Meet Jon Bass: Baywatch's secret weapon
How do you compete for laughs with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron? Well, if you’re Jon Bass, you get your genitals stuck in a beach chair, sing naked to Katy Perry, and break dance for Priyanka Chopra.
Those are just a few of Bass’ scene-stealing moments in this weekend’s Baywatch. In the film based on the popular ’90s television series, he stars as Ronnie, a shy, aspiring lifeguard who, despite being rejected twice already, refuses to give up on his dream of joining the Baywatch crew and impressing veteran team member CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach).
Baywatch serves as the biggest role to date for the actor, who counts among his credits Loving, The Newsroom, and the criminally short-lived Comedy Central series Big Time in Hollywood, FL. (Upon being told this reporter was a viewer, he quipped, “So you’re one of the ten people. It’s so nice to meet you.”)
Bass’ low profile might not last much longer, though, especially with audiences and his famous costars taking notice. “It’s funny, I didn’t have many opportunities to work with Jon in the script, but when we did, he was always able to turn a scene that was small into something unique and special,” Efron told EW. “That’s a gift.”
EW talked to Bass about working alongside Johnson and Efron, the challenge of playing the “chubby, funny dude,” and doing whatever it takes to get a laugh.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s hard to do, considering your high-profile costars, but dare I say, you kind of stole the movie.
JON BASS: No, don’t dare to say it. Say it with pride.
This seems like a dream job. You’re working every day on the beaches of Miami with Dwayne, Zac, Priyanka, Kelly. Was the experience as amazing as it sounds?
You pretty much summed it up. My job was to hang out on a beach with some of the most beautiful people in the world. I truly thought it was the most expensive practical joke of all-time, just to see me freak out. I’m so glad everyone turned out to be as cool as they were because you never know what you’re going to get into when you’re working with people for three months. And it just so happened that all those people are true rock stars.
What were your first thoughts when you realized you’d be in the Baywatch movie?
It’s tough when you get a script and you’re going to be with seven of the most gorgeous people in the world. Coming in and playing the sort of chubby, funny dude is always a little terrifying. It feels like there’s almost a bit of extra weight added to it. These people can skate by on their looks; I can only skate by if I’m making people have a good time. And I hope I did all right.
Did you ever have any concerns that the role was going to be one where your character is just there to be the butt of the joke — the person people are more laughing at and not with?
I never worried about it because the movie was so inclusive of everyone, including, and possibly, especially Ronnie. Because it’s not about how he looks or what he does, it’s really about them being a team. I thought that was a thing the movie did really well in addressing. And also, getting my d— stuck in a chair and getting caught in the shower naked… maybe I have a weird sense of humor, but I was excited to do those things. I wanted to make people laugh, whether it’s with me or even at the expense of me. I’m excited for people to just enjoy themselves, and if that’s something I can give someone, then I’ll be the clown. That is a dream come true to me.
And in the end, Ronnie does get the girl, and arguably, the biggest romantic arc in the entire movie. Did you think that was an important aspect to ensuring the character was more than just a punchline?
F— yeah, Ronnie gets the girl. I’m very happy with it. I was absolutely thrilled to be able to kiss Kelly Rohrbach. [Laughs] In an earlier version of the script, the relationship between CJ and Ronnie was just a little bit more like a student-teacher relationship. And when Kelly and I started working together, we just had this natural chemistry and friendship; we’re both total idiots in real life, even though she’s bonkers hot and I’m a normal schmo. We worked into the script that it doesn’t matter what CJ looks like or Ronnie looks like, it’s about that these two people genuinely enjoy each other’s company. And that’s how relationships are. Sometimes you see a normal schmo with someone hot and it’s either because they have money or they’re super cool. And I don’t have any money, so I must be super cool.
What was it like working with Zac and Dwayne? Going in, did you feel intimidated at all?
Getting to kiss Zac Efron on the cheek is always a joy. Zac is interesting because we’re like the same age and he was in High School Musical and has been in the limelight for like 20 years. I thought, “What’s this dude going to be like?” And he couldn’t have been nicer and cooler and kind of a nerd about rap. The dude is obsessed with Kendrick Lamar, and at the time, we were both going crazy over Chance the Rapper. We just became really close, and it’s bizarre to text Zac Efron in the middle of the day when I see a reference to “Panda” somewhere. But that happens now and that’s just a part of my life. I don’t know how it happened, but I gladly accept it.
And working with The Rock is such an insanely incredible experience. The first day meeting him, you’re trying to act like you don’t give a f—, when inside I was freaking out. The worst was when Dwayne was filming me off to the side when I had my d— stuck in a chair. You’re looking at that and you know that 85 million people on Instagram are going to see it, and you’re like, “Alright, well, this is my life today.”
Did he ever try to drag you to one of his early morning workout sessions?
I think they’re fake. I think he does them at like 8 p.m. after work and just posts them at 4 a.m. There’s no way that dude does that every day. It’s so insane. He never asked me once. I bet if I asked, he would have said, “Sure, come along.” I regret it terribly. I hope this movie does well so we can do Baywatch 2 and I can finally fulfill my dream of getting to work out with The Rock. It would be intense, but what a story, man. That is one of the stories you share on your deathbed as your grandchildren ask, “Jon, is there anything you want to tell us before you pass?” And I look them in the eyes and say, “I worked out with The Rock,” and then, slowly close my eyes and flatline.
So you’ve mentioned it a few times, but we have to talk about what you’ve seemed to officially deem the “my d— stuck in a chair” scene.
When I first read it, I was terrified. Because I knew that scene was going to live in a weird space where there’s only a few movies where people get their d—s caught in things and they’re some of the most iconic scenes of all-time. When you think about it, there’s Ben Stiller in There’s Something About Mary and Jason Biggs in American Pie. That’s like the top of Everest when it comes to d—s getting stuck in things. So I was just terrified of having to realize that. And I think I did my boys Ben and Jason justice. I don’t think that I got to the top of Everest, but I got close. I climbed the mountain.
Later on, the team goes on an Ocean’s Eleven-style mission to find dirt on Victoria (Chopra). You had the most important and funniest job, serving as a distraction with your dance skills. Did you bring those moves to the table?
No way. I did not come in with those moves. That was Tricia Miranda, who is one of the most sought after hip-hop dance coordinators in the world. In the script, it was originally that I was a disco dancer and [director] Seth [Gordon] was like, “No, no. Let’s make you a crunk dancer.” And I was like, “F— yeah, we’re going to make me a crunk dancer.” And then you learn that hip-hop dance is not just something you pick up on the fly. I’m not Channing Tatum. I’m more like the guy who thinks he’s a good dancer at a Bar Mitzvah. I worked so hard on that dance; it was two months of preparation, doing it over and over again. And the day I shot it, I was nervous, but at the end of the day, I thought, “I killed it.” Then, I saw the movie, my hands were covering my eyes, I was so embarrassed. I definitely thought I was a lot cooler than it looks.
And let’s not forget, you also got to show off your singing skills with a naked rendition of Katy Perry’s “Roar.”
Obviously, being naked in front of a room of producers, director, and Kelly can be a little jarring, especially when you have my body. But once again, it was just fun. The singing is one thing, being completely naked in front of Kelly is another. I wasn’t completely naked; they did give me a c–k sock, a very little garment to put over my d—, which was kind of them. It looks like a little horror film character… like something you’d see in Hostel.
Baywatch, which also stars Alexandria Daddario and Ilfenesh Hadera, is now in theaters.