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Pain, Porn and a Wannabe Clown: A ‘Jackass’ Oral History

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Pain, Porn and a Wannabe Clown: A ‘Jackass’ Oral History

On Oct. 1, 2000, Jackass debuted on MTV with a shot of Johnny Knoxville being fired out of a cannon to the now-familiar strums of “Corona” by Minutemen — and the world would never be the same.

Born out of skate-culture shock videos, Jackass featured a lovable gang of ne’er-do-wells — including clown-college grad Steve-O, thong-loving exhibitionist Chris Pontius and occasional Oompa Loompa impersonator Jason “Wee Man” Acuña — performing a three-ring circus of Candid Camera-style pranks, gag-inducing dares and flat-out lunatic stunts. Something about its bum-fights-meets-Three Stooges energy instantly clicked with MTV audiences, giving the network its highest ratings in history (2.4 million among 12-to-34-year-olds) while sending lawmakers like Sen. Joe Lieberman into apoplectic fits. Knoxville pulled the plug on the show after just three seasons and 25 episodes, but corporate sibling Paramount Studios found a way to keep the money-minting franchise alive in the form of three feature films: 2002’s Jackass: The Movie (which grossed $80 million worldwide); 2006’s Jackass Number Two ($85 million); and 2010’s Jackass 3D ($172 million).

Along the way, there has been sadness and tragedy: In 2011, Jackass performer Ryan Dunn, 34, and production assistant Zachary Hartwell, 29, died in a drunk-driving accident with Dunn behind the wheel. Dunn’s childhood friend and co-star Bam Margera has struggled with alcoholism and in January 2021 said on the Knockin’ Doorz Down podcast that Paramount would not allow him to perform in future Jackass films. (Earlier this year, Margera was served with a three-year restraining order from Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine; Margera has responded by suing the Jackass creators and Paramount for wrongful termination. The topic of Margera remains off-limits pending litigation.) But the show goes on. On Feb. 4, the fourth film in the Jackass saga, Jackass Forever, premieres under the strangest set of circumstances yet: exclusively in theaters during the third year of a global pandemic. Will the boys’ legions of die-hard fans brave omicron to cheer on their favorite antiheroes getting slapped at full force in the testicles with a flip-flop? The answer remains to be seen.

But first, the founding fathers — Knoxville, 50; Steve-O, 47; Pontius, 47; Acuña, 48; and Tremaine, 55 — convened with THR for an aptly outrageous retelling of the story of Jackass.

STEVE-O It all started with skateboarding. And in the 1980s, the skateboard industry was really at the mercy of the approval of mothers. So all the skateboard videos that came out in the early 1980s were very careful to be sugar-coated, not scare off Mom. Like they wouldn’t show very violent falls off of skateboards. But then came this guy named Steve Rocco, and he said, “Fuck that. We’re not going to kiss Mom’s ass anymore.” And he made the first video to properly embrace skateboarding being criminal and reckless and it was gnarly: The Rubbish Heap.

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What’s notable about that video is that it was the first video project of Spike Jonze, who at the time was a photographer for Steve Rocco’s skateboarding company. Back then, Steve Rocco was like the Bill Gates of the skateboarding industry. He had this conglomeration of companies, and he was just a fucking madman. And he would run these ads to promote his companies that were just out of control. And one of them for his company called World Industries was a photo of a little kid with a gun in his mouth. And it said, “World Industries: Kill yourself.”

The two biggest skateboarding magazines, Thrasher and TransWorld, both sent his ad back. They said, “There’s no way we’re going to print this.” So Steve Rocco said, “Oh, you don’t like my ad? Then fuck you. I’m not going to run any more ads in either of your magazines. And I’m going to start my own magazine.” And that’s how Big Brother started. The only purpose for Big Brother was to be a forum for filth that would never be allowed on the pages of Thrasher or TransWorld.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE I didn’t know any of this when we started shooting Jackass. I didn’t know this was our history.

CHRIS PONTIUS Big Brother attracted all the misfits in skateboarding. Steve-O, for example, lived in New Mexico at the time. [Jackass producer] Dimitry [Elyashkevich] worked for Big Brother. Me and Jason [“Wee-Man”] were skateboarders in California.

JEFF TREMAINE We hired Jason just to put [Big Brother] subscriptions in bags and take them to the post office. [Tremaine was editor-in-chief of the magazine.]

PONTIUS I got interviewed in Big Brother, like a skateboarding interview. And then when my interview came out, it kind of ruffled some feathers. [Pontius appeared fully nude in the spread, swinging his penis around for something he called “the whirlybird.”] I’ve always been free my whole life to say anything I want. And the guy who interviewed me, Thomas Campbell, told me I should probably call up Jeff and get to know them because I should probably work for them.

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TREMAINE We were much more about big personalities than we were about great skateboarding. And we put out a video in 1995 that had lot of crazy shit in it, plus some skateboarding, and that did really well.

STEVE-O In 1997, I was living in New Mexico and Big Brother came through Albuquerque, where I lived. They would go on tours with skateboard companies. In this case, it was DuFFS shoes. I was just so in love with Big Brother that I made it my mission to track them down. And I found them at a skate park, and I went up to Dimitry and basically said, “I don’t care if you guys like me or like what I’m just telling you right now, I’m going to get fucking gnarly tonight and I’m going to be in Big Brother magazine.” And I ended up in the hospital that night with second-degree burns on half my face.

TREMAINE Tell what happened.

STEVE-O I was working with this pro skateboarder. I was like, “OK, this is going to be great. I’m going to spray hair spray all in my hair and light my head on fire, and that’s the torch. And you’re going to have a mouthful of rubbing alcohol, and you’re the fire-breather. So you’ll use my head as the torch, but I’ll have my own mouth full of alcohol, then I’m going to stick my hand into the fireball that you blow. So then everything’s on fire, and then I’m going to do a backflip and simultaneously breathe fire.”

But the thing was that the skateboarder blew the fireball point-blank into my face, so my entire head was on fire from the shoulders up. And my best thinking in that moment was, “I better hurry up and do this fire-breathing backflip.” So I do the fire-breathing backflip, and I come up short and my face is just fucking burning. I ended up with all the skin on my face rolled up like a joint in my hand. It was a pretty gnarly situation. But I got my article. It was a little sidebar called “The Burning Boy Festival.”

I had just applied to [Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey] Clown College. And I would wake up and have to peel my pillow off. Then I got called from the Clown College that I’d been accepted. And I thought, “Am I even going to be able to go?” But I just have crazy healing powers. I healed up in time, and I was in Clown College when the magazine came out. It was actually the first issue of Big Brother to be published by Larry Flynt. At the end of the little article, it said, “Steve-O just got into Clown College. Way to go, Steve.” And they got a kick out of the fact that I was in Clown College. I became a recurring character in the magazine.

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“In between [movies] two and three, I was doing drugs and trying to become a rapper. I’ve always had hustle,
but at times I’ve hustled in the wrong direction.”

Photographed by Beth Saravo

PONTIUS The first time they shot with Steve-O in Florida, we met him for 10 minutes, and Jeff was like, “Let’s lose him.” Before we even shot anything. They were driving through red lights and stuff, but they couldn’t lose him. He was just dying to perform.

TREMAINE Thank God we couldn’t lose him.

KNOXVILLE His personality wasn’t as refined as it is now.

STEVE-O These guys pushed the boundaries to such absurd extremes. Every issue of Big Brother had a different theme. One of the covers was a professional skateboarder holding a pitchfork dressed up as Satan with horns, like doing a kick-flip over a stack of burning Bibles.

KNOXVILLE Issue 666.

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STEVE-O What actually got Larry Flynt interested in owning Big Brother was the Kids Issue. They were featuring the youngest skateboarders in the industry. And on the cover of that issue was an 8-year-old Ryan Sheckler, who now is probably 32 or something like that. … Big Brother had flown under the radar for years at that point, actually having, like, fairly graphic nudity in the magazine.

PONTIUS I was nude and in Big Brother before I was even 18.

STEVE-O And this is a magazine that was targeted toward kids. But when the Kids Issue came out, there was outrage on a national level. It was on the news.

PONTIUS Another controversy with Big Brother was, when Larry Flynt owned it, something went wrong in the subscription department, and the people that got one of his magazines called Taboo received Big Brother, and Big Brother subscribers received Taboo. So all these moms were furious. “They’re sending my kids porn!”

KNOXVILLE And all the perverts were upset they got Big Brother.

TREMAINE So we were starting work on the second video, and that’s when I met Knoxville. He was trying to write articles for us.

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KNOXVILLE The first one was the self-defense equipment article.

TREMAINE He was going to test out all the self-defense equipment on himself.

STEVE-O Knoxville’s story is basically if you take the Bad Company song “Shooting Star” and switch “guitar” with “video camera.” Graduated high school, he is 18 years old. He says to his mom, “I’m going out to be a big star.” And 18-year-old Knoxville moves to L.A., and he is trying be an actor. And he’s having some success in television commercials. But years are going by, and he really wants to make his mark. And he’s starting to approach 30 years old. And he says, “I’m sick and tired of fucking waiting to be picked at an audition. I’m going to fucking force people to recognize me.” So he pitched this self-defense thing. He pitched it to every media outlet.

KNOXVILLE My then-girlfriend got pregnant, and I was like, “I’ve got to do something quick.” And this was my best guess. Like try to make something happen for myself and our family. I pitched it to Howard Stern and some magazines. And Stern thought I was crazy. Some magazines wanted it, but they didn’t want to support me because I didn’t have any money. So I needed a bulletproof vest, I needed to buy pepper spray, the stun gun, the Taser gun.

SNL was going to give me, like, five minutes each week to do what I do, but that would just be me. And I couldn’t do both.”
Photographed by Beth Saravo

STEVE-O He says, “I want to mace myself with red pepper spray. I want to get stunned by a 50,000-volt Taser gun. And then I want put on a bulletproof vest and shoot myself with a .38-caliber handgun. I just need the bulletproof vest, and it’s like $5,000.” Nobody would have anything to do with it, except Tremaine.

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KNOXVILLE Mom gave me $300 for Christmas that year. And I found the cheapest bulletproof vest they had on the market. Nowhere close to $5,000. Tremaine bought the stun gun, the pepper spray and the Taser. But my mom, unbeknownst to her, bought the bulletproof vest.

TREMAINE How much did we end up paying for that?

KNOXVILLE You guys paid a lot better than Bikini magazine. They gave me 10 cents a word. You guys gave us, like, 50 cents a word.

TREMAINE When Knoxville did the self-defense thing, I convinced him he needed to film it because we were starting work on the second video. And then we started getting cold feet about the bulletproof vest. That was so scary to me, especially because he got the cheapest one on the market. Luckily, at that point, Larry Flynt had bought the magazine. So I also gave him a big stack of porn magazines, at least four or five inches thick, that went under the bulletproof vest.

KNOXVILLE At one point I’m standing there with the gun in my hand, trying to shoot myself, and all the porn magazines fall out.

STEVE-O Knoxville thought that it would be safer to have somebody else shoot him from 12 feet away. But nobody was willing to do that because they didn’t want to be the one who killed him. So he’s in the footage, turning the gun on himself, and he’s saying, “Man, I wish somebody would shoot me.”

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TREMAINE I don’t think Johnny did it on purpose, but there’s one bullet in the chamber.

STEVE-O So it’s like, “Click.”

TREMAINE Everyone’s getting more stressed. Every time he clicks it, the cameraman is like, “Come on, dude. Let’s just go home.”

STEVE-O And it finally goes.

KNOXVILLE It’s like someone took a shovel and hit you in the chest as hard as they could.

STEVE-O The gun went flying out of your hand, like 12 feet toward the camera. And I think that took a lot of heat off the impact.

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KNOXVILLE Thank God I’ve got limp wrists.

TREMAINE The footage came back so compelling. We edited it together, and it was like, “Holy shit, this was incredible.” And we put that in the second video.

Jason “Wee Man” Acuña
Photographed by Beth Saravo

STEVE-O There were VHS tapes which were distributed in mom-and-pop skate shops. By the time the third one came out [in 1999], these Big Brother videos were a cult thing. So then Jeff Tremaine reaches out to Spike Jonze, and he is like, “Hey dude, there’s something about these videos that people are really fucking loving, but I just don’t think they care about the skateboarding.”

TREMAINE I went to high school with Spike, and I worked with him on Big Brother and Freestyle magazine before that. So after that second video came out, I had a light-bulb moment where I’m like, “Man, we can make a TV show out of this.”

KNOXVILLE You and I called Spike together.

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TREMAINE Spike fully knew what we were up to and totally agreed.

STEVE-O To make our [reel], they just used the Big Brother videos and subtracted the skateboarding. We took it to HBO first.

KNOXVILLE Oh man, that went terrible.

TREMAINE Our plan was to just let Spike do the talking. He was the only legit one that everyone was interested in anyway. [Jonze, then a successful music video director for bands like Beastie Boys and Daft Punk, had released his first feature, 1999’s Being John Malkovich.] So we showed it with these two women, I don’t even remember their names.

TREMAINE They were offended and just disgusted by what we had just shown them. And I went, “Oh well, fuck, man. Good thing I didn’t quit Big Brother yet.” And our second pitch was at MTV — and it was the exact opposite. We showed them the sizzle tape, and they were just dying laughing. And they wanted it right away.

KNOXVILLE SNL wanted me to be on the show. They were going to give me, like, five minutes each week to do what I do, but that would just be me. And I couldn’t do both. Our show was about to go. So I kind of bet on us as opposed to on myself. I was really flattered that Lorne Michaels asked me to have lunch with him at the Polo Lounge, but I said, “No, I’m going to do this instead.”

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Chris Pontius
Photographed by Beth Saravo

STEVE-O Within two weeks, it was officially the highest ratings MTV had ever had, outside of VMAs or anything. It shattered all their records and presumably with less of a budget than they were used to. And they were running reruns at 5 p.m. It was crazy. By the time the second season was underway, maybe a few weeks in, little kids were showing up in hospitals all over the place. Because they were inspired to be doing stunts on their own. And this scared the shit out of MTV. Then Joe Lieberman was lobbying against MTV. There wasn’t ever an actual big lawsuit, but there was just the fear of one, and MTV was in this position of, “Well, fuck, this is our biggest profit margin we’ve ever had, but there’s all this liability.” So their reaction was to start not approving shit for us to film.

TREMAINE The MTV solution to keep us safe was to assign an OSHA representative to follow us around and shoot with us. We had shot this bit called “The Vomelet.” That was so funny.

KNOXVILLE It was raining in Florida. So we didn’t have anything to shoot.

STEVE-O So [Jackass performer Dave England] eats all the ingredients of an omelet and then barfs it into a frying pan and then feeds it to me.

TREMAINE So we film that great bit, and it was fucking hilarious, and then MTV sees it, and they’re like, “Well, it doesn’t show that it was cooked at a temperature of 160 degrees.” I’m like, “What do you fucking mean? It’s an omelet. It was fine.”

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From left: Jackass stars Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Chris Pontius and Johnny Knoxville were photographed Jan.  11 at Electric Pony Studios in Los Angeles.
Photographed by Beth Saravo

PONTIUS They said it could spread “blood-borne pathogens.” I remember that was the big phrase.

KNOXVILLE And we had to wear hazmat suits, too.

TREMAINE Although that was funny, the fact that we had to redo it, it lost a lot of the spontaneity. OSHA is designed to keep factory workers safe. We’re trying to do a show where we’re getting hurt. It just didn’t make sense to have OSHA working with us.

STEVE-O So Knoxville quit. He said, “Hey, I’m not going to do a watered-down version of Jackass.” And when we, all the supporting castmembers, learned of this, we were like, “Um … what do you mean, Knoxville? What are you talking about?!”

KNOXVILLE In an interview with my hometown newspaper, I said, “I quit.” And then everyone learned of it. MTV was upset, obviously. Understandably. So there’s a lot of back-and-forth between our agents and attorneys and MTV. Because technically we were still under contract. What’s going to happen? And I think Jeff and Spike came to me and said, “Why don’t we do a movie version?”

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2002’s Jackass: The Movie.
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

TREMAINE In the middle of us making this second season, the guy who ran MTV Films, David Gale, came over to me. He’s like, “You can make a movie out of this.” And I’m like, “I don’t even know how to make a TV show.” But when Knoxville quit, David popped up and said, “Why don’t you guys make a movie?” Spike had thought that could work. I didn’t believe. It didn’t seem like it was possible to turn this stupid little TV show into a movie, but we agreed we’d give it a try.

KNOXVILLE I was against the movie because in my head I was like, “What, are we going to act? Is this a scripted thing?” They’re like, “No. It’s just like a naughtier version of what we do.” I’m like, “That’s a good idea.”

TREMAINE It didn’t make sense until it became “Just do the TV show, but do it on a crazier level.”

KNOXVILLE For the first movie, they insured per bit. They didn’t insure the whole movie. So, some bits were cost-prohibitive to do. There was one bit we wanted to do with Pontius dressed as the devil in a Pentecostal church handling snakes. And that was going to be, like, $5 million to insure. Our first entire movie cost $6 million. But after that, the movies were insured like a regular film.

TREMAINE On the first movie, Paramount wanted us to make it, but it was a negative pickup. They didn’t fully put their name on it.

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STEVE-O They shuttled the money through a ghost company. If anybody died, they wouldn’t even be affiliated it with it. And then, once we were done, they “found out about it” and bought it.

KNOXVILLE That said, Paramount’s been a great partner all these years.

Johnny Knoxville (left), Jeff Tremaine and Steve-O at L.A.’s Jackass 3D premiere in 2010.

TREMAINE Sherry Lansing was the head of Paramount when we did the first movie, and she pulled me aside, and I didn’t even know anything about her or how to make a movie. And she’s like, “Just make sure it’s crazier than anything you do on TV.”

KNOXVILLE She was great. She really supported us when some people at the studio saw the first cut and didn’t want any part of it.

STEVE-O I remember the first creative meeting we had — it was the very beginning of 2002. We went into this new office, and Tremaine says, “All right, it’s not a TV show anymore. Now it’s a movie and it’s rated R. So don’t fucking give us any half-ass ideas. Think big.” And I remember I was indignant. Like, “Oh, like I would present you a half-ass idea. Come on.” And my immediate first thought, I said, “Oh, yeah? How about if I get a tattoo of myself on myself and it’s bigger than myself?” Because the face of my back is substantially bigger than my actual face. That one never became a trend. But getting “YOUR NAME” tattooed on my butt cheek so I could tell people, “I have your name tattooed on my butt cheek” became a trend. There’s thousands of people out there with “YOUR NAME” on their butt cheek. I see them all the time. When the last bit in the first movie was being shot, putting a toy car up your butt, I backed out of it because my dad was just so disappointed in the idea. I explained the idea to him and the way my dad said, “Oh, no.” I heard it in his voice and I couldn’t do it.

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JASON ACUÑA Ryan Dunn did it. He backed it right in. He was good in that one.

PONTIUS We’re not afraid to have fun. Especially at that time, people were really afraid of anything they’d be called gay for, and there are people who put gay people in the same category as child molesters and perverts. And we never bought into that. We just wanted to have fun and push our own envelopes and shock ourselves and make ourselves laugh. Before Jackass even premiered, we were filming something where I was Rollerblading on the promenade at Hermosa Beach with a jockstrap on. And people actually wanted to beat me up for that. Like yelling names at me. Once it came out on TV, they would all be wanting to get my autograph and bro down with me, those same people that wanted to beat me up.

STEVE-O Looking back on this whole history, this unbelievable legacy and this franchise, I really feel so much gratitude and such a sense of pride in how I view the franchise as wholesome. And I know that’s counterintuitive to think of Jackass as wholesome, but it’s the spirit of it. It’s so warm, like there’s nothing hateful, there’s nothing negative. We give each other and ourselves a hard time, but we can handle it, and we love it. And just the spirit of it is so positive. I’m really proud and grateful for that.

KNOXVILLE “Everything I wrote was true. Because I believed in what I saw.” — Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

PONTIUS I think Jackass came out when the world needed it. And it brought that underground skateboard, silly culture to the world. I think a lot of people gravitated toward it because it reminded them of having fun with their friends growing up. More than the stunts and everything, it reminds a lot of people of hanging out with their friends and having fun. I think the characters on it are things that appeal the most. It wasn’t planned out to have a little guy and a fat guy and a naked guy …

ACUÑA And a clown guy. It just all meshed together.

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STEVE-O Knoxville was determined to go out on top, and he declared that Jackass was finished after the first movie. And then Chris and I got to work on our homoerotic nature show, Wildboyz. Knoxville joined us for a while. We were on this trip in Russia at this counterterrorism training camp. Knoxville says, “Have the dog bite me and shoot me with the 9mm gun while the dog’s biting me.” And Tremaine says to Knoxville, “Hey, whoa, let’s not do this for MTV2. If you have that in you, let’s make another movie.” And Knoxville had it in him. And that was Number Two.

KNOXVILLE Number Two was everyone on their worst behavior.

PONTIUS Number Two was amazing.

KNOXVILLE Everyone was out of control onscreen and off.

PONTIUS It was awesome.

STEVE-O Number Two was the masterpiece in my view. In between one and two, we were doing Wildboyz. In between [movies] two and three, I was doing drugs and trying to become a rapper. I’ve always had hustle, but at times I’ve hustled in the wrong direction. After Number Two, Knoxville once again declared that the franchise was over. I had my downward spiral and subsequent time in rehab. I was still living in a halfway house, newly sober, when I found out that these guys were talking about potentially doing a third movie.

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TREMAINE Me and Spike and Knoxville went out to dinner at the Chateau Marmont, and we discussed whether or not we were going to make a third movie [Jackass 3D]. We all agreed at that point to make the third movie at this dinner. And as we were walking out, we’re walking down to Sunset Boulevard, and Knoxville pulled out a huge dinner plate that he had stolen from the Chateau Marmont, this really thick dinner plate, and he smashed it over Spike’s head.

KNOXVILLE It powdered over his head.

TREMAINE There was blood running down his head, and we’re like, “Holy shit.” And that just sort of cemented like, “All right. I guess we’re doing this.” For Jackass 3D, we were actually shooting it in 3D versus converting it to 3D. So we had these big cameras that weren’t mobile, so everything was kind of happening in front of them.

STEVE-O And the production got big. It started out just like a shoestring and a handheld video camera. Now there’s semi trucks and all these trailers.

In a scene from Jackass Forever, Ehren McGhehey (seated left) and Compston “Darkshark” Wilson each attempt to blow a spider into the other man’s  face.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

KNOXVILLE The first movie was a punk show. Jackass Forever is like a Rolling Stones concert.

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PONTIUS Plus the challenges of filming with COVID going on and somehow not stopping it.

KNOXVILLE Filming a very dangerous movie in the safest way possible. “Don’t cough on the bull.”

STEVE-O And with all the #MeToo stuff so fresh in everybody’s consciousness. And then we bring on this girl …

TREMAINE Rachel Wolfson. Knoxville followed her on Instagram. She’s just a hilarious stand-up comedian. So we brought her out, and she fit right in.

STEVE-O And now we’ve got the human resources giving us the seminar about sexual harassment. And then after that, we walk in front of the cameras, and everyone’s just got their dicks out.

PONTIUS They’re like, “Unless you’re shooting, you can’t have your penises out.”

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KNOXVILLE After one, we said we weren’t going to make another. After two, we said the same. So I don’t know about a fifth. We may, we may not.

TREMAINE I wouldn’t be surprised if we never made another one. And I also wouldn’t be surprised if we did.

KNOXVILLE You go into each one accepting whatever happens. But Jackass Forever features by far my gnarliest bull hit. I spent the rest of the weekend in the hospital with a broken wrist, broken rib, concussion and brain hemorrhage. It took a little while to recover from that. So whatever the future holds, this is probably my last time with a bull because you can only take so many chances before something forever happens. After the brain hemorrhages and everything, the doctors were like, “You can’t have any more concussions.”

STEVE-O You don’t have to be a doctor to know that.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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After Driving Again And More, Britney Spears Shares Her Latest Taste Of Post-Conservatorship Freedom

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After Driving Again And More, Britney Spears Shares Her Latest Taste Of Post-Conservatorship Freedom

They say it’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary, and that’s likely particularly true if you’ve been denied access to those things for an extended period of time. After Britney Spears was released from the conservatorship she’d been under, the singer has been reintroducing herself to some of life’s simple pleasures. Last summer Spears was super pumped about regaining the freedom to drive, and in January the “Toxic” singer documented drinking her first glass of wine in over a decade. The newlywed continued to celebrate the post-conservatorship life by sharing her first trip to a bar.

Fans of the former pop singer are accustomed to seeing Britney Spears dancing and twirling and modeling different outfits at her and Sam Asghari’s new home. However, the “Toxic” singer took her followers on an exciting field trip, in which she and her assistant patronized a local drinking establishment. She shared her trip — and a sarcastic remark — on Instagram:

(Image credit: Instagram)

As she and her assistant Victoria Asher apparently enjoyed a drink and an app, Britney Spears couldn’t help but throw a little shade at her family, remarking that she was “so so grateful” for not being allowed to have a cocktail for the 13 years after her father Jamie Spears took control of her life. In fact, the 40-year-old said in her post this is her first time to partake in such an adventure. In the video, she shared:

This is my first time at a bar. First time. I feel so fancy, and I feel so sophisticated.

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How ‘Yellowjackets’ Stars Survived Hollywood

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How ‘Yellowjackets’ Stars Survived Hollywood

Sure, they may have eaten a person back in the day. But there are some things the grown women of Yellowjackets just wouldn’t do. On this, the actresses who play them — Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey and Christina Ricci — agree, as they gather in a backyard in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon in late July, just a few weeks before they start filming the second season of their breakout show.

The Showtime survival thriller, created and executive produced by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, earned seven Emmy nominations, including outstanding drama series and acting nominations for Lynskey and Ricci. The Yellowjackets storyline alternates between 1996 and the present day as it follows members of a high school girls soccer team whose plane crashes and strands them for 19 months in the wilderness, where they resort to cannibalism to survive.

Part of the show’s nostalgic appeal relies on its casting of these actresses, three of whom audiences knew as young women for their slyly offbeat roles in films like The Addams Family (Ricci), Cape Fear (Lewis) and Heavenly Creatures (Lynskey), to play the crash survivors as adults. In this conversation with THR, Cypress, Lewis, Lynskey and Ricci disclose their ’90s regrets, share what it means when you call an actress “quirky” and reveal how survival bonds women — including in the trenches of Hollywood.

Who here knew each other before the show?

MELANIE LYNSKEY (Points to Christina Ricci.) We knew each other a little bit. I went to a Nick Cave concert by myself, and Christina came up and —

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CHRISTINA RICCI I was very excited to see you.

LYNSKEY So excited. We were having a lovely chat, and then she’s like, “Are you here by yourself?” She’s the coolest person of all time, and I was intimidated. I just felt embarrassed to say, “I’ve come to a concert by myself.” I was like 24 or something.

RICCI I was impressed because I couldn’t go anywhere by myself.

LYNSKEY I also went to see Clay Aiken by myself because nobody would come with me.

It’s surprising that none of you had worked together over the years.

JULIETTE LEWIS It’s wild when you’ve been around so long, and you sort of have a kindred connection to people. There’s certain actors you’re like, “Mmm, we’re not of the same tree,” and then there’s other actors you’re like, “Oh, yeah. We have some roots.”

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Juliette, Melanie and Christina, all three of your Wikipedia entries say some version of, “Often plays quirky or offbeat characters.” What do those words mean to you?

LEWIS Real people, specific and unpredictable.

LYNSKEY I remember I got cast in a movie when I was like 21, and the description of the character before I auditioned was “Blah, blah, blah, the beautiful girl who sits next to him in school.” Then, at the table read, it had been changed to “Blah, blah, blah, cute and quirky.” I was like, “You don’t need to change it. Just keep it …” They’re like, “We better change this description or people will be like, wrong actress.” So, sometimes it feels … I don’t know. I never liked that word, “quirky.”

RICCI When you say that all of us had this description, that to me speaks to a past time, when, if you weren’t the leading-lady ingenue then you were quirky and offbeat. All right, so there’s two groups for actresses? In a way, I’m fine with being in the category I’m in because what it means to me is that I have made an effort in my career to do things that I feel like I haven’t seen before. So, in some ways, I like it. In other ways, I’m like, “Ugh.” It’s a little dismissive. A little cute and dismissive.

LEWIS We come from the ’90s where, when I had blond hair, I was the pretty airhead, and then I dyed my hair dark, and I was the wisecracking, sarcastic girl. But yeah, I think it’s really neat that we’ve all carved this path of range and specificity.

Isn’t another term for that “character actor”?

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RICCI But “character actress” used to be something they used to describe an ugly woman.

TAWNY CYPRESS Or Abe Vigoda.

RICCI Back in the late ’90s, my agents were always like, “We have to be so careful you don’t become a character actress. If we’re not careful, you’re going to end up just like Jennifer Jason Leigh.” I was like, “I like her.” They were so afraid of me not being a leading lady, of me not being sexually attractive to people. It was really the last thing I ever wanted, was for anyone to be attracted to me.

LEWIS My dad was a character actor. So to me, it was something that was super noble. It was a world of adventure and not limiting. I rebelled against the system, the PR system of being in some bizarre idea of beauty. I really revolted against that, for better or for worse. Crying in a bathroom at a photo shoot, like, “I won’t come out.” They want these doe-eyed looks. That’s for sure what I didn’t do in pictures, so I always looked slightly insane, which I prefer over, like, “Do you want to fuck me?”

Tawny, what was your sense of what the expectations were for you when you were starting out?

CYPRESS I’ve had a different row to hoe. I’ve spent my whole career doing shitty roles of the sassy one on the side. Honestly, growing up as an actor, I wanted to be an ingenue.

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LEWIS Isn’t that funny? And I wanted to be sassy and opinionated.

CYPRESS I couldn’t be an ingenue. I just couldn’t. It’s just not in me, you know? I was never presented with those roles, ever, and I was like, “Oh, OK. That’s not who I am.” I sort of, growing older, have embraced my Jersey side, and I am who I am, and this is what you get.

LYNSKEY I started calling myself a character actor in interviews when I was really young because I think it was reclaiming the term or something. I think I just was like, “That’s what I am.” My agents had all that kind of intensity around it, too. I remember when I did Coyote Ugly

RICCI Oh my God, you got a piece in that? I went up for that, and I didn’t get it.

CYPRESS I did too.

LYNSKEY I played the best friend from Jersey. But the scrutiny that was on Piper [Perabo], who’s one of the coolest, smartest women, just the way people were talking about her body, talking about her appearance, focusing on what she was eating. All the girls had this regimen they had to go on. It was ridiculous. I was already starving myself and as thin as I could possibly be for this body, and I was still a [size] four. That was already people putting a lot of Spanx on me in wardrobe fittings and being very disappointed when they saw me, the costume designer being like, “Nobody told me there would be girls like you.” Really intense feedback about my physicality, my body, people doing my makeup and being like, “I’m just going to help you out by giving you a bit more of a jawline and stuff.” Just the feedback was constantly like, “You’re not beautiful. You’re not beautiful.” In your early 20s, so much of it is about beauty, and how people respond to you, and do people want to fuck you? Do people think you’re their best friend? Even the best friend thing, I started to be like, “I don’t want to do that too many times.”

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Did you have to unlearn anything that people tried to teach you when you were starting out?

LEWIS I had developed such a survival mechanism to protect my autonomy, sort of, “You don’t own me. You don’t tell me my value. Only I do.” I was extremely self-critical — it still happens — of my work. It’s almost like a defense mechanism that no one could talk shit about me more than I can. There’s all these things that are wrapped up in how to survive a system. That’s what I’m unlearning today — to be softer. This is a really remarkable industry to be a part of. I feel honored to be a part of it and what it gave me, but I do still hold on to what it took from me in my youth.

Given what you all experienced coming into the industry, do you feel at all protective of the younger actresses who play the younger versions of your characters?

LYNSKEY (Begins to cry.) So much. I feel very protective. At the beginning of production, I sent them all an email, and I just was like, “Whatever you need, if you need a voice, if you need someone to go to the producers for you, whatever you need,” and they were kind of like, “Cool. Thanks.” They’re fine.

CYPRESS Totally fine. Jas [Jasmin Savoy Brown] was a boss on set. She’s like, “This is how we’re doing my hair. This is what we’re doing.”

RICCI They’re very much of a different generation.

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CYPRESS I am protective of Jas in the fact that she is so sexually positive, which I love. She has taught me so much, just knowing her as a person. But I’m like a mama bear to her, or a big sister. I’m like, “What are you putting online right now?” She’s like, “Whatever. Whatever. This is life, man. I love myself.” I’m protective, but I’m also in awe of her, you know?

LEWIS But there is a thing I always want to say to young people: Cultivate other interests deeply so that you’re not getting all your life’s blood from this industry, or your self-worth.

Is there anything you miss about the ’90s?

LYNSKEY I have a lot of love letters from the ’90s.

RICCI Someone used to fax me love letters when he was on tour. I did not save them. I throw everything out. I had a specific thing when I was a child, that we would be punished by the things that we loved being destroyed. My husband, who is a much healthier individual, has gone back and found all my old magazine covers on Etsy because he thinks it’s horrible that I never saved them. As a child, I learned that this is going to be taken from me, so why save it anyway?

LYNSKEY That’s heartbreaking. Well, I saved everything because I’m basically an emotional hoarder. I have this literal suitcase, an old-fashioned suitcase.

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RICCI This is very dark, but I would just like to go back to that age and do it over again and not make so many fucking mistakes. Honestly, I regret so much.

CYPRESS Me too. One thousand percent.

LEWIS Me too.

RICCI I’d like to go back to 1996 and be like, “All right … we had a practice run. It went OK, but it wasn’t really as great as we wanted it to be. We’re going to do this again.” People who are like, “I have no regrets.” What fucking magic life did you live?

LEWIS Where they go, “I don’t regret anything because that led up to this moment.” Really? The thing that could’ve put my dad in an early grave, I fucking regret it. Yes. I was very scary as a young teenage person.

CYPRESS Yeah. I hurt a lot of people growing up, and I wish that I didn’t. I was going through my memory box. It was my great-great-grandmother’s she brought over from Hungary. It’s huge, and it’s filled to the brim with everything from my life. I came across a note from high school. It was my first gay friend, and it broke my heart because he was like, “I want to thank you for not talking to me anymore and just cutting me off the way that you did. It made it hurt less.” I literally was crying, and I had to call him and be like, “I just came across this note, and I’m so sorry that I was that person to you.” When I think back, I think how wonderful our relationship was, but I was a shit, you know? I would definitely do so many things differently.

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LEWIS I’ve had those moments where I turned into … Because I’ve been bullied, but when I was 11 and got in a fight with a girl, I was mean [the same way] how a girl was mean to me. I was really vicious.

LYNSKEY I think people without regrets are narcissists. I think they’re lying to themselves.

RICCI Denial is the only way to get up that river.

What did you all feel when you learned that Roe v. Wade was overturned?

RICCI It’s really horrible to be told so plainly what your value is.

LEWIS I wish the two factions can talk, like, “Hey, what do you do with a bad situation, poverty and drug addiction, and rape?” You have to have an option that is salvageable or is sustainable for the survival of a person, a woman who’s living.

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CYPRESS I don’t really give a shit what your reason to have an abortion is. It’s your fucking body. I don’t really fucking care. You don’t want to be a mom, right? That’s your fucking decision. Look, we can put morals on it and say, “Well, only when you’re raped, or only if it’s …” It’s like no, dude. It’s either in or out. We’re either telling women what to do with their bodies or we let them have their own choice. I am of the mind, choice. I’m not going to judge you for making that decision.

LYNSKEY And there seems to be this general lack of compassion and empathy that’s just growing and growing. There’s so much hatred, and people are unable to look at another person’s life and go, “Oh, you know, that’s an untenable situation,” or even, “That’s a difficult situation.” There’s no grace given to anybody else. There’s no empathy. You don’t get to make decisions for somebody else. You don’t know what’s right for them.

Is there a place for TV and film in that conversation?

CYPRESS I mean, that’s what TV and film do. That’s what art is. On Yellowjackets, let’s talk about Shauna’s baby in the woods, you know? Yeah. I think we have a lot of room to speak on this subject, and I hope we do.

Did anybody have their kids on set for season one?

LYNSKEY (Points to Ricci.) We did.

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RICCI And I was pregnant. I didn’t tell anyone but these ladies that I was pregnant for six months. When we started, I was six weeks pregnant. It was difficult. There were so many times where I was like, “Ooh, when they find out I’m pregnant, and they made me sit in this smoky room all day. When they realize that they made me stand for eight hours, and I’m pregnant, and I have this horrible sciatica, and it’s 100 degrees, oh, they’re going to feel so bad.” They didn’t feel bad at all. But anyway, it was fine. In fact, it would’ve been helpful if I was playing a more emotional character because I can give a real good performance when I’m pregnant, real emo.

How would you finish the sentence, “Yellowjackets is really about …”?

CYPRESS Women. PTSD.

LYNSKEY Trauma.

CYPRESS Friendship.

RICCI Haunting, the way trauma haunts you. The way you can never escape. The way it twists people in different ways.

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LEWIS Aberrant survival tactics.

We know that these characters have done a bunch of aberrant things, as you say, including cannibalism. But do you have in your mind an idea that, “OK, she may have eaten another human being, but she would never do this“?

RICCI I know when they confront me because I’m like, “OK, she wouldn’t do that.” Misty wouldn’t drink that drink. Originally, in the script, she was drinking a Brandy Alexander, and I said, “No, Misty would drink a chocolate martini.” I have rules and stuff for her in my head, and they do conflict with the writers sometimes. I don’t think she actually is interested in men, at all. I think she does it because she’s bored, or because she thinks that’s what she’s supposed to do. Then, she’s also realized that she can have a lot of fun trying to trick them into having sex with her when they don’t want to. It’s like men will kind of know that you don’t want to have sex with them, but if they can get you to have sex with them, they won.

LEWIS It’s a power thing.

RICCI Misty’s way of doing it is through this really horrible manipulation, making him feel guilty and having sex with her while feeling guilty, which would be a terrible experience.

When you have a different perspective on your character than the writers, what do you do?

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RICCI That’s part of the thing with TV that I’ve learned now, being involved in a production but not being one of the EPs, so you aren’t a part of creating what people do. “OK, they wrote this scene. I have to play this scene. If she was in this situation, how the fuck would she be in this situation, and why would she be?” Then, you don’t have to tell other people what you come up with. They can find out about it later when you do press.

Does anybody else have a line in their mind that their character wouldn’t cross?

LYNSKEY I had one. There was something written into a script where I was going on a date with my lover, and they had me going into my daughter’s bedroom and taking her underwear, which was just not practical because I wouldn’t fit it. She’s little. But also, ew. I think there was something, apparently, somewhere, people liked the thing in the pilot where I’m masturbating in my daughter’s bedroom. I was like, “Can that just be an isolated incident? I don’t want it to be a theme.” So I just was like, “I don’t want to do that.” They were great about it.

LEWIS It comes, I think, with experience and respect, that they appreciate if you have a point of view. I have an “anything goes” stamp on me, which they all know. But I have strong ideas, especially about my trajectory in midlife. I’ve looked at Natural Born Killers recently, and I’m like, “Jesus.” Thank goodness I had a partner like Woody Harrelson, but it is so sexual. No one forced me into that. I was a young nihilist who didn’t give a fuck, and I felt comfortable with Woody, and I liked the material. But nowadays, I’m very particular. So, they had written a sex scene, and I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know that she even gets off. I don’t know that she even can have orgasms.” That’s how deep I went. So it was more like, is she doing something to get something? At the end of the day, I just didn’t even think she fucks, sorry to be so graphic, at this juncture that you saw in season one. I think she might’ve had relationships with all of them in the wilderness. I don’t know if they’re going to write it, but that’s what I’d like to think of Natalie.

LYNSKEY That’s what I think too.

RICCI What? I never thought of that. Who would they be making out with? I guess each other.

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The finale hints that there may be additional Yellowjackets who survived into adulthood. Have actors been cast for those roles?

LEWIS Wait, Melanie, didn’t you say that on our chain, that someone we like is cast to be … (At this point there is meaningful eye contact among the four women.)

RICCI We don’t know for sure. That’s what we’ve heard was close to happening.

LYNSKEY We don’t know anything.

On season one, you were making this show under the radar. Now there’s so much fan speculation. Does that change the way you approach the work?

RICCI There’s more pressure going into season two.

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CYPRESS Have you guys also had that feeling of like, “Can I do this? Is it going to be good, the second season? Am I going to fuck this character up?”

LYNSKEY I have those fears.

RICCI Me too, but because TV is so fast, and you have so little time with the information, the process of talking about the show afterward helps you to evolve your take on your character. To understand things that were intended with the character that maybe weren’t clear originally because you get to hear the EPs talk about it. I’m going to make changes in the next season based on what I have come to realize through all this talking.

Like what?

RICCI Well, that’s a secret.

How much do you want to know about the path that your character is on?

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CYPRESS Fuck, I want to know everything. I sit there, and when I think about the show, I think, “What the fuck are they going to do with this character?” There’s so many different parts to her right now. The dog thing. She’s now a senator. There may be an old love coming back, you know? I’m like, “How are they going to do this?” I just want to know.

LYNSKEY Now you’re a full-time dog killer.

RICCI I didn’t even know that you were supposed to be the one that killed the dog.

CYPRESS What?

RICCI I thought, “Oh, well maybe somebody broke in.”

LYNSKEY That could still be, right?

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CYPRESS Wait, give me more to think about.

So you don’t go to the writers and say, “To be clear, did I kill the dog?”

CYPRESS Oh, we do. They just say, “Mmm.”

RICCI “We don’t know.”

CYPRESS But they do know.

RICCI I don’t think they’re trying to control us with no information or anything. Sometimes, they don’t want to commit to something that hasn’t been necessarily set in stone. I do find it frustrating to not know, and we’re never able to know fully. I have decided to learn how to function with knowing nothing.

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Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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James Gunn Addresses Peacemaker Future Amid Batgirl Cancelation

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James Gunn Addresses Peacemaker Future Amid Batgirl Cancelation

Shockwaves from Warner Bros.’s cancelation of Batgirl have had many fans questioning the possibility of other DC-connected projects following suit. Amid outcries from fans of Batgirl, Michael Keaton, Brendan Fraser, and even Snyderverse fans who are always eager to picket Warner Bros., Peacemaker fans started asking James Gunn whether there was any possibility that his DC work was going to suffer amid the company’s cost-cutting exercise. Ironically, considering the history that led James Gunn to work with DCEU characters, it seems that the director and his shows are the only ones who are “safe.”

What seems like a lifetime ago, James Gunn was all set to start work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for Disney and Marvel Studios when some old Twitter posts led to him being unceremoniously sacked. By the time Disney backtracked on their firing, Gunn was already committed to directing The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros., which is why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has taken so long to arrive. Now, during all the chaos at Warner Bros., it appears that Gunn is not worried at all about the second season of Peacemaker getting the ax. When asked if the show was safe, Gunn simply replied:

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“Yes, guys, calm down.”

That is a relief for fans of the small sub-universe Gunn is building inside the DCEU, which along with The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, is set to include at least another unannounced project and be linked to the Amanda Waller series that is in development. At least that side of the franchise doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.


Related: Peacemaker: Will More Suicide Squad Members Appear in Season 2?

Is Warner Bros. Still Planning on Rebooting The DCEU?

There have been rumors of a “soft-reboot” coming to the DCEU for a long time, and while it seems at times like Warner Bros. is heading in that direction, they have constantly denied any such intention. During San Diego Comic-Con, the entire focus of the Warner Bros. live-action DC panel was on Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Both of these movies have their small links to the wider DCEU, and once again, Warner Bros. seemed to be causing confusion by including a Justice League montage within the Shazam sequel while at the same time professing that they are not revisiting that particular DCEU set up in any way.

One thing clear from Dwayne Johnson’s appearance at SDCC is that he believes that Black Adam is setting the tone for a new DCEU, and based on everything else that is happening, he could be right. While there is no way of telling exactly where the franchise will be heading beyond The Flash in 2023, with new additional entries like Wonder Woman 3 constantly being stuck in limbo, it has been made clear that some big changes are being made in regards to the DCEU and fans will be hoping that those changes bring some kind of consistency to the franchise before it ends up crashing down around itself.

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