Before Jackass Forever gave the Jackass franchise its fifth number-one opening, Steve-O was already his happiest and healthiest self. The journey to this point began nearly 14 years ago when he first entered into recovery, and it took him a while to learn how to maintain his persona as a professional daredevil, without the crutch of drugs and alcohol. Despite being “terribly uncomfortable,” Steve-O, born Stephen Gilchrist Glover, actually credits his season eight appearance on Dancing with the Stars in 2009 for his initial breakthrough. While he’d still go on to struggle with insecurity on the 2010 set of Jackass 3D, Steve-O knew he was doing the work necessary to set up his most fulfilling experience yet on Jackass Forever.
“On the first and second movie, I was heavily compromised by drugs and alcohol,” Steve-O tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And then on the third movie, even though I was clean and sober, I was very newly clean and sober and super uncomfortable in my own skin and visibly awkward on camera. So by the time we got around to making this fourth movie, I’d really come out of my shell and I’d found my voice. So I think that that really reads. I’m just so much more comfortable on camera. Everything just felt really good. I felt like I had blossomed on this one.”
Once Jackass Forever began to materialize in 2019, negotiations took a turn as Steve-O wanted to honor his younger self who always accepted the first offer and never countered. In a move that he now regrets, Steve-O made his grievances public which put a temporary strain on his relationship with franchise co-creator Johnny Knoxville. Looking back, Steve-O knows he could’ve handled things better, but he’s glad that cooler heads prevailed, as his friendship with Knoxville is now stronger than it’s ever been.
“This time, I said, ‘What I’m going to do is let my sophisticated entertainment lawyer make the call. I’m going to do what my sophisticated entertainment lawyer suggests,’” Steve-O shares. “So that was a perfectly appropriate stance to take. It was a perfectly appropriate gameplan going into it. But what unfolded was a lot of personal dialogue, which was heated and contentious. It wasn’t fun. And on the heels of that personal dialogue, I took it upon myself to go and be outspoken in interviews and stuff. And frankly, I said a bunch of stuff that I regretted. So it all went pretty sideways, and at the end of the day, I just didn’t feel that I handled it very well.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Steve-O also discusses what audiences didn’t see in Jackass Forever, as well as the likelihood of a fifth Jackass movie.
It’s amazing how consistent you guys are in terms of quality, and Jackass Forever is yet another example of that.
Thank you, man. I’m beside myself. I think this new movie is so ridiculously good.
It seems like you’re in a very different place now compared to when you last made one of these movies.
Thank you for noticing, and I couldn’t agree more.
So in your case, how does making a Jackass movie in the present compare to the past?
On the first and second movie, I was heavily compromised by drugs and alcohol. In fact, I was completely intoxicated during everything [in Jackass: The Movie] that wasn’t filmed in Japan. And then on the third movie, even though I was clean and sober, I was very newly clean and sober and super uncomfortable in my own skin and visibly awkward on camera. So by the time we got around to making this fourth movie, I’d really come out of my shell and I’d found my voice. So I think that that really reads. I’m just so much more comfortable on camera. Everything just felt really good. I felt like I had blossomed on this one.
Initially, did you have any doubt or apprehension that you could be “Steve-O” without the drugs and alcohol?
I definitely did. I had all kinds of doubts when I got clean and sober. It wasn’t as much about whether I would be capable of doing the crazier, more dangerous stuff; it was in a bigger picture sense. Everything that I was learning about being in recovery had so much emphasis on deflating the ego and adopting a spiritual approach to life. And it seemed very counterintuitive, if not impossible, to continue to pursue a career as “Steve-O,” the jackass, while being a man in recovery. So there were big question marks around that for me. And it all happened in 2008, too. I had my downward spiral, I burned all the bridges in my career and I ended up in a psychiatric ward and rehab in the same year that the financial crisis hit in 2008. So I was in a really, really weird spot. I didn’t know if my earnings potential had dried up entirely, and at the same time, my savings were decimated. So my prospects for the future were bleak. (Laughs.) And then I dipped my toe in the water with Dancing with the Stars, and it was a terribly uncomfortable experience. But as I kind of stumbled my way through it, I was successful in making sobriety my number-one priority, and I figured out how to be Steve-O around that. It took some time, but fortunately, I’ve been able to accomplish that. Before I got sober, I was a drug-addicted, alcoholic attention whore, and after getting sober, I’ve been a clean-and-sober attention whore. (Laughs.) So what drives me is this overdeveloped need for attention, and that hasn’t gone away despite no drugs and alcohol. I think I’m much more calculated and deliberate now, so, if anything, I’m just more effective in my attention-seeking ways than I was before.
I’ve read that the negotiations for Jackass Forever were tough, but since you guys risk your lives to make these movies, I don’t blame you or anyone else for driving a hard bargain. I’d actually be more concerned if you didn’t ask for more given what’s at stake.
(Laughs.) Risk aside, the reality of my history with the Jackass franchise was that I never even countered an offer, starting with the TV series. For my part in the first season of Jackass, I earned less than $1500 after taxes, with no residuals or anything. And as we know, it was wildly popular, and I’m sure it’s still earning revenue to this day. So I saw that as an exercise in paying me dues, and I never complained about it. When MTV bought the second season, they actually bought seasons two and three in one order, and I just found out what I was going to be compensated for that without countering. And it was much the same with the first and second movies. There was no negotiation that happened. I quite literally found out what I was going to get and I moved forward with that. And when the third movie rolled around, the same thing happened, except the difference was that I had a sophisticated entertainment lawyer for the first time. So quite naturally, my sophisticated entertainment lawyer viewed the success of the franchise — the huge profit margins of the previous films — and then he looked at what they were offering me for that third movie. And he said, “Dude, this is ridiculous. You can’t accept this.” So he strongly advised that I not accept what was being offered for the third movie, but I felt that I was an unknown quantity at that time. I was insecure. I felt that there was a question mark around whether I could really do it, and I remember the powers that be saying, “Hey, take this offer, or you’re not going to be in the movie.” So I freaked out when they said that, and I called up my entertainment lawyer and said, “Dude, they’re going to do it without me. Just accept the offer.” So I caved in as quickly as I possibly could, and I demanded that my entertainment lawyer accept that offer. And as such, I didn’t even counter that one either.
So fast forward another full decade, I worked really hard during that time to set myself apart and to build momentum for myself and to establish myself as a bona fide brand in my own right. I wanted to retroactively do it for that younger version of myself. It was important to me that I, retroactively, make that right. I said, “I’ve worked too hard over the last ten years to do the same thing I’ve done on all the previous installments.” And this time, I said, “What I’m going to do is let my sophisticated entertainment lawyer make the call. I’m going to do what my sophisticated entertainment lawyer suggests.” So that was a perfectly appropriate stance to take. It was a perfectly appropriate game plan going into it. But what unfolded was a lot of personal dialogue, which was heated and contentious. It wasn’t fun. And on the heels of that personal dialogue, I took it upon myself to go and be outspoken in interviews and stuff. And frankly, I said a bunch of stuff that I regretted. So it all went pretty sideways, and at the end of the day, I just didn’t feel that I handled it very well. So that’s why the story is what it was. In one sense, had I handled it better, maybe it would’ve been a different outcome, but maybe not. The reality is I have generated so much momentum for myself in my own right. I’ve created so many revenue streams outside of Jackass for myself that even if I had the same deal as other supporting cast members in the film, boy, do I get more out of it than anybody else because I’ve got more going for me. So I really don’t have anything to complain about, and I am glad that I took it upon myself to try and get a better deal in order to honor that younger version of myself. I just wish I would’ve been smarter about it.
The bee stunt made me squirm since that’s one of my worst nightmares, if not everyone’s worst nightmare. Since you guys often go straight into stunts with minimal setup or explanation, what didn’t we see leading up to the day you finally shot it? Was there weeks of prep for something like that?
That was absolutely the first bit that I filmed, which was just my bit. There were a couple things that happened before that which were ensemble bits, but as far as me being front and center, that was my first marquee bit all to myself. It wasn’t particularly written for me, and when they were ready to shoot it, it just didn’t have talent assigned to it. I didn’t even know about it until I showed up to the set that day and I volunteered for the bit. I loved the idea of it, and I’ve just never been afraid of bees because I have such extensive experience with wildlife and with bees, in particular. In the past, I’ve been able to navigate bee bits by knowing not to freak out. If you don’t freak out, then they don’t really attack you, which has been my experience in the past. But something about these bees in particular was very different from all the bees I’ve ever worked with in the past. As soon as these bees came out, they wasted zero time and started stinging me right away. I just went from super zen and very confident to completely fucking freaking out and over the top. But I’m glad it turned out that way because it makes the bit so embarrassing. But to your initial point about there being no build-up or lead-up, this is a problem that’s been identified by the director Jeff Tremaine and [producer] Spike Jonze. The problem is that we’ve gotten too good. (Laughs.) There was a formal intro that said, “I’m Steve-O, and this is…” but it felt too polished. They wanted to leave it out so it would feel more organic and not quite so formal, because we got too good at doing those intros. So as I understand it, that’s why there is no setup or intro.
You also got hurt on the marching band treadmill stunt. Do you tend to get hurt more often on the more straightforward stunts, versus the ones that are big and elaborate with many moving parts?
That one had “get hurt” all over it, in my view, and we were about exactly one week into filming. On the third movie, I really lost my sense of humor for sustaining spinal cord injuries, brain trauma and even death now that I was clean and sober. Back then, I was concerned for my health for the first time, and I survived enough to get to that point. So my rule going into the third movie was that if paralysis or death were of concern, then I’m not in, but if those were not of concern, then I’ll do anything. So I think I really did a good job of holding that rule, and I didn’t back out of anything whatsoever on that third movie. But here we were on the fourth movie, and I deliberately went up to a camera and said, “I promised myself I wasn’t going to risk any spinal cord or brain injuries, and I’m already going back on it less than one week into filming.” And I called it! Sure enough, I hit my head so fucking hard on the treadmill itself, and I was knocked unconscious by the treadmill. And then it spit me out. The problem I foresaw, from everything that they tested, was that when the treadmill spits you out, it puts a spin on you. So you fall down flat, but as it spits you out, it puts a spin on you which rotates your head directly into the concrete. So I saw that happening, I predicted that was going to happen and I knew my head was going to hit the concrete. But what I didn’t know was that I would be knocked unconscious by the treadmill and that it would spit me out with that rotation. So my head hit the concrete when I was already completely unconscious. It was a double fucking head trauma. I anticipated it, I called it out, but I did it anyway. (Laughs.)
I’ve just heard so many stories of actors getting hurt during sequences that one might take for granted, whereas the showstopping stunts with weeks of prep and training tend to go off without a hitch.
The only training we did for the treadmill stunt was that everybody had to have one musical lesson to learn how to play their instrument. (Laughs.) So I don’t know if there’s a lot of training that goes into any of the more dangerous stuff. For that matter, I don’t know if there’s any training that you can do. Knoxville can’t train to get hit by a bull. That’s for sure. There’s no way to train to land on that treadmill. You can’t train to have bees all over your dick. (Laughs.) That’s kind of the charm of it. When we take the risks we take, what you see is what you get. With the risks that we take, we don’t really have a mechanism for putting the odds in our favor.
When you performed the skateboard guillotine stunt, you forgot that you were supposed to remain silent. If you had another take, do you think you could’ve handled that?
Yeah, there was so much going on! It’s tough to keep it all in check, but I think I could have, yeah. If they gave me another shot, I think I could have won that one.
Was there anything of yours that didn’t make the cut? Of course, it’ll be released on Jackass 4.5, but I imagine it’s always a bit painful when something doesn’t make the initial release.
Yeah, it was tough, man. I broke my collarbone really dramatically. Like fully in half. So I had it put back together with two plates and a bunch of screws, but that footage didn’t make the cut. So it’s strongly indicative of how ridiculously good this movie is. I did a collarbone spring, not a headspring or a handspring. I bounced right on my collarbone. (Laughs.)
Back in the day, people became so enamored with you guys that they would try to prove their mettle whenever they saw you out and about. Do people still try to “audition” for you guys on the spot?
Yeah, for sure. It’s pretty remarkable how uniform it is. It always looks the same. What I get so universally is guys begging me or pitching to me to kick them in the nuts. “Dude, can I get you to kick me in the nuts?” It’s utterly shocking. I say this with full confidence, but I would bet anything that I have had more guys ask me to kick them in the nuts than anybody who has ever lived. And I qualify that claim because I have made myself more accessible to people. I’m the guy who’s been on tour, doing meet and greets after shows. I’ve made myself exponentially more accessible than any of the other guys, and as such, I’ve interacted with more fans than any of the other guys. And probably more than all of the other guys put together. So because I’ve had so much more interaction with the fans, I’m the guy who’s gotten more requests. Not only am I positive that I’ve been asked by more guys to kick them in the nuts than anybody who’s ever lived, I’m equally positive that I’ve kicked more people in the nuts than anybody who’s ever lived. I’m pretty confident. I’ve kicked so many people in the nuts that I’ve actually gone into retirement and come out of nut-kicking retirement. This has been going on for decades now. 2001 was the first time that I went to Spring Break for paid personal appearances, and that’s when it struck me that it would be a highly profitable proposition for me to open up a nut-kicking booth. Like a photo or a video, people would have to line up to get me to kick them in the nuts. I could’ve probably changed anywhere from $20 to $100 per kick. It’s fucking insane.
When the Academy Awards gives you and the other guys a lifetime achievement award in 30 years, what stunt of yours would you choose as your Oscar clip?
It’s funny because I’ve always said that if I won an Oscar, my intention would be to shove it up my butt while accepting it on the stage. (Laughs.) Maybe in 30 years, I will have achieved enough elasticity in my sphincter to actually get past the shoulders. (Laughs.) Because I know those shoulders are a sonofabitch. I’ve tried it with one of the souvenir Oscars you buy on Hollywood Boulevard. The head was no issue, but the shoulders were a real problem. (Laughs.) So I should just let that be my answer, but I’m not particularly concerned with what individual stunt would achieve the accolade. I’m the kind of guy who’s always pretty happy to be infamous as much as famous. Just getting the attention is more important than which stunt it is that gets it.
Will you be surprised if a fifth movie happens?
Not at all. I wouldn’t be surprised, not even remotely. I can qualify that position by pointing out that after each of the first three Jackass movies, Knoxville declared, respectively, that each one was the last. And Jackass Forever is the first Jackass movie where we have not heard Knoxville say that. To be fair, he did say that this is the last movie that he’ll risk his life for, but in saying that, he was very, very clear that he’s open to doing another one. So I’m going to fall back on what we spoke about with the contract stuff. If there is another one, great. If there isn’t another one, equally great. I’ve really been working very hard for a long time to build the momentum that I have now, and I’m super grateful that I didn’t particularly need this Jackass movie to happen. And I certainly don’t need another one to happen. I’m going to be very busy on my own, and I’m super grateful for that.
Jackass Forever is now playing exclusively in theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity. For more, read THR’s oral history of Jackass.Tickets for Steve-O’s Bucket List comedy tour are now available at SteveO.com.