IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Jeff Tremaine Talks 'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa' Blu-ray and DVD

Monday, 27 January 2014 16:29 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Jeff Tremaine Talks 'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa' Blu-ray and DVD

One of the most surprising Oscar nominations this year was in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, which will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning January 28th. On the surface, the thought of a Jackass film being nominated for an Academy Award is comical, but once you see the amazing job that the filmmakers did turning Johnny Knoxville into an 86-year-old man, you’ll understand why they deserved it. 

Unlike previous Jackass films, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa has a distinct storyline and narrative. The film follows 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) as he goes on a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8 year-old Grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), back to his real father. Along the way, they get into a lot of high jinx that alarm the unassuming people around them. While the audience is in on the joke, no one else in the movie (besides Nicoll) knows that Irving is actually Knoxville, and the two actors do a remarkable job of staying in character. 

I recently had a chance to speak exclusively with director Jeff Tremaine (Jackass: The Movie) about his work on Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The director discussed his latest film, it’s surprisingly touching narrative story, Johnny Knoxville’s acting skills, impressive child actor Jackson Nicoll, his wild beauty pageant scene, if any of the pranks went wrong, ordinary people’s reactions when they learned that Irving was really Knoxville, if anyone ruined a gag by not allowing their image to appear in the movie, the film’s Academy Award-nominated makeup, and a possible sequel. 

Here is what Jeff Tremaine had to say about Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa:

IAR: To begin with, I expected Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa to be similar to the previous Jackass films and just feature a series of different pranks, but instead the movie has a real narrative and a very touching storyline. Was the narrative storyline scripted, and did you intentionally want to make this film different than the previous Jackass projects?

Jeff Tremaine: Yes. It has a narrative for one, and two a narrative that is sensitive. We were going to tell a story like a narrative and we shot it like it's a narrative. It is set in the real world. We didn't know if the scenes were going to work as well as they did. It's a testament to Johnny Knoxville and his acting ability to be honest.

Do you think that Johnny Knoxville felt like this film was a chance for him to play a real character and prove to people that he can actually act, rather than just doing goofing stunts in makeup?

Tremaine: Yeah, I mean he killed it in this movie. He really did become Irving and made Irving real. Even to me while we were shooting he was Irving. He gets into the character and he gets in the zone. He really is an awesome actor. He was amazing in this movie.

What was the relationship like off the set between Johnny and the young actor that plays Billy, Jackson Nicoll? 

Tremaine: They did a movie together before this so Johnny came right to me and said, “I found the perfect kid. We have got to do something with this kid.” We were starting to think about Bad Grandpa, but we didn't have the idea yet. Johnny knew that we had to develop something Jackson because he's so amazing. So they had a very real bond and when you see pictures of them it's like that on and off camera. 

Was Jackson comfortable with doing the beauty pageant scene? I know when I was an 8-year-old boy the last thing you would've been able to get me to do was put on a dress and pole dance. Was he cool with doing that scene and completely committing to it?

Tremaine: Jackson is a one in a million kid and he can act in a scripted scene. The most important thing for us is that he can hang tough and stay in character when the shit gets real. He pushes people to get reactions and sometimes I even have to back him down. As far as the beauty pageant went, I had a talk with him. I said for this thing to work you cannot make fun of it at all. You have to learn the dance inside and out, you have to take it really seriously. He got that and he committed so wholeheartedly. That probably is the funniest thing I've ever sat and watched live. I was stuck in a back room there watching all the camera angles and trying not to laugh because my laugh would actually break through the wall. So I had to sit silent. When you're watching that thing unfold in real time, it played almost the exact same as watching it in the movie and we were dying. We had probably eight people in the back just dying.

Did any of the stunts go wrong? Was there any point when Johnny was fearful for his life with either the biker gang in the bar, the male strippers at the club, or in the parking lot with the angry guy and the inflatable penguin?

Tremaine: No. I wouldn't say he was ever fearful. He's trying to get a guy right up to the edge of punching him in the face and I love that. Johnny probably would love it if a guy did punch him in the face to be honest. You can see how it’s a game of just riding a guy, calming him down enough just to heat him back up even hotter and then calming him down again. He did it with the strippers a couple of times too. Maybe we are afraid of who's getting punched, but I think he would love it to be honest. There was a stunt where he rides this rocket propelled kiddy toy through a window and he didn't want to practice it. We had it set up in a warehouse so he could see what it felt like and I had to make him take one practice ride. He would only do it once and the reason I made him do it is because there was a big metal edge going into the window and if he sprung up the wrong way he would just smash his head on the ceiling. So I made him practice one time just to make sure he could stay sitting in his seat until the thing landed.         

You showed a little of it in the end credit scene, but what were people’s reactions when you revealed to them that Irving was really Johnny Knoxville? Did everyone know who Johnny was? Were they all happy to be part of the film?         

Tremaine: Most people were psyched. It scared some people, but on the DVD on the Blu-ray there's a little featurette on how we did the stunts and there's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff showing people how we did certain bits.  

Was there anyone who wouldn't give approval to appear in the film and possibly ruined a gag that you wanted to use?

Tremaine: Yes, there are always people like that. There was a bunch, but we have a good team going in and making things nice. There are a few people that didn't sign. One real angry pageant dad didn't sign who had a really funny confrontation with Knoxville. We were sad about losing that one. But other than that we got pretty much everyone we wanted. 

The film was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. How long was the makeup process everyday for Johnny and did you make any adjustments to get the makeup just right, and to create the look for Irving that you wanted?

Tremaine: The makeup is really the star of the movie besides Knoxville. The makeup process took three hours a day, and five hours a couple of times when we did a full body piece. We did a chest piece and back piece so we could take his shirt off, which we never ended up showing in the movie anyway. Like in the strip scene he was actually supposed to take his shirt off and he had makeup done. He sat through five hours of makeup only to get there and then he forget to take his shirt off. We were all set for him to do that. At the beginning of the movie we were looking at it as a hindrance, the fact that he had to sit there for three hours to go through makeup. But actually when we started shooting the three hours was the time when he was getting into his headspace and going over everything he wanted to do. It's sort of the most organized we've ever been because he had three hours to just really hone in on what he was going to do that day and he just worked out lines and stuff. He just practiced. It was just really meditative and necessary the way we did it. It worked out in our favor that he had three hours a day to get into character.                       

Finally, has there been any talk about doing a sequel? Is that something you're interested in directing again, and have you and Johnny talked about ideas for a sequel?

Tremaine: This thing consumed us for so long. We're just so happy to watch it unfold and we have not talked about a sequel at this moment. It would be hard. I wouldn't say it's impossible so I'll leave the door open on us trying a sequel. The bottom line is the movie did really well, and better than we expected. But more people saw it, which makes it harder for us to do it again. It's a blessing and a curse.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning January 28th. 

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