The new big-screen comedy Bad Grandpa follows the adventures of Irving Zisman, a crusty octogenarian who sets off on a road trip across America, his eight-year-old grandson Billy in tow. What no one (but the audience) realizes is that Irving is actually actor Johnny Knoxville, reprising his Jackass character for a series of hidden-camera gags, notably a jaw-dropping sequence in which he dresses Billy (Jackson Nicoll) in drag to enter him in a children’s beauty pageant.
Key to the film’s success was turning Knoxville (left) into a convincing senior, a process spearheaded by make-up effects veteran Steve Prouty, working with Tony Gardner’s Alterian Inc.
“There was a tremendous amount of pressure,” notes Prouty, “because we had to fool people who were maybe a foot or two away. And unlike a regular film, where you can go in and tweak the make-up between shots, we couldn’t see Johnny or touch him up while he was doing his bit, so we had to make sure everything was good and tight and nothing was coming loose.
“Due to our locations and the way everything came together, we had a pretty short application time. We eventually got the make-up down to about two hours and 45 minutes, which is pretty quick for a 10-piece silicone prosthetic make-up with hairpieces and everything else.”
Although the character had been established in previous Jackass films, his look was tweaked for Bad Grandpa. “We thinned down the original sculpture,” explains Prouty, “which was a little heavier and more mask-like, so we went for a more streamlined approach that Johnny could express through more.
“With this film, the majority of pieces were silicone, but we also incorporated some Bondo pieces as well. We had a lot of issues on the previous movies, keeping his lip and chin glued on, so this time we did a combination of Bondo with a Baldiez skin over it that encapsulated the piece and made it more durable. We did the backs of his hands the same way, because Johnny is really expressive with his hands, and there was some stunt work as well. (continued below)
“The final make-up was 10 pieces, including a bald cap, ears, back of the neck, a wrap that was the neck and cheeks together, a forehead, upper lip, lower lip and backs of hands. We also had a wig, eyebrows, mustache and some hand-laid hair around the ears and back of neck to sell the make-up a bit more. We started putting hair in the ears, because we had to cut a hole in the side of one ear for Johnny’s ‘earwig,’ through which the director would give him directions. That could sometimes be a little obvious, so we ended up adding some hair to his ears, which became a signature of the make-up.”
Knoxville’s original make-up team was Prouty and Will Huff, with Bart Mixon added after the first round of shooting. “You have to realize we shot this in six different cities over the course of nine or 10 months,” Prouty says. “We would go out for two or three weeks at a time, and come back and be down until we got the next call, so we had to be ready for any eventuality.
“It was originally going to be Will Huff and myself, but we also had to do a body make-up during the first trip, which included a foam-latex front and back torso, so we brought in Bart Mixon to help out. Bart was just going to lend a hand with that body make-up, but ended up helping with the head and hands, which really expedited things, so by the end of that first trip, he became a permanent fixture. That allowed us to get Johnny in and out of the chair quickly.”
In a case of life imitating art, Prouty and his team traveled from city to city, much like Irving and his grandson.
“We sometimes had to have three weeks’ worth of appliances with us,” he remembers, “so we would load up a truck in L.A. with tons of appliances and tables and lights and everything else that was needed to construct a make-up room, because we didn’t have a trailer. Everything was done out of hotel rooms, so an advance crew would go in, book the room and clear it of furniture.
“When we arrived, we had one day to set up the room, tarp off the floor and set up the tables and lights. We basically had to build a make-up room each time we traveled, and break it down on the last day. The nice thing about having everything in the same hotel was you didn’t have to get in a van and drive to where the trailers were; you would just go down in the elevator to start work.”
Bad Grandpa might have been a long, strange trip, but Prouty enjoyed taking it.
“Johnny was a producer as well as the star,” he says, “so he made sure we had everything we needed and did a great job of taking care of us. On top of that, our team kicked butt. I would literally time our make-up every day, and we would always hit our marks: one hour, everything was glued in; an hour and a half, the paint job was done. Part of that was to make sure production knew we weren’t trying to lengthen our make-up time, but I also wanted to make sure we were hitting our marks and we did it every day, so I’m really proud of that.”
Bad Grandpa opens Oct. 25.