What a duo: Jackson Nicoll is Billy and Johnny Knoxville is Irving Zisman in 'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.'(Photo: Sean Cliver Paramount Pictures)
Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
Johnny Knoxville knew he had found talent, or at least a kindred spirit, when filming the 2012 comedy Fun Sizewith Jackson Nicoll, who was then seven years old. The two hit it off in a way that only the star of MTV'sJackassseries and three wildly successful movie spinoffs could appreciate.
"Jackson would just follow me on the set and verbally assault me while hitting me in the zipper," Knoxville recalls. "I was just shaking my head thinking that this kid is a piece of work. He's unbelievable. I think he was sent from heaven."
Wherever Nicoll was sent from, Knoxville, 42, enlisted the young actor as the perfect sidekick for his 86-year-old character Irving Zisman in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (out Oct. 25). Nicoll stars as the equally outrageous 8-year-old Grandson Billy in the first feature film centered around the trash-talking octogenarian (Knoxville in extensive prosthetics and make-up) who has made near riot-inciting appearances throughout the Jackass series.
For years, Knoxville and Jackass director Jeff Tremaine had been approached about making an Irving Zisman movie but held off because the extended pranking of the general public was seemingly too difficult to carry off for an entire movie.
"We both had reservations only because we had never fleshed the character out and didn't know if it could sustain for a movie," says Tremaine. "Then we decided to come up with a story, and the story became really important. Yet it still houses these pranks which are shot in the real world with real unsuspecting people."
In the screenplay, by Tremaine, Knoxville and Spike Jonze, Zisman is forced to travel across the country to take his grandson to live with his father after the child's mother is sent to jail. The road-trip movie features some fiction, some serious stunts in front of shocked bystanders and numerous hidden-camera pranks.
Knoxville says any doubts about the project were pushed aside on the first day of shooting, when Zisman enraged golfers on a Columbus, Ohio, course while working as a surly, incompetent groundskeeper.
"At that point all of my hesitancy just washed away," says Knoxville. "We got so much funny stuff that we knew we had something special."
That includes footage of Zisman shoplifting and hightailing it from a convenience store, enlisting a cross-dressing Billy in a girl's beauty pageant ("that alone is worth the price of admission," says Knoxville), and disrupting a wedding and a funeral.
"This was going into the unknown every day and getting people riled up," says Tremaine. "It takes real verbal judo to keep people that riled and not get hit."
The exploits were so enjoyable that Knoxville admits he didn't mind the three-plus hours he spent each morning in the makeup chair (five hours for scenes which required him to take his shirt off) to become Zisman.
"After that first day I didn't care one bit,'' says Knoxville. "I liked having three hours to think about what we were going to do that day."
Bad Grandpa's trailer, which Knoxville will unveil online! on Wednesday, focuses on the mayhem Zisman and the kid cause. But, he says, "it's really a story about a grandfather. And in the end you end up loving the relationship between the two. People are going to be surprised."