Terry Morrow: All jokes aside, Johnny Knoxville takes 'Stand' as call to action

After shooting it out with Arnold Schwarzenegger (left, as Ray Owens) in "The Last Stand," Johnny Knoxville (right, as Lewis Dinkum) says he is ready for more action.

Photo by Merrick Morton

After shooting it out with Arnold Schwarzenegger (left, as Ray Owens) in "The Last Stand," Johnny Knoxville (right, as Lewis Dinkum) says he is ready for more action.

HOLLYWOOD — Beware when entering the office of Johnny Knoxville.He's known for greeting guests with a blow dart gun, hitting one recent visitor in the thigh and in the buttocks. Letting your guard down around this star of the "Jackass" film franchise is never a good idea.

After the giggling stops and the blow dart gun is put away, Knoxville, a 41-year-old father of three (including a 16-year-old daughter), gets serious about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the film "The Last Stand," out today.

"He's really gregarious," Knoxville says of Schwarzenegger, who returns to acting after serving as governor of California.

Knoxville's co-star is not the type on which you'd use a blow dart gun, but, "He seemed pretty happy to be acting again. His enthusiasm spread around the set.

"He was so down to earth that it helped take away (the surrealism) of acting beside him."

In "The Last Stand, " Knoxville plays Lewis Dinkum, who owns the town's artillery museum and has always looked up to Schwarzenegger's character, Sheriff Ray Owens.

Lewis has dreams of being a deputy, but he's "a little too spacey" for the job, Knoxville says.

When a drug cartel hits town, it's up to the sheriff and Lewis to battle them before the cartel can reach the Mexico border and hide from United States officials.

"I actually have scenes where I shoot out the bad guys with Schwarzenegger. How cool is that?" Knoxville says with a pinch-me-because-I-must-be-dreaming smile.

"I don't remember being nervous. I just remember it being fun, putting all my energies into making this fun and not messing up."

The day when he was shooting a scene in a bus, side-by-side with Schwarzenegger, jolted Knoxville (nee PJ Clapp) as being dreamlike.

"I thought, 'Here I am, about to shoot it out with Schwarzenegger.' It was unreal," he says.

"I mean ... I remember going to the movies back in Knoxville as a kid and seeing his early work, and now I am working with him. Wow."

Though his cinematic history is checkered with more flops than hits, Knoxville doesn't mind. He says he picks his movie projects based on who's directing, who's writing or with whom he will get to work.

The "Jackass" films are lucrative. His other movie projects have been more about learning from the industry.

Korean director Jee-woon Kim ("The Good, The Bad" and "The Weird") helmed "Stand." He speaks little English, making communication cumbersome around the set. When Knoxville talked to him about the part over the phone, it required two translators for Kim and Knoxville to understand each other.

Translators were also needed on the set because English was not the first language for most of the cast.

"He shoots action really well, and he's from a theater background," Knoxville says of Kim. "So he gives very precise, very good direction. He's very hands-on with everything. He knows what he's doing. He's very smart."

From "Stand," Knoxville has realized he wants to do more action movies. Up until now, he's either done numbskull flicks such as "Jackass" (all three in the franchise have debuted at No. 1 at the North American box office) or broad comedies.

"Daltry Calhoun," which came out in 2005, featured Knoxville in his most dramatic role to date, playing a reluctant small-town father.

"I'm looking now for action movie roles," he says. "I'm looking at some in development. So that's the goal.

"I think I would be credible in (action movie) parts."

Despite the fact he subjects his body to pain in his "Jackass" movies — for the show "Nitro Circus" he tore his urethra — he was not allowed to do his own stunts in "Stand."

"In (non-'Jackass') films? I rarely get to do my own stunts" because of insurance reasons, Knoxville says.

"The insurance companies don't care about the actors. They care whether the actor's character gets to finish his part of the movie. I was told to leave my all big-stunt (requests) for the last day because I might be able to do it then.

"It's frustrating."

Next up for Knoxville is a role in the comedy "Movie 43," which opens Jan. 25 and is an outlandish collection of short films featuring an A-list cast including Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Terence Howard, Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Richard Gere, Elizabeth Banks and many others.

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