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Johnny Knoxville gets a tiny bit blue talking about 'Elvis & Nixon'

The "Jackass" legend talks about playing one of the King's "Memphis Mafia" and growing out his pubes.

In “Elvis & Nixon,” Johnny Knoxville doesn’t play The King but he gets close enough: He plays Sonny West, part of his so-called “Memphis Mafia,” as he joins Michael Shannon’s Elvis on one of the stranger (but probably not the strangest) story of his career: the time he went to the White House and demanded a meeting with Richard Nixon (played by Kevin Spacey), in which he offered to become a federal agent and spy, in disguise, on groups like the SDS and the Black Panthers. It’s a stranger-than-fiction tale even the “Jackass” legend, now 45, can’t believe is real.

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I don’t want to just assume you're a massive Elvis fan, but that’s probably a stupid thing to think.
I’m from Tennessee. Elvis was obviously Elvis, but in Tennessee he was even bigger, if that’s possible. My sisters were eight and 10 years old, and they were huge Elvis fans. I just grew up that way.

Playing one of his posse is close enough to playing Elvis, I’d guess.
I’m almost sleeping with him. I’ve almost slept with him by doing this.

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We don’t always talk about Elvis’ movies, some of which are interesting. I’m a fan of “Flaming Star,” which is a Don Siegel Western with a token two Elvis songs.
I haven’t seen that one. It’s crazy to think he was doing three movies a year, plus the music for those movies. Colonel Parker had him on quite a schedule.

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They can get pretty weird. One of them, “Change of Habit” from 1969, pairs him with Mary Tyler Moore as a nun.
If you’re making three movies a year you gotta come up with something. Mary Tyler as a nun: Poof! I love it.

I like that Michael Shannon’s not doing the usual Elvis impersonation. He’s almost closer to himself.
It’s an Elvis no one’s ever seen before. Michael Shannon is one of if not the best actor of his generation. When he and Kevin Spacey would go at it, it was like watching Ali and Frazier, if Ali and Frazier were helping each other instead of hitting each other. It was tough to stay in character because I was so excited by what they were dong.

Making a film about this story is great, too, because Elvis seems so removed from the rest of the species that you can’t tell how sincere he is about fighting the Black Panthers and the SDS for Nixon.
He sincerely wanted a federal badge. [Laughs] It didn’t give him the power he wanted, but most of his objectives were achieved. So is he crazy for thinking he could show up at the White House and get a meeting with the president? I don’t know. He did it! His reality was so different from ours.

Celebrities aren’t quite as out there as Elvis was then. They might be a little more grounded because there’s more connectivity with fans through the Internet.
Well, I don’t know. Some are pretty bananas. [Laughs] There’s some f—ing nut jobs out there. It’s different now. You can’t walk into the president’s office with a gift that’s a gun anymore. Those days are behind us.

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It must be fun to get to dress up in period garb.
Oh my god, I love that side of it. My house, I have a whole closet of the costumes we had from “Jackass” or whatever. I just keep them. I have the big chops [from “Elvis & Nixon”]. And I had pubes that grew past my belly button.

I wasn’t expecting to talk about pubes first thing in the morning.
I went deep into character. I had a shag carpet of hair from my belly button down to under below and thigh-to-thigh.

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Sort of a gear-shift: I was wondering if you’ve read the serious and academic writing about “Jackass.” There’s a fair amount of it.
I’ve read some of it. It’s just people’s interpretations of what we do. It’s pretty entertaining. I don’t know. Discussing it as art, it’s not my job. [Laughs] We just do it and then there’s how people perceive it.

I saw a documentary recently about the performance artist Chris Burden, “Burden,” and belatedly realized both he and you got yourselves shot for art.
Yeah. Chris Burden, big fan.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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