When you find yourself in the same room as Quentin Tarantino, chances are you won’t be able to deliver a full, uninterrupted sentence; similarly, if you’re sitting next to Johnny Knoxville, good luck saying much of anything without cracking up. So their “Daltry Calhoun” co-conspirators, actress Juliette Lewis and writer/director Katrina Holden Bronson, once again found themselves being talked and laughed over while promoting the new comedy.
“Dramatic and romantic” is how Lewis described a tender love scene in the film between her character and Knoxville’s slacker-turned-inventor.
“Did you say ‘traumatic and romantic’?” the former “Jackass” star jumped in, incredulously.
“Dramatic!” she shot back, laughing.
In a separate room, Bronson laid on some subtle sarcasm in describing what it was about Knoxville’s old TV show that made her offer him his most dramatic role yet. “Well,” she smiled, “the sensitivity that you see in ‘Jackass,’ and the stunts and the …”
“… Any guy that’s going to get shot for his art, that’s an actor who will go [all the] way with you,” Tarantino interrupted. “He picked up cherries off a block of ice with his butt!”
Now, instead of cherries, the in-demand Knoxville is picking up scripts such as “Calhoun”; in the film, his character gets to know his daughter while facing imminent bankruptcy over a problem with the revolutionary golf-course grass that made him a millionaire.
While the film does have its share of gags, it’s the closest Knoxville has ever come to a full-on dramatic leading role. “I don’t think it’s a stretch,” executive producer Tarantino insisted. “I always knew Johnny was a good actor. But also, when you’re looking for the ultimate, charming, redneck-scoundrel rascal, I think Johnny’s the go-to guy.”
The script culminates in a romantic tryst between Daltry and Lewis’ small-town shopkeeper Flora, and the actress also knew that Knoxville would deliver — if only for a brief period of time.
“It was traumatic and lovely,” Lewis said, going out of her way to poke her co-star in the ribs. “My character is always trying to get his attention, and I think she feels connected to him because the town judges her for whatever reason and thinks she’s a trollop, a tramp, whatever you want to call her.”
“[She] does want to get down,” Knoxville assured Lewis, “but she is coming from a good place.”
And get down they do, during a scene that has the actors making out before pushing themselves through some pantry doors, then continuing the love scene while shaking the closed doors, only to re-emerge, finished, about a minute later. So what was going on back there in real life?
“We were doing side-straddle hops,” said Knoxville, “and, you know, deep knee bends.”
“Being that we’re both Method actors …” Lewis joked before attempting to tell the truth. “Basically it’s like, ‘Ten, nine, eight, seven — do we go out now? — six, five …’ ”
Knoxville joked that he would normally have remained behind closed doors for a longer period of time to accurately portray his sexual prowess. For “Calhoun,” however, the quick return was only appropriate for his unlucky-in-love loser.
“Unfortunately, you know, it’s been a while and he, you know,” Knoxville hinted. “Kind of like oatmeal, you know?”
After a brief silence, the actor delivers his punch line: “Done in two minutes.”
“Oh, I didn’t get the segue,” Lewis confessed. “I was like, oatmeal? What?”
In case you haven’t already guessed, Knoxville’s presence meant that many of the on-set giggles were of the extreme-prank variety.
“[Remember when] he almost made our producer cry?” Tarantino asked Bronson.
“Danielle Renfrew, our producer, got a phone call where [Knoxville] was irate in Tennessee, saying ‘Nobody is in the airport, there’s nobody picking us up,’ ” she recalled. “Just totally irate. And I was next to her, and I was like, sweat pouring down. She’s like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got this movie star at the airport, and nobody’s there to pick him up.’
“She called the person who was supposed to be there,” the filmmaker continued. Sure enough, Knoxville and the driver were standing next to each other at the airport, where they listened together to the apologies and then burst into uncontrollable laughter.
“That was how we started,” Bronson remembered. “And then it was …”
“… Revenge,” Tarantino chimed in, laughing. “All of a sudden, revenge started brewing in the back of their minds.”
The director and producer conspired with Sophie Traub, the 15-year-old actress taking on her biggest role to date as Daltry’s daughter. After she purposely stumbled nervously through her lines at rehearsal, Renfrew assured Knoxville that the actress’ nerves would calm down once she got accustomed to shooting a movie. When the two actors returned to work on the scene, however, Traub promptly threw up all over Knoxville’s feet.
“She threw up — from soup — on my shoes,” laughed Knoxville. (The actress had actually concealed vegetable soup in a coffee cup, swigged it and then proceeded to “get sick.”) “I felt bad for her, so I got a little moist towelette, which I usually keep handy, and lo and behold she was joking.”
Sometimes, it seems, the only way for a woman to top an A-list man is to beat him at his own game.
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