The name might not jump into your brain as fast as the likes of Johnny Knoxville
or Wee-man, but any early fan of MTV's "Jackass
" could easily pick Stephanie Hodge
out of a bruised and heavily bandaged lineup.
Hodge, a model/actress-turned-agent for a Los Angeles media company
, served as the cast's token girl in the show's early days. That is, until a stunt broke her back and pelvis, nearly paralyzing her.
"I wasn't interested in being the girl from 'Jackass,'" she said. "I just liked hanging out with my friends ... I would just be there watching them f**k each other up, and then they would say, 'Oh, you can come in and be the ring girl.'"
Unfortunately, her involvement with the show that has inspired three top-grossing films, including the newly released "Jackass 3-D
," also put her in a back brace and got her hours of physical therapy for more than three months, earning her the dubious distinction of being one of the long-running show's most seriously injured cast members.
"Your Daughter Is Puking on TV"
Long before the idea of a show where grown men smack each other in the beanbag with various blunt objects became the basis for a development deal, Hodge worked as a magazine model and actress. Her first big-screen gig came in the form of a dancing girl in 2000's "Coyote Ugly
," which also featured a young actor named P.J. Clapp, now known as Johnny Knoxville, who played a drunken college student.
Knoxville had just started writing for Big Brother magazine
, the skateboarding rag that inspired the show that made him a household name, and Hodge was dating a professional skateboarder. So, the two spent a lot of time talking in between takes and soon struck up a friendship.
By the time Knoxville's "self-defense test" tape
to give him a weekly television show, Hodge either knew or was good friends with most of the faces that make up the show's (and the movies') principal cast.
Her first taste of TV time came in one of the show's earliest stunts -- a "Cool Hand Luke"–inspired hard-boiled-egg-eating contest that required a fat guy (Preston Lacy), a drunk (Big Brother editor and future Vice columnist Craig Nieratko
) and a "hot chick."
"I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do it,'" she said. "I'll get paid a couple of hundred bucks and nobody will see it. I was in New York working, and the episode I was on aired, and my phone started ringing like crazy. My parents called me. My brother saw it. Everybody f**king saw it. They all said that they wished I would have told them because they all got calls saying, 'Your daughter is puking on TV.'"
"The Accident Was Just That: An Accident"
Hodge appeared off-and-on through the show's initial run until a serious accident on a snow-covered mountain in Portland, Ore., gave her the unfortunate honor of being the first cast member to sustain a serious injury from a stunt.
The crew spent two days shooting various cast members riding everything from a port-o-potty to a step ladder mounted with skis down the hill. One of the items that never made it on the air was an air mattress, complete with full bedding.
"They were like, 'It would be so much funnier if it was a girl instead of a guy [riding the bed],' and I said, "OK, I'll do it,' not really realizing what that meant," she said.
The mattress shot down the hill, hit a snowbank and launched Hodge into the air. She landed very hard, snapping part of her spine and pelvis.
"The accident was just that: an accident," she said. "Obviously they don't want anybody to get hurt, no matter what the situation -- not friends or anyone working with them. I think it was just an unfortunate situation. We were being reckless, and MTV really took care of me."
"We Don't Want to See Girls Getting Hurt"
Despite the seriousness of her injuries and the threat of being paralyzed for life, Hodge avoided surgery thanks to a back brace that was able to keep her fractures in place until they could heal. She spent the next three months in bed at her parents' house in Arizona, followed by another three months of physical therapy. Only then was she able to work her way out of her wheelchair and brace without suffering permanent damage.
The show hasn't featured a female in stunt mode since Hodge's accident because, as Knoxville himself recalled in a recent interview
, "It was like watching your sister get hurt, and we don't want to see girls getting hurt."
Her injuries kept her out of the frame for a little while, but she said it deepened her friendship with the people from the show. She even returned to the set for part of the filming of the first and second "Jackass" films, where she again served as a ring card girl.
And even though her current career kept her from appearing in the third film, she said she's "100 percent proud" of her contribution to the show and the black-and-blue mark it has left on the American pop culture lexicon. She's also looking forward to seeing her friends' latest "3-D" opus, now in theaters -- especially because she isn't in it.