“I’m Johnny Knoxville and welcome to Jackass.”
I was 16 years old when I first heard those immortal words, followed by that now-familiar guitar twang that preceded Jackass, a 30-minute MTV show dedicated to broken bones and pure chaos.
It wasn’t just the death-defying stunts that hooked me, it was the twisted bond between demented ringleader Knoxville and his merry band of numbskulls, including Steve-O, Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Ehren McGhehey, Preston Lacy, and Jason Acuña, aka “Wee Man.” These guys were game for anything and everything, and it made for compelling television, to say the least.
The Jackass series spawned a hugely successful movie franchise that includes one legitimate masterpiece in Jackass Number Two, but the gang had to take things to the next dimension — literally — on Jackass 3D in order to up the ante, and that’s when stunt coordinator Charles Grisham was invited to join the team.
Jackass Forever, the latest chapter in this painfully hilarious and hilariously painful saga, was well-received by critics and audiences, taking in $23 million last weekend to top the box office, where it beat out Moonfall despite being made for a fraction of the budget. The longevity of the Jackass franchise goes to show you that it’s not just about the stunts, it’s about the camaraderie between these guys and the chemistry they share on camera.
Grisham spoke to Below the Line about his role as stunt coordinator on Jackass Forever and revealed who’s willing to sacrifice the most for their art between his provocative past collaborators Sacha Baron Cohen, Eric Andre, and Knoxville. We also discussed the Jackass obsession with male nudity, vomit, the film’s newcomers, and of course, the inevitable Jackass 4.5. Enjoy!
Below the Line: When did you first link up with the Jackass crew, and how do they approach stunts differently than others you’ve worked with?
Charles Grisham: So it was on Jackass 3, a friend of mine got called to be the stunt coordinator and he wasn’t available, so he turned it over to me, and when I heard that I was so excited. Like you, I’m a lifetime fan, a huge fan, and after 30 years in the industry, I don’t usually see a star and get too… I mean, when I see stars, I’m impressed with them and I admire their work, but I was pretty excited to work on this. It was one of the biggest things in my career. I was so excited.
So it was on Jackass 3 I started with them. I worked two weeks with them, the first two weeks of shooting, and I felt like everything went pretty well. I was kind of the new guy, and they’re like a family over there, so everybody knew everybody and I was the new guy in, it felt like. And then they left for Florida and they kinda [asked] me to go with them, but there were some weird circumstances in there, so I politely declined because I had some stuff here in town anyway.
So while they were gone, randomly enough, I was doing some stunt rehearsal stuff and it was a scene where you run up a wall and do a backflip out and land on your feet. Well, in the middle of those rehearsals, I had ripped my Achilles in half — a full rupture — so I had the surgery, and here we are three or four weeks later, since I last saw them, and they come back into town and call me and say, ‘hey, everyone really liked you, we felt like we got along good and we’d like you to come back.’ And I said, ‘unfortunately guys, I’m on crutches [and] in a boot, and I have physical therapy,’ and this and that.
And where I really got a good bond with them out of the gate was, they hung up and said, ‘well, that’s a bummer,’ and then they called back in 10 minutes and said, ‘tell you what, we want you anyways. We just want your eyes and your knowledge. We’ll move your pads for you and do all the physical work for you, we just want you here.’ And I said, ‘really? That’s great.’ So I went and was on crutches for, like, six months during the filming of Jackass 3, or in a boot at least, but they made sure to get me off in time to get to my physical therapy appointments and stuff. So I literally look at them now, after all the years and all the films we’ve done, [like] they’re family.
And you were asking how this was different from the other films I’ve worked on? Well, it’s night and day. It really is night and day. It’s weird, people have asked me before, ‘where’s the line?’ And I don’t even think there is a line. I think it’s somewhere up here [indicating above his head].
It’s just looking at what that individual stunt is and figuring out where the line is and understanding what we have to do to get footage. Normally, on a normal set, you start really small and rehearse up, even with the stunt guys, but here, we don’t really rehearse too much. You try and dial it in as best you can, but at the end of the day, these guys are really going for it, they’re really doing their own stunts. And the thing is, if we do it too small the first time, there’s always a risk of still getting hurt, so if you go too small, you know you’re doing it again or it’s not gonna make the movie, so it was a waste because they just risked getting hurt for nothing.
So the hardest part for me is deciding to go big enough and push the envelope just enough to make it good enough to make the movie… but let’s not kill anybody, you know? It’s a very fine line. It’s very tricky, whereas on other films, that’s not acceptable at all.
I feel like if I even put a bruise on a normal actor, I’ve failed as a stunt coordinator, you know. I mean, stuff always happens here and there, little stuff, and you can’t prevent the little stuff, but even if something little happens, if the actor bumps their elbow on the corner of a counter or something, I feel responsible for that and that’s not acceptable. Whereas on Jackass, not only am I throwing the actor over the counter, I’m throwing him through the ceiling also, so it’s two completely different worlds.
BTL: What was the most dangerous stunt in this new film?
Grisham: Hands down, the bull. And I’m not trying to take credit for any of that, that was all Knoxville. I don’t know how much coordinating really went into that. At the end of the day, he’s getting hit by a bull pretty good. It’s like when you play cards, you can stack the deck a little bit or count cards, just to put the odds slightly more in your favor, so there [were] little things we did. Like, I made sure the arena was dug up to be a little extra soft. But at the end of the day, when you get hit by a bull and you’re eight or nine feet in the air, it doesn’t matter what ground you’re hitting, it’s gonna knock the snot out of you.
[But you can] make sure the ambulance is close by. If we have to airlift him out, are we ready for that? Who’s calling? Who’s driving? Do they know exactly where they’re going? Do we need a police escort? How many rodeo clowns [do we need]? The bull wrangler guy, that was mostly his deal. I’m not a bull guy so I kind of stepped back and let Gary do his thing, but at the end of the day, if Gary was like, ‘we probably need three clowns,’ then I say ‘OK, we’ll do five,’ because if [Johnny] gets knocked out, the worst thing in the world is, you don’t want a bull goring him in the head while he’s knocked out. That will kill him for sure. And sure enough, he got knocked out.
BTL: Who in the group is the most down for anything, and who is the most likely to refuse to do a stunt or chicken out?
Grisham: Down to do anything? That’s a tricky question because I’ll tell you right now, it’s funny… most of the guys are all so talented, they’re skateboarders, and as you skateboard, you learn how to fall, and Knoxville is actually a decent athlete. I’ve played baseball with him and thrown the football with him, so he’s a decent athlete, but as far as falling down, he’s horrible. It’s insane to me how horrible, and I think that’s why we get such good footage with him, because he really doesn’t have much spatial awareness. But what he lacks in talent, the balls on that guy are the size of beachballs. I mean, they’re huge. The stuff he’s willing to do is insane. It’s insane to me. I can’t believe he’s willing to do some of this stuff. It’s crazy.
I feel like Ehren [also] surprised me. He did a lot of cup test stuff, and he kind of whines the most, but he got after it in Jackass 4. I will give him credit.
BTL: Yeah, he was like the MVP in my book.
Grisham: Yeah. I told him that. I said, ‘Wow, you really got a lot of screentime, and holy smokes, you did some crazy things! Unfortunately, it was all related to your testicles.’ But on set, he whines a little bit. I feel like Preston doesn’t. You can see the fear on him, so it just takes him a minute, but he’ll do pretty much anything they throw at him. But you really see the fear in him. He just doesn’t hide it well. They’re all scared and nervous but Preston doesn’t hide. He’s an awesome dude and he wears his emotions on his sleeve a little bit, so you know real quick when Preston’s scared, but he steps up.
But my answer [to refusing stunts] would have to be Ehren, [since] he tends to whine the most about doing stuff. But I feel like they tend to pick on him a little bit, telling him he’s gonna get hit in the nuts by a lightweight and then they bring out a heavyweight MMA champion who’s just a beast, and also the hardest hitter in the world with the hardest recorded punch. So in his defense, I see why he bitches.
BTL: Were there any great stunt sequences that were left on the cutting room floor?
Grisham: Oh, there were so many, [and] so many good ones. I feel like Jackass 4.5 is gonna be phenomenal. It’s gonna be so good. You just wonder where… there’s so much stuff, it’s like, ‘oh yeah, there was this one,’ and there are so many you can’t even think of them, they all blend into one. But yeah, there are a lot of good stunts where you wonder what happened [to them].
And then also, you’ve gotta remember that when you see the footage of the stunts, not all of them, but like, when Jasper is holding that parachute and gets launched off that ramp, there were like three or four other guys who did that — Knoxville did one — and they got some phenomenal air, you know, but it was only 98% as good as Jasper, so they only picked Jasper. But a bunch of guys got turns at it. I think in the movie they show Poopies on skis, and Jasper, but I think Knoxville did one and I forget who else.
So there’s a ton of stuff on the cutting room floor. I know when they did the bear thing, they showed Ehren — Ehren made the cut for the movie — but I think the footage with Jasper’s dad, Dark Shark, is just as funny and it’s crazy also. So we’ve done each gag [a few times], you just only see one of them and they just chose to use Ehren’s. But I heard that [Dark Shark] footage is unbelievable and movie-worthy, it’s just that you only have so much time.
BTL: You’ve worked with Sacha Baron Cohen and Eric Andre before, in addition to Knoxville, so who do you think is willing to go the furthest for a bit between the three of those guys?
Grisham: Knoxville, hands down. It’s not even close.
BTL: You mentioned Jackass 4.5 earlier, is that official? Have you seen a cut yet?
Grisham: Yeah, well, when we did Jackass 3, they did a 3.5 also, and it’s just kind of, like, the leftover material and it’s a little bit more of the behind-the-scenes, so Jeff Tremaine, the director, is talking about how we did it and why we did it. ‘On [the first] Jackass, we tried to do this, so we thought it would be funny to come back and do it bigger here.’ [As for] 4.5, I haven’t seen it and I don’t know what the studio will do, but I think 4.5, from what I’m hearing, is really good. I haven’t seen it yet. I think it’s going to be very similar to Jackass 3.5. So it’s not technically Jackass 5, it’s more about the behind-the-scenes and the making of Jackass Forever.
But I think this one’s going to do really well at the box office and being that we passed the torch to some of these younger kids — and I thought that their presence on film was really good — Poopies and Jasper and Zack, I thought those guys killed it, and Rachel [Wolfson] did a great job.
BTL: I totally agree. They brought a different energy and, of course, fresh bodies.
Grisham: Yes, fresh bodies, young bodies, are a good thing. Jackass has a certain level that they like to keep it at, so we have to keep pushing the envelope, so how much the original crew is going to be involved in the next one, who knows? That’s something I can’t predict. I’d love to see them all there, but I don’t know. I’m really scared for Knoxville. The amount of concussions he’s taken, I’m nervous for him. He’s like a brother to me so I don’t like to see him hitting his head anymore, but he’s so good on film and he’s so funny, just doing silly stuff like being the announcer in the Dum Dum Game and wearing that tuxedo. He’s so good. You can’t replace that guy, so I hope he’s still involved.
BTL: Why is Steve-O’s arm in a sling at one point in this movie?
Grisham: It was random, sometimes when we’re doing the big, super dangerous stunts, they normally go really well. It wasn’t that this was an easy one by any stance, but we were in an equestrian center… we chose an equestrian center so the dirt [would be] pretty soft in there. Steve-O was on skis and he had a water ski rope tied to a horse that was pulling him across the equestrian center, and there was a ramp, and it was nothing too crazy — it was 8-feet long, maybe 3.5-4-feet tall — and behind that were blue barrels on their sides, so as he came off the ramp, he’d land on these barrels and try to ski ’em out. There were like 30 of them, which could be really funny.
The horse had to pull to the left side because the horse can’t go off the ramp, and Steve-O kind of got pulled to the left a little bit, and there comes a point when you either abort or you’re going for it. He was a little off-course but he thought he could still kind of get there, but he was still off-balance and when he hit the ramp, he was to the left side of the ramp, and he crashed instantly on the ramp and [did a] rail slide on his ribs and back up this wooden slide on the edge.
So it went from a kind of ‘not-that-dangerous’ stunt to ‘oh my gosh!’ And then as he was coming down from 4-5-feet in the air, he was kind of coming in backward and he reached for the ground, which is a natural instinct but it’s kind of a no-no, and he landed with all of his weight on his arm and it broke his collarbone, which was a super disappointment. My job is to make sure stuff like that doesn’t happen because now he can’t shoot for four or five or six weeks, or whatever it was, so that was a frustrating day for me. You do everything you can to try and prevent it. [But] you play with fire long enough and you’re going to get your fingertips burned, or something. That’s just the name of the game.
So I was really bummed about that, and that one upset me because Steve-O’s like a brother to me and he’s super talented. [You think], ‘this one isn’t that bad, what’s the worst that could happen?’ and you find out real quick [what happens] when you let your guard down. I’m not saying there’s anything I could’ve done to prevent that, but they’ll sneak up and get ya bit, and he did.
BTL: There’s a lot of male nudity in this movie. Was there anyone too embarrassed or shy about getting naked on camera?
Grisham: Yes, there was a lot of male nudity. And no, [not really]. Chris Pontius definitely isn’t shy. [But] I don’t think any of them are really too bad. I think Poopies, a little bit, just being new to it and everything, which I don’t blame him [for]. I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about showing the world my penis [either]. I just noticed that he always tried to stay extra covered, and anybody would do that… except for Chris Pontius.
BTL: Who’s the easiest to make vomit?
Grisham: It’s not one of the cast members, it’s the crew — it’s Lance Bangs, the camera guy. There are colors that trigger him. Like, I know he doesn’t like red, and one time they purposely painted the room all red, the carpet was red, the ceiling was red, and then they had, like, Steve-O do something disgusting, and it’s effortless to make him puke. It’s almost Tremaine’s goal to make him puke. Everyone thinks it’s so funny now that everyone goes out of their way to try and make him puke.
BTL: What’s next for you, Charles?
Grisham: I’m not allowed to say, but let’s just say it’s a Marvel feature, so, a big Marvel deal, and then I’m doing a TV series also for Netflix.
Jackass Forever is currently playing in theaters nationwide. Do not attempt its stunts at home.