A big dynamic of any Jackass production involves “booby traps and double-crosses,” Jackass Forever director Jeff Tremaine explains.
“We always know that there is no trust on the set at all,” he explains.
As a longtime director of the franchise, Tremaine says his goal is “to find ways to get the crew to drop their guard.”
This is easier said than done, since many of these Jackass Forever cast members — including Johnny Knoxville, Dave England, Steve-O, Ehren McGhehey — have been there since the beginning, 20 years ago.
Favorite Jackass Stunt in Jackass Forever
Tremaine’s favorite stunt from the fourth film in the series involves a devious bait-and-switch of the variety the cast and crew have been so seasoned to avoid at all costs. “I didn’t think the guys would go for it,” he says looking back at it.
Tremaine calls this stunt the “Silence of the Lambs bit,” referring to Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture-winner from 1991.
In the stunt, a few cast members are lured into an underground area with curiously dated production design, for what they think is a simple stunt involving rattlesnakes. But then the crew swap out the rattlesnakes on the sly and the lights go out. The four cast members now believe they are stumbling around in the dark while venomous snakes slink about, and other tortuous elements await them.
“It’s something like we’ve never shot before, where the torture was almost purely psychological,” Tremaine says.
“I came up with the original idea, just thinking of Silence of the Lambs when Buffalo Bill is chasing Jodie Foster and he’s got the advantage of being able to see in the dark,” Tremaine explains. “And then Knoxville chimed in on all the different tortures: We should do this and that.”
Chris Pontius, who is in on the prank, helps make the Silence of the Lambs connection extra clear.
“I also wanted to make sure we had Chris Pontius doing the Buffalo Bill Dance — which is so funny — in the pitch dark. He can’t see any of the guys,” Tremaine laughs. “He has no idea if anyone’s next to him or not — he’s just sitting there. It was pitch black — you could not see your hand in front of you.”
To ensure total darkness, the team went to extremes.
“For it to work, we found a location that was underground,” Tremaine continues. “It was at this old abandoned, basically a mental hospital, and the location was in the basement. We blacked out the windows and we put up old granny wallpaper. We did a half-assed set design to make it look like a grandma’s house, like the house in Silence of the Lambs.”
“So we put wallpaper up on the really creepy old hospital walls, and we brought the guys down there under a ruse that Knoxville is going to do this stunt with a rattlesnake. I was surprised how willing the guys seemed like, Oh, OK. They were nervous at first because no one trusts anyone.”
As the production of a Jackass film wears on, it becomes harder and harder to pull off double-crosses. So he staged the Silence of the Lambs stunt early.
“We hadn’t sabotaged them very many times before that bit to where their guard wasn’t quite all the way up yet,” Tremaine says.
Much like the on-camera talent, the crew are longtime Jackass collaborators, which helps.
“Our crew is such a well-oiled machine in fucking with people. They all take unspoken cues. Our cameraman had to act normal — everyone has to act like nothing’s out of the ordinary. And luckily, we’ve all been together long enough to where we’ve got that down.”
At the very end of the stunt, once the lights were turned back on and everyone had had their laughs, pranked cast member Dave England refused to leave the room, lest there be more dangerous pranks on the way out.
“He was so traumatized,” Tremaine laughs. “I think to him, that’s the scariest thing we ever did to him. And he’s done physically worse things. But that was the most mental torture.”
Tremaine is not simply a schemer who plots out psychological torture on the cast members from a protected high ground.
“By the end of shooting even I have PTSD. I can’t trust anyone. I’m one of the biggest targets and most of mine don’t even get caught on film, when I get caught. There’s always the double cross on our mind,” he says.
All-Time Favorite Jackass Stunt
While the Silence of the Lambs double-cross is Tremaine’s favorite in Jackass Forever, you have to go all the way back to 2002 to Jackass: The Movie for his favorite bit of all-time, which involves the late Ryan Dunn.
“In the first movie when we shoved the toy car up Ryan Dunn’s butt stands out as an all-timer — just how simple and stupid the idea is, and how far along we got to actually get him an X-ray with a real doctor. So that’s probably my favorite,” Tremaine says.
Watch that stunt from the original Jackass: The Movie below, and catch the “Silence of the Lambs” bit in Jackass Forever in theaters tomorrow.
Photos courtesy of Paramount/MTV Films. Main image: Longtime Jackass collaborators Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze on the set of Jackass Forever.