Sitting down with Ryan Dunn, star of the television series “Jackass” and “Viva La Bam,” is like meeting up with an old high school buddy who’s kept the party alive ever since. Approachable as he is, Dunn shows years of wear – the countless stunts he’s done on film make him look well past his 33 years. He talks about his work like it’s any random job, which is so refreshing from someone who can stop kids dead in their tracks for an autograph.
Last spring I caught up with Dunn on the set of his new film, “Living Will,” starring April Scott and directed by Matthew Lauyer for KPhat Productions. Dunn cracked a beer, looking a bit weary at my recorder and notepad. Once I cracked my can open, things progressed.
“I get mad and basically start trying to sabotage everything.”
So you’re acting as producer and star on “Living Will.” Tell me about the project.
It’s basically a story about two guys; one of them dies and comes back and only his best friend can see him, nobody else can. And I love the concept, because he’s invisible. Everybody sort of has that dream… what would you do if you were invisible?
So it’s one of these invisible, toilet humor movies?
Yeah, I have this really big shit I’m trying to take; I die because I’m constipated, so I die on the toilet and then I come back after a month of being gone. I come to and realize that I’m stuck in a barn in the middle of America. And then I have to hitch a bus back to my apartment, and find out my best friend has people living in my old room. He meets my cousin at my funeral and starts dating her, and I get mad and basically start trying to sabotage everything.
When you got the script, were you drawn to the potty humor angle?
Right – it made me laugh out loud. That rarely happens when I read scripts, but this one made me laugh quite a few times, so that’s why I signed on. After I come back as a ghost… I’m in this (ghost outfit) for basically the whole movie.
So you’re in your netherworld outfit the whole time?
I’m terrible with continuity, so it’s nice that I can wear the same thing for the whole movie.
So how involved in acting are you now? Are you acting a lot these days?
Yeah, I’m trying to. I’ve got another movie coming out in June  called “Street Dreams,” and then I did that Jessica Simpson movie that went straight to video, because it was terrible.
Well, it wasn’t terrible…
Hmm… What was that one called again?
As far as future roles, what types are you looking for? Do you like doing raunch comedies?
I like doing anything, really. After I’m done with this, I’ll work on some new TV shows, but I’m not looking for anything specific right now. I’m just getting back in the swing of things. I kinda took two years off, and it’s nice just to be working.
You laid low for a couple years?
Yeah… recovering. Just sat around for a few years and did nothing so it’s nice to be back.
I’m sorry, recovering from what?
Just from doing the movies and everything.
Oh okay – I thought it was something worse.
Well, right after “Jackass 2” I got a blood clot from a shoulder injury.
Yeah, and then while I was bedridden from that I got Lyme’s disease as well.
Well, I guess that’s what you get from jumping into septic tanks.
Exactly. So, you figure, Bam and I were filming for 10 years straight, so I took off two years.
How did you guys get involved with “Jackass”? Was it CKY first?
Right – we started CKY videos when we were in high school and it kinda just turned into a bigger monster pretty quick. So we had 3 CKY videos out and then Jeff Tremaine was working for Flint Publications and Big Brother Magazine out in LA and they were putting out videos. He, Spike [Jonze] and [Johnny] Knoxville came up with the idea of pitching our type of video humor for a show and called us up and said, “Hey we’re thinking about doing this – do you want to get involved?” We sent them some footage, and it got big quickly after that.
Pure punk rock theater, huh?
Yeah. Well we gave them footage that we had been sitting on for a long time, so the first season of Jackass was actually footage of me at 15 years old.
Right, you seemed young in some of those. Was the “Antiquing” bit from then?
No, in “Antiquing” I was probably like, 19.
I must admit – one of my favorites. Everyone I’ve seen it with says it’s crazy and clever.
Thanks. So we just gave them footage we weren’t using for CKY videos. So we didn’t know – we figured it was just some LA people, and just give ‘em footage, whatever. We didn’t think it was gonna go anywhere. Then, all the sudden, it’s the highest rated MTV show. [Knoxville] worked for Big Brother out West, and Bam and I were doing the CKY videos in Westchester, and we just teamed up.
“Whatever works, you know? It’s all business.”
I heard of the band CKY from an interview they did with WSOU [Seton Hall’s college radio station] – it stands for “Camp Kill Yourself,” right?
Yeah, well CKY, the band and us, were all the same thing. In high school, we wanted to call the band and the videos the same thing and cross-promote. Jess Margera was always on drums, but in high school we had a band that was Jess and Bam and I, and then Jess and Deron [Miller] started Foreign Objects, and then they switched to CKY.
I didn’t realize they were the same thing until watching “Viva La Bam.” If memory serves, there was one episode where a wrestler took your hat, which had a CKY logo on it, wiped his ass with it, and you freaked out on him.
Oh, really? I don’t remember.
It’s funny thinking about you guys acting now. I remember hearing John Waters talk about casting “A Dirty Shame” and how he got funding because Johnny Knoxville did the project, from the “heat” from the first “Jackass” movie. Do you think about that at all? Do think that some people are just trying to ride your “heat”?
No, I just work; I don’t intellectualize it too much. Whatever works, you know? It’s all business.
It’s too funny to think that a John Waters movie was launched because of Johnny Knoxville, and it all rested on him.
Right. Yeah, it’s just everything got so big so fast, you know? Right after “Jackass” came out, the movie, especially, it just turned into this big monster.
You guys have that toy truck bit at the end, and it managed to top the whole movie. Did you guys try to save the shots and bits for [the film]? Was that filmed while you were making the show?
No, the movie was actually done completely separately from the show.
It did seem like a “greatest hits” collection.
Yeah, we pretty much shot everything fresh for the movie.
But you guys thought of some really good bits.
I mean, we were holding onto some ideas for the movie and just sat on them until we were done filming the show. Basically it was all the stuff we couldn’t get away with filming and airing on TV, stuff we held onto so we could do them in the movie.
So when did you start doing movies with scripts?
Well, even in the CKY days we [made] short films. So I’ve always been into that aspect of it. It just didn’t blow up like the other stuff did. So [doing scripted work] was actually a pretty easy transition, especially considering the little bit comedies we would do when we were kids.
How does it feel to be on this set [for “Living Will”] now?
It’s good, it’s going smooth – it’s just a grueling schedule. I like this film, but after another week I go off to work on something else.
Thanks to Joseph Romano for help with the transcription. This was originally posted on June 9, 2010.