Johnny Knoxville, Shooting From the Hip
When we recently spent the day with Johnny Knoxville, we talked about "Jackass," his creative process and where it all got started. But behind the scenes and between takes, he was eager to expound upon the unique combination of hard work, luck and self-delusion that got him where he is today.
"Ignorance is the reason I thought I could do it," he said of moving to Los Angeles and making his dreams come true. "It's gotten me through a lot … I purposely didn't give myself a fall-back plan; maybe not the best way for most people, but for me it was the only way I could do it.
"I was like, 'I'm going to be out there until something happens,'" he remembered. "'I'm not leaving. I don't care if I'm 85 and I finally get one role in a film.'
"It was around the time [of daughter Madison's birth] that things slowly started happening," Knoxville continued, thinking back to that bittersweet moment when his then-girlfriend got pregnant. "We moved in next door to ['Training Day' director] Antoine Fuqua, a little duplex. … He said, 'You should go see this casting director friend of mine, Lisa Pantone, who's very sweet and a wonderful lady.' I went to see her, she sent me to this commercial agency, and they wanted me.
"Another friend of mine, John Linson, was like, 'I know this editor at Bikini magazine, you should go write for them," Knoxville said of a break that happened around the same time. "Of course, 10 cents a word at Bikini magazine didn't help a lot [financially], but it did. It's weird, but just writing for a magazine took pressure off me trying to become an actor. I'd felt pressure before, and you'd see it when I'd go in to read. But [being a paid writer] calmed me down."
As his acting and writing careers finally seemed to coalesce, Knoxville introduced a third element to the mix: self-inflicted lunacy. "I didn't have any ideas at the time of what to do, because I wasn't a skateboarder but was writing for a skateboarder magazine [Big Brother] — I just had no clue," he laughed. "So I drove out Highway 14 until I couldn't drive any farther with my friends, pulled off an exit and found a fire road. With the Christmas money from my mother that year, I'd bought a level 2A Kevlar bulletproof vest, so I could test it out on myself."
One bullet later, Knoxville and "Jackass" were born — but in the grand scheme of things, he said that wasn't the worst pain he's felt. "Pepper spray is the worst," he explained. "It's the most intense pain I've ever experienced … your eyes are on fire for 15 to 20 minutes and it felt physically like I could not open them; they felt paralyzed. The stun gun was bad. The TASER was bad. But it wasn't pepper spray.
"I mean, shooting myself was scarier," he said, flashing his trademark grin. "But pepper spray is f---ing awful."