Dax Shepard – CHIPS

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INTERVIEW WITH 
DAX SHEPPARD

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We all had a television show as a kid that we dreamed about being a part of. For some maybe they wanted to battle alongside the Transformers, for others maybe they wanted to slay vampires with Buffy in Sunnydale. For actor/director Dax Shepard, one of the stars of Parenthood, his dream was to don the brown outfit and jump on a motorbike to be part of the now cult favourite television series CHIPS.

Now Shepard gets to live out his dream as he teams up with Michael Pena (End Of Watch) and his real-life wife Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) to bring the California Highway Patrol back to life with a big screen re-working of the television show.

“When I was a kid I really liked the TV show,” says Shepard smiling. “The comparison I’ve been making is that when I was a kid I really loved the Batman television show with Adam West as well but I was really happy that when Christopher Nolan did his adaption he had a very different idea with tone and in every other way. So I didn’t adhere much to the original television show apart from the fact that we follow John and Ponch. To be the most important parts to CHIPS were California, which is a character in the TV show and also a character in this movie, John and Ponch as heroes and their motorcycles. It has all of those elements but it is definitely an R-Rated tone and the action is scarier and the bad guys are definitely scarier and the subject matter is much more adult. So, the film does have some of the original DNA but it is also its own thing. What was cool was I started this project knowing who John and Ponch are… which actors are playing them… myself and Michael Pena. So I got to know Pena and I had a pretty good idea of what he does well. And then I got better at understanding what I do well so I set out to play to our strengths which was fun.”

Nobody plays the ‘lovable loser’ style character like Shepard and once he again he gets to embrace that with John. “We meet John during a transitional period in his life,” he laughs. “He was employed as an X-Games motorcycle rider, he had sponsors and all. Now he is 40 and he doesn’t have sponsors anymore and he is going through so marriage crisis and he’s trying to figure out what he could do as a career going forward and the only thing he really knows what to do is ride a motorcycle so he decides ‘hey they ride motorcycles in the CHP so I’ll give that a shot.’ But he’s had 14 surgeries and he isn’t in the best physical shape and he doesn’t really show a lot of aptitude for the job, so he’s really just paired with Ponch because he’s a rookie and Ponch assumes he won’t really know where they are supposed to be or what they are supposed to be doing, but it turns out that John is taking it all very seriously. CHIPS stars out with a crime that is being committed by CHP officers – they rob an armoured truck. And the CHP realise that they are not going to be able to find who these dirty cops are so they call in the FBI for some help. SO they bring in an Officer who assumes the identity of Poncherello and I am starting at the CHP at that exact time as a 40-year-old rookie – the oldest rookie in their history. And I am unknowingly joining Ponch on an investigation to find out who these guys are. I think the great things about CHIPS is that the comedy is very dirty, it’s very adult, there is a lot of stuff that you’ll hear talked about in this movie that you’ve probably never heard talked about in a film before…. and I hope that wasn’t pornographic.”

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The action is one hundred per cent real, the explosions are real, the jumps are real and even the fights are almost real. I think that it has a lot of  really great, old school action and a whole lot of love. It has a really good vibe and is a lot of fun. Oh and there is a lot of nudity… so much nudity. It is so much fun seeing people naked. I’m naked a ton and there a lot of beautiful females naked. Pena’s partially naked… I would have liked to have seen him more naked to be honest. So nudity, explosions, great stunts and some pretty good comedy. That’s a lot of bang for the buck.”

In the original series John and Ponch were very much buddies but in this re-working Shepard decided to play around with that friendship a little bit. “When they first meet they are like oil and water,” he says. “Ponch is Latino and from Miami and I am very much a Californian guy who hugs men, there are a lot of culturial differences for them right out of the gate but as they work together I sacrifice myself for him and start to show him what kind of guy I am. Then he starts liking me and as we become friends he starts meeting me in the middle and he starts exploring some emotional points of view and that is funny to watch as he tries out this new approach.”

When it comes to working with his actual wife Shepard is now a veteran. The pair have appeared in a swag of movies together including the very under-rated Hit Run and Shepard says it really is becoming a habit. “We’ve been in like five movies together now,” he says. “We’ve also done a few commercial together and we love, love, love working together. Anything that I ever direct she will always be in because she is my favourite actor to work with because you can tell her to do anything. You can get her to cry in one take and then get her to sing beautifully in the next take and then have her tell a joke in the third and then get her to do something physical with a dance routine in the fourth and she will because she is hyper talented. “

As was the case in Hit Run this film again sees Shepard do a lot of his own stunts, without CGI, and he says he would never ever have it any other way. “I think there is just something about human beings being on actual physical objects. There are physics that they (CGI) just can’t get right, things fly in certain ways and people on top of them respond in certain ways and I think you can always sense when that is real so that was a real priority for us to do real. The only thing digitally that we do in this is that we will swap out bikes once in this movie. But somebody still did jump a bike fifty feet in the air and do a 180 and then shot a guy. So that all really did happen, but outside of one digital swap that’s it in this movie. If you see a guy doing something he is doing it.”

The laughter and action of CHIPS is in cinemas right now and it has been reviewed at heavymag.com.au.

Written by Dave Griffiths

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