Why Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener were cut out of ‘Bad Grandpa’

Director Spike Jonze and actor Johnny Knoxville attend the "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" New York Special Screening at New York's Sunshine Landmark on October 21, 2013.
(Jamie McCarthy )

Here’s one scene you won’t be seeing in “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” when it hits theaters Friday.

Rendered unrecognizable in heavy prosthetic makeup as his libidinous 86-year-old grandfather character, “Jackass” prankster-actor Johnny Knoxville shows up at the office of a sex therapist accompanied by his love interest, another heavily wrinkled geriatric firecracker named “Gloria.”

A closer inspection of the credits, however, reveals that Gloria isn’t as old as she might appear and isn’t even a woman.

She’s none other than Oscar-nominated writer-director Spike Jonze, the quirky visionary behind such films as “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” In the early ‘00s, the filmmaker helped bring “Jackass” to life as a hit MTV series and has helped shepherd the property into a lucrative film franchise.


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In addition to serving as co-writer and producer on “Bad Grandpa,” Jonze turned in a few on-camera performances for the hidden-camera joke travelogue.

“Me and Spike go see a sex therapist; she was going to help me and Gloria with our relationship,” explained Knoxville. “Spike was hilarious. The lady gave amazing reactions. I kept confusing everybody. It was heartbreaking to cut that piece.”

The problem with the footage wasn’t quality or tone and certainly not the questionable taste required to showcase any frank discussion of senior sex. (“Bad Grandpa” features scenes of explosive farting, extended close-ups of geriatric genitals and a preteen boy doing a stripper routine in drag, after all.)

It was simply that once director Jeff Tremaine, Knoxville and Jonze reviewed the scenes in post-production earlier this year, Jonze’s sequences didn’t fit the movie’s narrative arc. The relationship between Knoxville’s character Irving Zisman and his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) was modeled on the unlikely child-adult camaraderie in “Paper Moon.” In that 1973 cross-country crime drama, Ryan O’Neal plays a con man attempting to deliver a 9-year-old girl, played by Tatum O’Neal, to relatives.

“We shot a lot of things with Spike’s character,” said Knoxville, seated outside the Burbank mini-mall headquarters of his his company Dickhouse Productions. “Gloria came in at the end of the movie kind of like the Madeline Kahn character in ‘Paper Moon,’ kind of to get in between Billy and Irving.”

But the new story line came too late in the narrative.

“At that point in the movie, you just wanted to stay with Irving and Billy,” Knoxville continued. “It was a tough decision because we shot some funny stuff. He worked his butt off and is great as an old lady.”


Turns out Jonze wasn’t even the only Academy Award-nominated Hollywood heavyweight that “Bad Grandpa” left on the cutting-room floor. A synthetic molding of actress Catherine Keener -- who was nominated for best supporting actress Oscars for “Capote” and Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” -- can be seen lying in a coffin during a key scene in “Bad Grandpa.” But other flashback sequences featuring her acting opposite Knoxville’s Zisman didn’t make the final edit.

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“Catherine Keener played Ellie, my wife -- that corpse is her,” Knoxville explained. “We shot some funny stuff with her! But it didn’t work for the story. She’s a genius actress and great at doing pranks. That an A-plus actress would work with the likes of us meant the world to me.”

According to Jonze -- who helped edit “Bad Grandpa” while simultaneously finishing post-production on his acclaimed sci-fi romance “Her” earlier this year -- the outtakes featuring Gloria and Ellie will inevitably wind up as DVD extras in much the same way deleted scenes from previous “Jackass” films were repurposed for the releases of “Jackass 2.5” (a sequel of sorts for “Jackass Number Two”) and “Jackass 3.5” (the equivalent for 2010’s “Jackass 3D”).


“I love the footage. It’s really funny,” said Jonze. “I was really happy with it. We’re going to put out a whole other movie at some point. That’s the saving grace. It’ll come out some day.”


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Twitter: @__chrislee