected that to turn into a second movie, and it just keeps going on and on. But pretty much, it’s because it’s what we do. It’s not like we pre-plan everything, it’s just, this is our lives.

With your first movie, then, did you feel any pressure in being given a chunk of money and having to scale it up?

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On the first movie I think we did. There was enough down time from doing the TV show. We walked away from the TV show because they weren’t letting us be as crazy as we wanted to be, so, actually we had a lot of pent up, ready-to-go craziness.

But there definitely was a one-upmanship that would go down. On the first movie, most of the scenes never had the full cast together, so certain guys would hear we did this, they wanted to step up, and it was a competition in a way, to get good footage. But by the third movie, my thing to calm everyone down was you don’t have to outdo the last movie. The only pressure we have is to be funny. Just do funny shit. If it’s funny, it’ll be good.

But, naturally it does escalate. I think it’s because what makes us laugh now didn’t make us laugh then. It’s almost like you build up a tolerance so you need more to make you laugh.

Who draws the line? Presumably it’s someone’s job, within Jackass

If someone’s going to draw the line, I would say that’s my job. I’m usually the voice of reason and that’s not a very good voice, because I try to push things as far they can go.

I think I am the voice of reason. Especially working with Knoxville because he will kill himself, gladly.

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He seems to have gotten worse. He has a manner, particularly in the third film, when he’s doing something ridiculously dangerous where his body is physically shying away, but his head and his voice are goading a moving bull. It’s interesting to see a man fight his own instincts like that.

Yeah, that’s true. He probably is the one out of them all that’s willing to do the most dangerous stuff, so I’ve had to back him down a few times.

How does that work?

It doesn’t work well. [Laughs] It doesn’t work well. He doesn’t like pulling the reigns pull on him.

So, you guys presumably have a Jackass office, which in itself sounds like a ridiculous concept.

It’s our Dickhouse office more than Jackass, but yeah. Knoxville and I have shared an office. We’ve moved it around but we always end up in the same space. I don’t know why.

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What element does it add to admin work when there’s the constant threat of a nutshot?

Let’s just say our human resources department is not very effective.

A lot of the stupid ideas that make it on the screen are little drawings that we’ll pass back and forth or just funny little things that say, “hey, wouldn’t it be funny to do…”

I can’t watch ‘Sweatsuit Cocktail’.

I know. That’s a gross one.

Are there sketches you can’t watch, either retrospectively, or someone will pitch something and you’ll say “I’m not going to go that day”?

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For me…[moment to reflect] no, there’s nothing we’ve done I can’t watch.

With sweatsuit cocktail one of the grossest things about that one was being there, because, we didn’t even show this, but we put heaters in that room to make him sweat more. The room was about a hundred degrees. And the smell, you know? The smell and the vomit.  I mean, it was bad room to be in.

What’s next for yourself and/or Jackass?

I don’t know. We don’t ever plan ahead. We’re always a step behind instead of a step ahead.

Hey, it’s worked for you so far.

Thank you.

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One more thing: do you have a favourite Jason Statham film?

Lock, Stock, right?

Thank you,  Jeff Tremaine

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is in cinemas now. Our review is here.