It takes a uniquely talented actor to steal scenes away from Dwayne Johnson’s unmatched charisma or Zac Efron’s eye-popping abs—but Jon Bass is just the man to pull it off. As the geeky-but-charming Ronnie Greenbaum, Bass does it all: goes toe-to-toe with two of the most impressive physiques in Hollywood, romances the rebooted version of Baywatch‘s most iconic character, and gets his penis caught in a beach chair. (More on that later.)
Bass’ eclectic acting career has hopped across mediums and genres. He toured with The Book of Mormon, later taking over the role originated by Josh Gad on Broadway; he appeared in TV shows as varied as The Newsroom, House of Lies, and American Horror Story; costarred in Comedy Central’s Big Time in Hollywood, FL; and even popped up in a supporting role in last year’s Loving, which dramatized the landmark Supreme Court ruling on interracial marriage.
But Baywatch is poised to be his breakout role, and we recently sat down to talk all about it.
When I was in L.A. for the Book of Mormon tour, I went in [to meet casting director John Papsidera], and he said, “Hey, man, I really like you. I’m gonna try to get you booked in something.” Which is something a casting director has never said to me. And he just kept on bringing me in. [In the Baywatch script], Ronnie was described as a bumbling, awkward tech genius guy who is really good at… at the time, it was disco. And I am bumbling and awkward, so these things are easily available to me.
For the audition, [director Seth Gordon] was already in the room, and the producers were already in the room, so it felt different than the other ones.
What scene did you audition with?
It was the dick in the chair scene.
I have a lot of questions about that scene. [Ed. Early in Baywatch, Jon’s character gets an erection and tries to hide it by jumping onto a beach chair. His penis gets stuck.]
So you actually acted out getting your dick stuck in a chair in the audition room?
Yeah! I think that was my saving grace. I took a chair, and I put it backwards, A.C. Slater style. And when it came to the moment when I got it stuck, I pulled it forward and just… stood there with it. I think that sort of won them over.
It’s a big scene.
It is! You’re sort of straddling a very broad, comedic scene, but you need to do it honestly. It’s a tough scene to crack because you can either go really big with it—and that’s not funny. Or you take it seriously that your dick is stuck in a chair. And for some reason, the dick doesn’t stop growing. For some epic reason, my dick is just… stuck there. Forever. [And they liked it], because I didn’t need to audition again. It’s the dream-come-true for an actor.
Do you think you’ll get recognized for Baywatch?
If that does happen, I will be very surprised. And if it does happen, I imagine it’ll mostly be college students: “Hey, Ronnie! You got your dick stuck in a chair!” And I’ll go, “Ha, yeah. I know.”
Did you think about that when you took the role? A potential lifetime of people recognizing you for getting your dick stuck in a chair?
I hope that I have a lifetime of that. You know, there are only so many dick-in-stuff scenes. There’s Something About Mary. Jim in American Pie. And Porky’s. So it’s a very small list, and I hope I don’t ruin dicks caught in things for moviegoers in generations to come.
Zac [Efron], I met… working out. [laughs] We all had the same trainer. And we had the exact same routine. [laughs] No. I did none of his workout. I feel like some people might think, “Zac. He’s probably too cool for school.” And he’s not. He’s so normal and so kind that it actually sort of upsets me, because there’s no way somebody should be that perfect. And he cares about his acting. He talked about Save the Cat! all the time. How he needs his character to do this, or that, in his arc. And he’s being really smart about it! I think it comes off really well in the movie. You do see him go through an arc.
I met [Alexandra Daddario] in swimming lessons. I also met [Kelly Rohrbach] in swimming lessons. And what a great way to meet them. I’m shirtless in front of these beautiful girls. “Hey, how’s it going? Nice to meet you. Okay, cool, cool.”
If you saw Dwayne walking down the street, you’d go, “That’s somebody.” Even if you had no clue who he was. “He must be a god who accidentally fell to Earth. We gotta get him back up there.” I didn’t meet Dwayne until we got to set. He’s not going to the same workout classes as me.
Well, he has his own private gyms. Everywhere in… the world?
Exactly. And [GQ‘s recent cover story] started a literal campaign for him.
He may actually become the president.
It’s the question we get asked the most now. The interviews have gotten a lot more Dwayne 2020-centric since that story ran.
Thank you so much.
Would you vote for him?
You know? If he’s serious about it… I think he could win. I don’t necessarily think he’s being serious. I think it would be an insane thing to do. But I do think, with where we’re at right now, the man has a better chance than most. Especially if he runs with Tom Hanks.
[Someday], I’d like to do something where I’m forced to either lose or gain a lot of weight. They wanted me at status quo. Ronnie is sort of the normal schmo. He’s the normal guy among these Greek gods, who gets his boner stuck in everything. The everyman knows his place. All the other cast members are on these crazy diets. Zac is starving himself so he can take off his shirt and have a thousand muscles. It’s a lot. People are scared. There’s a shot where he’s doing that Ninja Warrior course, and he winks to Alex. And both times I’ve seen it—I look over at the person sitting next to me, and I go, “That’s insane.” It’s the biggest spectacle of Baywatch, his body.
Were you already a good swimmer?
Yeah, I was fine. But I had to relearn how to swim as a lifeguard. There are certain things you do differently. You don’t put your head underwater. You sort of dog-paddle, keeping your head above water, so you can constantly be surveying. But they didn’t say, “Jon, you have to learn how to be the perfect lifeguard.”
So if we were on the beach, you couldn’t save someone right now?
Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh… I’d try. I’d probably go and help out. And then I’d start drowning too. And we’d need a real lifeguard to come and save us. But the effort would go a long way. Brownie points.
So Ronnie was originally written as a disco enthusiast?
Yeah. Seth and I met for lunch before the movie started, and he said, “I don’t love this disco thing.” And I said, “I’m not crazy about it either.” And he goes, “I want you to krump. I want you to be a krump dancer.” And he shows me this video of this woman called Tricia Miranda, who’s the number-one dance choreographer for hip-hop in L.A. And he says, “I want you to work with her.”
You cannot learn how to hip-hop dance. It is either in you, or it is not in you, and it is not in me. I gave my damnedest. I worked every day for three months. I watch that scene, and I’m constantly watching it covering my eyes. Tricia tried so hard to teach me how to krump dance. And I think, for what it is, it’s definitely something I couldn’t have created on my own. [When we filmed], the song was “Get Your Freak On,” and they switched it to a remix of “Panda.” So I’m like, Huh. Those dance movies don’t really match up. It just looks like I’m going crazy on the dance floor.
You know, it’s interesting. The script sort of drops Ronnie’s arc about 45 minutes into the movie, and then he shows up again for the last 30 minutes of the movie. And I was constantly going, “Shouldn’t we have one scene in here where we set up the relationship between C.J. and Ronnie?” And they were like, “Nah.” And then I saw the movie, and I was like, “They’re right.” [laughs]
The one scene I knew we needed to get—that we almost didn’t get—is the one where C.J. and I were working on the dummy together. It sets up that these are two people who enjoy each other’s company. She’s charmed by him. I really pushed for that scene, and Seth really pushed for that scene. Most of our setups took two or three hours, but that setup was about 10 minutes—and we were guerrilla shooting. We took the B camera stuff and just shot it, because Seth and I knew we needed that scene. I wanted to make sure the relationship between C.J. and Ronnie felt natural, and not like a creep. I think I did a pretty good job. Barring the fact that I have a huge boner for 90 percent of the movie.
While we’re on the subject…
That’s all real, baby. [laughs] No. That is a very large prosthetic. Not even a prosthetic. It’s just a very large dildo.
Is there an actual fitting process for that?
Yep. Dayna Pink, the costume designer, came to me with a couple different dildos. I got to pick what I wanted.
Did you just pick “biggest”?
She went biggest, and I agreed with her. [laughs] I mean, they were all big. They didn’t give me a “very small” option, which was very nice of them. It wasn’t, “Okay, you can have a dildo or a Twizzler. Which do you want?”
I had two dildo scenes in this movie. One was [the beach chair], and one was when we were running. But that one was so weird—because they lost the dildo.
They just forgot it. And it was a last-minute joke—”Let’s give Jon a big dick again.” Dwayne goes, “Jon, you should go get the big dick. It’d be so funny!” And I go, “Great.” But they didn’t have one! So Dayna, once again—in a moment of panic—had to figure out how to create a fake dick. And so it was just birdseed in a condom.
She sounds like MacGyver.
This is why you hire an expert. So that was not “dildo-y” as much as it was “a sack full of birdseed in my pants.” But it all plays. Every one of my dicks plays in this movie.
Barb Wire. That opening scene. I don’t even know what that movie is about! But [Pamela Anderson] is on a swing, getting sprayed with water. And [as a kid], that was my bible. All these interviews, people are going… “So are you a fan of Baywatch?” And I have to say, “Honestly, I’m a fan of Pamela Anderson.” She was my first huge crush.
So were you nervous to meet her?
I didn’t think I was going to be. And then I did—and I was a fucking wreck. You’re meeting the woman who introduced you to sexuality in general. “What is this feeling I’m going through?” And I just reverted to my 10-year-old self. Just being like, “Guh-guh-guh-guh-guh-guh-goyyyyyyyy!” Full-on Mask: “Arrrooooooguhhhhhhh!” I kept it together, but inside I was freaking out.
[Early in my career, I went to New York] to audition for The Book of Mormon. And the crazy thing is, on the flight, I sat next to Joel Edgerton.
Did you say anything to him?
Of course! Because it was right when Warrior came out, and I love that movie, and he’s incredible in it. I was like, This dude’s fucking awesome. So I’m sitting right next to him, and I just say, “Hey, man, I’m a big fan of your work, and I’m actually working my way up right now.” And he was like, “Cool. Cool.” He wasn’t like, “Let’s talk for the next three hours.” And the crazy part is that four years later, I’m on a movie set with him as a costar [in Loving].
Please tell me you brought that flight up.
Of course! That’s the first thing I brought up. And he was completely in character. I brought it up, and he’s got his fucking teeth in—these prosthetic teeth. So I’m like, “Hey Joel, I’m not sure if you’re gonna remember this—but we were on a plane together!” And he’s like [mumbles] “Oh, no, I don’t know if I’m gonna remember that.”
It’s sort of one of those benchmark moments: This is where I was then, and this is where I am today.
I’m a little bit terrified [Baywatch] will be the last thing. They’ll say, “And then he never worked again.” But I have a very small part in Aaron Sorkin’s new movie. He saw me in Book of Mormon, and liked my performance, so that got me a part in The Newsroom. He sent me a very nice email saying, “I really like the way you say my words.” It felt sort of like a welcome-to-the-club sort of deal, because he uses people over and over again. He’s obsessed with Joshua Malina. Do you watch The West Wing?
I’ve been re-watching it, because I just want to live in a world where Martin Sheen is our president. I just want to live in that alternate universe. Rob Lowe is so great! And Allison Janney… honestly, she’s the one person where—if I met her—I would lose my shit. She is one of my favorite actors, and she is unbelievable in that show.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.