Q & A With Chris Pontius
If you don’t immediately recognize the man to the right, that’s because he is normally wearing far less. The artful dodger of cheetahs and nut shots has made a name for himself dressing like Tarzan and male strippers on Wildboyz and the Jackass projects. But while Jackass 3D was number one at the box office, Chris Pontius made us hip to his next release, Somewhere. The Sofia Coppola film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and is every bit as poignant as Lost in Translation. Somewhere, set in Los Angeles’s Chateau Marmont, follows the relationship between lothario actor Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff) and his young daughter (Elle Fanning). In his biggest scripted role Pontius plays Marco’s buddy, Sammy—a wild boy.INKED: Did you feel out of your element shooting with Sofia Coppola and company?
PONTIUS: Working with anybody is different than working with Jackass guys. The Somewhere set was super-comfortable, though. Before we started filming, Sofia had me come over to hang out in the hotel with Stephen Dorff to work up rapport. Going in, the only connection I had to him was that I am good friends with a girl he had a romance with when he was in Europe. So when we met I made mention of this Irish girl I knew. Sofia heard us talking and she said that based on Dorff’s character being a ladies’ man I should say something like that in the movie. From the beginning it let me know that the script was open and it broke the ice, so we got along great from there.
Had you known Coppola before?
We’ve been friends. She called me and said that the part would be perfect for me.
Do you think she wrote the character with you in mind?
Huh, I hadn’t thought about that. Wow, that could be true.
Even if the role was loosely based on you, was it different playing Sammy than doing the Jackass stunts?
I don’t really like watching myself in general. When I [screened] Somewhere I watched it as if that wasn’t me, like it was some other guy in the movie. It was weird—it was the first time I watched a character in a movie rather than thinking about myself. Somewhere was acting and, whereas I might have different characters in Jackass, they are more like my alter egos.
You are Party Boy?
I am Party Boy, Bunny Lifeguard, and a few random ones that come out a few times—I have some that haven’t even come out yet. It depends on the situation; if there is water nearby that is when the Bunny Lifeguard comes out.
Most of your egos are scantily clad.
I have a new naked character that I haven’t come up with a name for yet. Male nudity is always funny.
For someone who doesn’t like to watch himself, do you ever feel exposed or exploited with all the nude scenes?
No way. I’ve found that the nudest person has all the power. Think about it: Would you chase or tackle a naked guy? I’ve been on the other side when naked people come up to me and I don’t like it at all.
In your state of undress you also have the opportunity to show off all of your ink. Do you have a favorite tattoo?
The anchor on my forearm is my favorite. Since I was a little kid I wanted it. And it’s not fancy. … When I went to get the anchor it seemed so goofy, but then I remembered that all tattoos are goofy.
Were you a Popeye fan or is there any symbolism with the anchor?
Anchors are just cool, and I thought about that song lyric, “My life, my love, and my lady is the sea,” without tying any symbolism to my life at that time. But when we were doing Wildboyz in Mexico we were preparing to dive with these giant Humboldt squid and that song came on and I was like, Isn’t that funny? I guess our life, our love, and our lady is the sea.
Any other musical tattoos?
I also have this one tattoo that one skateboarding legend drew for me. It’s, like, a fox playing a guitar—lute or something—for other foxes and some kitty cats and a bunny rabbit on my right biceps. I got it when I was still growing up by another skateboarding legend, Roger Seliner, who now works in a tattoo shop, [Your Flesh] in Durango, Colorado. He actually taught me to do tattoos.
When did you learn?
When I was 17 a friend of mine knew that I wanted to do tattoos and he introduced me to Roger knowing that we’d hit it off. I went to hang out with him in Visalia for a week. We’d skate all day and he’d teach me how to tattoo every night. He learned from Jon Schueler, who was taught by Mark Mahoney. He showed me different tattoo stuff and how to make needles and I would take notes. This was right when more people wanted to get tattoos, so you were allowed to live that life in which you just travel around tattooing. I would go up and down California visiting friends and they always had friends who wanted tattoos. I had my little kit and that was all I had to do for a job.
Do you remember your first tattoo?
The last night I was hanging out with Roger he let me use his gun to do a tattoo on myself. The drawing came from Thomas Campbell, who’s an artist and did surf films. He is a guy who I met when I was 16 or 17; he was a vagabond guy who would just travel around the world and write articles. He put it into my mind that you can just do whatever you want in life. It’s funny thinking about it now. He drew out the word freak because at the time I was into the idea of being a misfit. Knowing I wouldn’t do a good job my first time, I put it on my ankle.
Did it hurt tattooing yourself?
No, not at all—and especially because it was there. I don’t think it hurts more giving yourself a tattoo in my experience because you concentrate so much on the tattoo that you don’t think about it hurting. I don’t want to do tattoos on myself anymore but I have since touched up one on my wrist only.
Do you have a style?
I like really clean tattoos. But the coolest thing about tattoos is taking people’s ideas and making the idea into the art.
What was the hardest part of the learning curve for you?
Learning the stencils, putting that stuff on and it not looking right or having some of it rub off. I lived in Hawaii for a while and was doing a sun that came off halfway through. The actual drawing or tattooing wasn’t the hardest part—it’s the little things. I know some tattoo artists who hate drawing circles or lines or lining up lettering perfectly straight. There was one person who wanted their name down their biceps that I didn’t get right because of the bend in the arm. I tattooed some girl who kept moving and she was freaking out. That was a nightmare—the tattoo ended up looking squirmy, which sucked because I didn’t want people to think I did a bad job because that would fuck up my reputation. So I tattooed for a while and it was a lot of pressure. I guess there’s a big burnout rate because of the pressure of tattooing.
Would you ever pick up the gun again?
Yeah, if a friend wanted one, I guess. But I’m not making a living off it anymore. I still have a tattoo gun. It’s the one we used in the first Jackass movie with the “off-road tattoo” scene with Henry Rollins driving the Hummer and Jeff Tremaine giving Steve-O a tattoo.
And you’ve tattooed Steve-O, right?
Yeah, every time he and I go on Jay Leno we try to do a stunt. Once we got Jay to sign Steve-O’s back and then I tattooed it on him during the show. We didn’t have much time so I had to go fast! Then for the recent Jackass movie we went on again and Steve-O showed Jay. I’m not sure if Jay had time to really look at it in the midst of the show but it’s awesome—as much as having a Jay Leno tattoo is. Steve-O is really into getting anything tattooed.
Do you regret any of your tattoos?
Not at all—they make me laugh. The first I got at 15 or 16. They look really old now. But I love them, they remind me of different times. I don’t like when people get a tattoo of one style that is cool at the time and then it gets played out and they don’t like it anymore so they cover it up. I really don’t like that. If you’re a 15-year-old kid, I think it’s cool to have a tattoo. But 15-year-old kids don’t tend to get good tattoos or go to the best artists. My favorite thing about tattoos is that they mark history; I don’t think they should be erased.
Do you have plans for any new ink?
You wouldn’t know it if you looked at them but I think about my tattoos for a long time before I get them. If I do a drawing that I like, I throw it into a drawer, and the other day I opened it up and saw this one that I want to get tattooed. It’s a machete and pitchfork crossing. It’s real simple but has character and looks cool, sort of like an ink painting.
Do you have any artists you really like?
Neil Blender is an awesome artist; his drawings look almost like Picasso’s stuff. He does skateboard graphics but doesn’t really sell or have too many art shows. A lot of the greatest artists are the types that wouldn’t pursue art shows—I guess that’s just the way their minds work. The secret for a creative to be really [financially] successful is that you need a balance of business sense and drive too. That or a friend to push you really hard.
Do you know people who could’ve done the Jackass thing but never got their shit together?
I have friends who are way funnier than me and better than me at everything I do, but they don’t have the drive to do anything with it. In the beginning I would always try to get them involved in the skateboard magazines or just have them film something, and maybe they’d do one thing but never do it again. Years later all that turned into Jackass. It is kind of a bummer—you want to get them into it but they just don’t want it. Some people are afraid of success or failure or are lazy, but that is just the artistic minds. The more fucked up you are, the better artist you are.
And in your case, surely it helped that Tremaine was your friend?
Jeff ran Big Brother when I wrote for them, and that magazine led to the Jackass stuff. He looks at people the way a scientist looks at animals; he looks at people like their behavior is not their choice, it’s just what they are. His talent is corralling wild spirits and giving them a little direction, because in most cases they wouldn’t do it themselves. The result is the TV shows and a bunch of movies.
Now that you have a taste of acting in film, do you see yourself pursuing that path more than the Jackass projects?
I really enjoyed Somewhere. It was awesome and I learned some trade secrets about filming that I took to Jackass. For now I think I’ll stick with doing the Jackass stuff.
After Jackass in 3–D, what’s next?
We have lots more stuff that we are already working on. I don’t think we can ever stop outdoing ourselves.