If the favorite TV show of your youth had a major high-speed element to it, chances are Dax Shepard might be interested in modernizing it for the movies.
A self-admitted enthusiast of all things motorized and fast, Shepard's the first to admit that the despite enduring in many viewers' memories for four decades, story- and premise-wise there wasn't a lot of there there in the TV series "CHiPs," which nevertheless ran for six well-rated seasons on NBC from 1977-1983, best recalled primarily for the motorcycles, the tan California Highway Patrol uniforms and Erik Estrada's mega-watt smile.
That was enough for writer/director/actor Shepard, who, after enthusiastic reviews for his 2012 feature film "Hit & Run," was hot to helm another supercharged action-comedy and found that "CHiPs" provided all the basic ingredients he was craving but also left him plenty of room for reinvention. With Michael Pena playing Ponch and taking on the Jon role himself, Shepard recruited a cast with razor-sharp chops in both comedy and drama -- including Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Brody, Rosa Salazar, Jane Kaczmarek, and his wife Kristen Bell – and revved the engines.
And as Shepard reveals to Moviefone, there's a few more TV-to-big-screen prospects on the horizon -- just as long as he gets to do his fair share of stunts.
Moviefone: Let's look back to your very first impressions of the TV show "CHiPs" when it was on the air. Were you a kid that like immediately went out and got on your bike right afterwards and tooled around the neighborhood like you were Jon or Ponch?
Dax Shepard: I did do that, but in all honesty, my brother and I were more likely to be playing Bo and Luke Duke -- we both wanted to be Bo Duke. What I really remember about that show was, I was in cold and gloomy Detroit, which was grey for eight months of the year. So you turn on this show, and it was California for an hour. It was palm trees and beaches, then this totally odd couple for us in Michigan: it's a Latino guy and a white guy, and they're on motorcycles.
So those things I loved as a kid: motorcycles, California, and Jon and Ponch somehow, I liked those guys. I didn't follow the plots of many of those episodes. As I watched them when I was writing this, they make maybe even less sense to me. So what I zeroed in on, the thing I thought made it a globally appealing show, was those things: California and motorcycles.
That's pretty much what I think everybody has of "CHiPs" memories to hang on to.
Yeah, and a great theme song.
Given you had that sort of mostly blank slate to start with, tell me about your process in building a movie out of that. What did you want to do with it?
I'm always looking for anything that can combine motorsports and comedy, because all my free time is spent doing, if I'm not with my kids, I'm doing something that you put gas in. What I wanted to make was "Bad Boys" and "Lethal Weapon." Those are the action-comedies that I love.
That was the singular goal. I think over the last 10 years, the action-comedies tend to be really comedies, and then they have a little bit of throwaway action. I was more interested in like getting the motorcycle chases right than I was worried about, say, Peña and I being funny or something.
So yeah, I was just looking for a way to make "Bad Boys" and this was something Warner Bros. felt like there was a big enough of a safety net with the title that they let me do that.
Given that you're kind of a gearhead then, where was the line when you wanted to do a stunt, and actor Dax was saying, "Let me do this," and the director Dax was saying, "Is that the safest option?"
There was never an internal battle. I don't have that voice in your head that says, "Don't do it." But what I had was two pretty lengthy meetings with the insurance provider during prep, and they just brought in an itemized list of every single stunt, and they said, "OK, which ones do you want to do?" And I said, "Basically, everything but jump 100 feet. I can't do that." And they said, "OK, well, let's talk then."
Then we just went through and we compromised, but what was a huge asset that I wouldn't have even imagined was one was, because I did "Hit and Run," and I had done 100% of that driving, and I hadn't crashed a single car in that movie, they know of that kind of thing, which surprised me. So, for instance, on the itemized list, we go through it: "OK, you can't drive over a car, but we'll let you go down the staircase." "OK, you can do a wheelie, but we don't want you do a front-endo" -- even though I did a front-endo. "Can't do this, you can't do this."
Then I said, "Oh, there's something that is not on your list that I'm going to do in the movie, which is I'm going to be driving the black car in the opening chase scene." And they were like, "Why? That's not even your character." And I'm like, "Because that's fun to drive a car like that, and that's why I'm making this movie so I can do that stupid stuff." They're like, "All right, you can drive the car."
All my friends are stuntmen. I certainly hang out with more stuntmen probably than actors. My stunt coordinator is just a guy I was friends with for years from riding motorcycles, and then I found out he was a stuntman, and I was like, "Oh, you should coordinate 'Hit and Run,'" then he coordinated this.
Doing the movie, what was a good day on the bike, and what was a not-so-good day on the bike for you?
First of all, I got a guy who holds the world record for the longest front-endo, right? So in the beginning train scene, there's this really crazy long front-endo. I wanted to do a front-endo so we could at least get me coming down and driving away. I did not practice on an 850-pound motorcycle -- I'd only done it on a Hypermotard. So I basically just had to do it in front of the crew, and I crashed two or three times, and then we got it on the fourth time. So that was humiliating.
On the beach I crashed, because I had this huge camera slung out in front of the front wheel, and it was burying it in the sand, so I crashed there. There were a lot of humiliating moments for me in the movie, especially because all my friends are the stunt guys who are the best.
What was the first motorized vehicle that hooked you on this kind of action? All the way back, when you knew this was like, "I'm going to keep going fast for as long as I live?"
Yeah, one of my most vivid memories as a kid was Silver Lake, the sand dunes on Lake Michigan, and my father was very into off-roading in the sand dunes. His buddy had a three-wheel dune buggy. I went for a ride in it at maybe three years old, maybe a little younger, and it was the most exhilarating feeling I ever had, yet simultaneously to the pleasure was the front wheel of this three-wheel dune buggy was just kicking sand up in our face. Super high-velocity sand hitting my face, which was so painful, but I was so conflicted because I was enjoying it so much, and I was in so much pain. Probably my first memory.
Everything in the film ultimately hangs on the rapport that you have with Michael.Tell me about how quickly in the process you realized you could have it with him, and then developing it and kind of making it your own thing.
Yeah. I didn't know him at all when I sold this, and I sold it with him attached to star. I said to the studio, "Michael Peña's got to be Ponch." They're like, we love it. Then I left and I was like, I've got to go meet Michael Peña and woo him. So I didn't know him at all. We did rehearse for about four or five weeks, so I was getting to know him.
But in all truth, I've done movies with people who I love, and have had no chemistry with them. I've done movies with people I'm ambivalent about and had great chemistry. So there is some element of magic involved in all of it that the camera picks up that you can't necessarily evaluate within the scene. So it wasn't really until I started seeing dailies of what we were shooting I was like, "OK, we seem to have something kind of special. There's something sparky about our relationship."
Then I think as he saw that, then it just started kind of growing, and the confidence started growing, and we got even more playful with that dynamic all the way until now we're on the press tour -- basically we followed the same kind of trajectory that the characters did.
What was interesting about spending time with Erik Estrada?
The day he came to film, we were shooting in Palmdale. It was 38 degrees, it was raining, and I thought, he's got to be so mad he's driven out here to be in this. And he got there, and he was in the best mood, and he was so ready to play and have fun.
What's immediately obvious about him when you meet him is you go, "Oh, hell yeah -- I see why this guy was a humongous star." He's so charismatic, you can't help but notice it, so it was a blast working with him.
I thought all the music choices were great -- and I couldn't help but notice the band Toto seems to again have a prominent place in your life.
It does. It does. What's funny about that is, that video of "Africa," which we posted, we probably would have never posted, but I had written in the ["CHiPs"] script that I yell "Turn down the f*cking Toto!" and then I asked Toto for the rights to the song, and they said no initially, because they thought I was making fun of them. And I said, "You've got to get me on the phone with [Toto songwriter/producer/lead vocalist] David Paich. I've got to tell him I'm a super fan."
So I get on the phone with David Paich, and I say, "Listen, I want to send you this video so you really understand the depth to which I love Toto." So I sent him that video. He emailed me back and said, "I've not liked the song this much since I wrote it." And I was like, "Wow, that's such a stamp of approval. Then I said to Kristen, "Maybe we should post this." So in a weird roundabout way, without "CHiPs," I probably would have never posted that video.
Are you still going to do a "Scooby-Doo" project for Warner Bros?
I've been working on it for nine months, writing. You're not allowed to say anything about their crown jewel IPs! It's like the DC world. They're very tight. Yeah, the Scooby-verse.
Like "CHiPs," what's that big memory of "Scooby-Doo" that you knew you could build something out from?
I have a similar relationship to "Scooby-Doo" as I have for "CHiPs," which is, there's just elements I love. It's not that I regard it as "The Sopranos" or something. It's just like, "Oh, there's some stickiness to this thing. This dog talks ..." Again, they're a weird duo, this scaredy-cat stoner and this dog. That's what I can latch on to.
I tend to just latch on to characters in shows. That's what I would work off of. For better or worse, I don't tend to have a lot of reverie for things. I think it's an asset in some ways, and then it's offensive in other ways. Again, I felt very liberated to just do whatever movie I wanted to. The show exists perfectly preserved on TV. I can't take that away. All I can do is offer something different up in the movie.
Not a ton of boxes you needed to check.
Yeah, for me. Now, other people probably would have approached it differently. The common approach for this, because they have developed many different versions of this before I got involved, they had always gone the parody route. Someone will be mad it's not a parody.
For Scooby, do you want to do a supercharged Mystery Machine kind of thing?
That van's got to get a lot cooler for sure, yeah. It can't be that '62 Ford or whatever the hell they were in.
Would you jump at a chance to do "Dukes of Hazzard" if reboot time rolls around?
Again, my goal is, take something you know, take something you have an expectation about, and then give you something completely different. That's just always a very fun experience for me in a movie, when I get something I totally didn't see coming. That's kind of what I live for as a moviegoer.