A lot of work went into making Jackass Forever happen.
"I sent a lot of emails for this movie," says Dave England, who has been with the Jackass crew since the original MTV show's inception. "I couldn't believe it when I got one back that was like, 'yeah, maybe we should [do it].'" Did he think the response was just another elaborate prank? "Trust me, that crossed my mind!"
A decade after the third Jackass film, Johnny Knoxville felt like it was the right time to get the gang back together. "If I caved because they were begging, I'm not doing it for the right reason," he says. "I wanted to do another one because I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to shoot these ideas I'd been writing for ten years. That's why I decided, and luckily the guys did want to do another."
"I'm Johnny Knoxville and welcome to Jackass"
Jackass Forever builds on a legacy two decades in the making. The words "I'm Johnny Knoxville and welcome to Jackass" were first uttered on-screen back in the year 2000. Then a modest show on MTV, Jackass was born from Knoxville's experiments testing self-defense equipment on himself for Jeff Tremaine's Big Brother magazine. Jackass soon became a cult hit, running for three seasons until, frustrated with the restrictions placed on them by their TV overlords, the Jackass gang – featuring Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, Chris Pontius, Ryan Dunn, and a handful of other reprobates – teamed up with Tremaine and respected director and skate video creator Spike Jonze to make a movie in 2002.
Jackass: The Movie was supposed to be a one-off, a way of waving farewell to the series. However, audiences loved watching this cast of idiots hurting themselves and pulling pranks on other people, and the film was a major success worldwide. It was followed by a sequel in 2006. Another, Jackass: 3D, was released four years later in 2010. Yet, despite the begging cries from fans, a decade went past with no word on a follow-up – that is, until Jackass Forever was announced, lovingly titled as a testament to the people behind the series and the fans who wanted it to happen.
Knoxville, while initially resistant to returning, is happy to have done it. "Nothing is as fun as making a Jackass film," he says. "Once we started it was like we never stopped. I think it meant more because it had been so long since the last one."
Steve-O, on the same Zoom call, chips in: "This one felt so much more special because I thought the ship had sailed long ago. If you were to ask me what the odds were of another Jackass movie, I would have said zero point zero. Then Knoxville says he wants to make a new movie. I was more shocked than can be believed. I wasn't even prepared for how special the experience would be. In the past, movies really stressed us out. You were looking over your shoulder, you've got PTSD, you just want it to be over. This one was not that way, I never wanted it to be over. I was so grateful for every day that we got to do it. It wasn't just fun, it was fucking awesome."
Jason Acuña, better known as Wee Man, says they were all keen to pull it together. "We were all ready to make another one for a few years before it happened. It kept being brought up again and again and got denied. Finally it came to a point where Knoxville said 'yes'. That to us was Christmas Day." Chris Pontius adds: "We get asked so much if we're gonna make another one, and finally, there's another one. We're so proud of it, because we think it blows away the last one."
A little older, not any wiser
As excited as this group was to return, there was one major concern: their ages. The original cast is now in their 40s and 50s, and they each endured a myriad of injuries through two decades of Jackass. With Forever, to ease some of the pressure on their bodies, they took on new recruits – younger people they could lay into and use to take some of the heat off of themselves. Some of the OG cast were initially a little resistant. "We all argued against it at first, but they said let's at least bring them on and see how they work with the group," says Wee Man.
"We were kind of like, 'what, come on?'" says 'Danger' Ehren McGhehey. "Then we met everyone and everyone just clicked. Once we started going, we realized it was actually a really good thing. Some things our bodies with so many surgeries and whatnot cannot take. It's nice to be able to have somebody that we can lay into."
Steve-O adds: "The whole original cast was initially very resistant to the idea of new faces being introduced. As with every decision Knoxville, Tremaine, and Spike make collectively, they were right. Once we met the new guys, we fell in love with them right away."
The new recruits for jackass forever include comedian Rachel Wolfson, Odd Future member Jasper Dolphin, surfer Sean 'Poopies' McInerney, actor and skateboarder Eric Manaka, and internet-sensation-for-causing-himself-pain, Zach 'Zackass' Holmes. They all grew up watching Jackass, with Zackass even defying his strict Christian parents to watch the show, muting the TV when it seemed like they might walk in. "My family was super religious, and MTV was evil to them," he says. "It made me want to watch it more, and when I did watch it, I was like, 'this is amazing!'"
Zackass and the other newcomers were thrilled to be onboard, calling it a "dream come true" – even when it caused them a little pain. "The guys are so great and they're so supportive when you have a stunt going on," Poopies says. "There is safety to it, but at the same time there is not."
Wolfson interrupts: "They love when we get hurt!" Zackass adds: "That's their favorite part."
Although they had new recruits to do their worst stunts, the original cast still wanted as much screen time as possible. "We're attention whores, we want our footage, we don't want them stealing it from us!" says Wee Man. Pontius adds: "Everyone wants superiority. Nobody wants to sit on the sidelines. Especially with this one, everybody wanted to make this one count. No one was lazing around on this one."
The thing that makes Jackass special, and unlike any of its predecessors or imitators, isn't how hard the guys go (very) or how much they hurt themselves (lots) but the camaraderie and chemistry between them. It's clear, on-screen and off, that these are genuine friends that just love hanging out. Even with their strong bond, there’s always the risk that the newest Jackass film will be the last. "Every single one could be it," says Pontius. "You gotta make it like it's the last one. They always say it's the last one, we're gonna go on a high note, but we make another one."
As a result, in Jackass Forever, the gang goes further than ever before. There are bulls, bears, scorpions… and those are just the dangers from the animal kingdom. Filming began in March 2020 but was halted due to the Coronavirus pandemic. When the cast returned later that year, they were unable to do public pranks and so, Knoxville says, they had to go in even harder on each other. "We abused each other more than ever because we couldn't do as many public pranks, so we focused on the cast. They got it worse than ever."
Electrocution, hockey pucks to the balls, psychological torture – there were no depths they didn't plumb. During the very extra opener, Pontius says, Dave England was burnt so badly in an explosion he had to go to the hospital: "A person from Paramount dropped him off, and he didn't have his wallet or his phone and they thought he was a homeless guy. He was a little disheveled. He's like, 'I'm a movie star', and they thought 'this guy is crazy' and they brought in a social worker!"
In the end, after all of the pain and injuries, the experience and end result made it all worthwhile. "My favorite part was when we wrapped the film and we realized that we got it. We put it away. That was the greatest feeling ever," laughs McGhehey. New recruit Eric Manaka is still starry-eyed: "I'm just so grateful for it. To be in those places, to see all these things in the flesh is insane. It's so sick all round. To have spent some time with these guys and to hear so many stories was so beautiful."
Jackass forever and always
The world is in a very different place today than it was 20 or 10 years ago – or even two years ago, when the pandemic abruptly cut production short. But perhaps it's the extreme times we live in, and the restrictions that we live with, that mean we need Jackass more than ever. We need to see people on-screen seemingly throw caution to the wind, get hurt, and laugh hysterically while they do it.
"[Jackass] came about when the world needed it, and it made a lot of people less afraid to have fun and be themselves," he says. "People were afraid to run around naked, men were hiding their bodies from the world. Jackass changed all that."
So, did Party Boy start a body-positive revolution? "100%", says Wee Man.
"When we were filming for the TV show, a lot of the naked bits, people were yelling at me wanting to beat me up," Pontius adds. "After it came on TV, the same people would have been chasing me down to hug me and ask for my autograph because it made it ok."
It's that unexpected sweetness amongst grime, blood, and chaos that makes Jackass so special to so many. And when fans – many of whom may not have entered a cinema for the better part of two years – show up at the theatre, it's going to be cathartic and messy.
Read our original reviews of Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, and Jackass 3D
"Seeing Jackass in the theatres is so much better than watching it at home," says Pontius. "It's such an experience watching it with the audience. We really want people to get to experience that like it's supposed to be. It's like seeing a concert or something."
"The world doesn't know yet, but we're gonna cure a lot of things," laughs Wee Man. "Laughter is the best medicine!"
The way the cast laugh when they relay these stories confirms what we've always known – the world needs Jackass, and maybe these guys do too. "Making this movie, it's the funnest thing that I know of even doing," Pontius says. "It's so great to be with everyone. We are a big family at this point, and to get to be all together and doing this, there's no place we'd rather be."
The Jackass crew, and the world, have gone through some tough times since 2010. We've all grown up together, and the gang are right – we do need Jackass right now. Jackass forever!
Jackass Forever is in cinemas from February 4. Check out all the upcoming movies to get excited for with our guide.