When it comes to celebrity couples, few duos are as admired as Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell.
The former “Parenthood” actor and his “Frozen” star wife met in 2007 at a birthday party dinner and became engaged in 2010 after a courtship that seemed to earn unanimous approval from fans. From a 2012 video of Shepard surprising Bell with her favorite animal (a sloth) for her birthday to the couple’s declaration that they would not tie the knot until same-sex marriage was legalized, Dax and Kristen quickly became—as the kids say—“relationship goals.”
“When Samsung offers you a lot of money to sell refrigerators, it starts clicking,” Shepard told me when asked if he was aware of the public interest in their romance. “[It’s] a lot of pressure. I’ve gotta keep this thing on the tracks. It’s not a mystery who they’ll side with if we [split]. They’ll be going with Kristen.”
Dax and Kristen currently appear as on-screen husband and wife (albeit estranged) in the feature film reboot of the ’70s and ’80s California Highway Patrol TV series “CHiPs,” which Shepard also wrote and directed, but it turns out he wasn’t initially keen on handing the role to his wife.
“I wanted to hire someone inherently bitchy and mean,” he told me. “And she read it and said, ‘I wanna play Karen.’ I was like, ‘You’re too nice to play Karen. Everyone knows you’re nice.’ She’s like, ‘I can do it.’ And I was like, ‘Then it shall be, because you’re the boss.’”
He added, “It turned out to be awesome. It’s weirdly probably way more fun watching someone you know is really nice be such an a**hole.”
“CHiPs” features Shepard and Michael Peña as officers Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello—originally played on TV by Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada—a pair of California highway patrolmen tasked with uncovering crooked cops within their own ranks. The film co-stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Jessica McNamee, Adam Brody, Maya Rudolph and Rosa Salazar as the supporting cast of law enforcers along for Jon and Ponch’s wild ride.
The film’s hard-R rating is a departure from the family-friendly NBC series it’s based on, but par for the course for Shepard who’s made a career in films intended for the 18-plus crowd. And although he and Bell are now parents to two young daughters, ages 2 and 4, the actor says he has no plans to trade in F-bombs for fairy tales …
David Onda: When actors and directors start having kids, they often get the itch to make films their kids can enjoy. Is that something you’ve been thinking about?
Dax Shepard: No, no. They don’t give a s**t. Their mom is Princess Anna and they don’t care. They don’t care. They love “Frozen,” they love the songs—the fact that their mom is singing is not impressive to them. I think they think everyone’s mom is Princess Anna or some other princess. It doesn’t mean anything to them. They will not ever be impressed by something we do. That’s the nature of being parents. It’s a fool’s errand. I wouldn’t even try.
Michael Peña: For me, it’s different. He’s almost 9, my son. I took him to see a movie and he was like, “Wow, that guy’s so funny!” And he loved that one character, and that’s when I decided I’m gonna do some voiceover and then he’d love that. There was a movie [I did called] “Turbo.” With “Ant-Man,” it was the first time that he was like, “He’s Luis in ‘Ant-Man’!” I was like, “Yesss.” And then I did this other movie and he couldn’t care less. [laughs] I’m doing “Ninjago,” too, and he can’t wait for that one.
Shepard: I’m telling you, if I was the voice of Ryder in “Paw Patrol,” her favorite thing in the world, she just wouldn’t care.
Peña: My son really cares.
Shepard: I more think about the fact that my daughter, when she turns 18, she’ll be able to go back and watch “Hit and Run,” which is a movie my wife and I made as a pure labor of love. We’re so in love in the movie. We’re young and it’s our relationship up on screen. I think about that. I would kill to see my mom and dad at the height of their love and young.
Onda: “CHiPs” creator Rick Rosner was involved in this new movie as a producer. What did he bring creatively, if anything, to this remake?
Shepard: His blessing, which was the most important thing. The show was a very family-friendly 8 p.m. network TV show, and I wrote this very hard-R script. I remember emailing him the script and just kind of waiting to get a call like, “How dare you do this?” And he called me back and he goes, “I was laughing from beginning to end. I think this is such a fun, weird version of this. I’m excited.”
Peña: But it’s always awesome to have that kind of support, because that way you’re not tarnishing whatever he created. He was very complimentary on set.
Onda: How different was the first version of the “CHiPs” script you wrote compared to the final version we see on the screen now?
Shepard: It was way, way different. When I first pitched it, it was conceived as PG-13, and I had asked them for $45 million. And they said, “Yes.” And then as we got closer to it, they started shaving more and more money off of it. And then at a certain point I said, “Look, I don’t think I can deliver an awesome PG-13 movie for this amount of money, because you need even more action and it’s gotta compete with ‘Fast and Furious.’ But if I can go R and deliver on that aspect of it, then you’re in the ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ world and we can do that.” Then I went away and made it R and kind of changed it.
Onda: Michael, you’ve played so many cops in your career…
Peña: I love it.
Onda: What do you think casting directors see in you that makes them say, “He’d make a great cop.”
Peña: I don’t think it’s the casting directors. I don’t have a choice to do whatever movie I want, but there’s offers out there, and I’m the kind of guy that watches “Forensic Files,” “Cops.” My brother’s a cop and a lot of his friends are cops—which in turn are my friends. I was in [the Army] JROTC when I was a kid, and my dad was in the army. I’ve always liked that kind of life and those kinds of TV shows, and I love action movies. So when I read those kinds of scripts, I’m interested in those kinds of scripts because they’re the ones that entertain me.
Onda: And you often play the sidekick or best friend, but in “CHiPs” you play the dominant cop, the assertive veteran.
Peña: That’s amazing, because it didn’t feel any different. I think what you’re mainly more concerned about is just the acting basics. Talk, listen, connect—that kind of thing. And then I had a case.
Shepard: But he is the boss. A) I didn’t know Michael and B) I sold the movie with him starring in it, and we didn’t know each other and he didn’t know he was gonna be in “CHiPs.” Right from the get-go, all the different iterations of the script, I was like, “I gotta keep Michael Peña in this movie.” So I would be writing him scenes that I thought were so much cooler than my scenes and I’d be jealous like, “Oh, I wanna drift this car through the cargo container!” Making him a stud FBI agent who kicks everyone’s ass … I was like, that would be fun, but I couldn’t pull that off.
Onda: Dax, you have a real passion for motorsports and did most of your own stunt driving for “CHiPs.” What was the most difficult scene to film logistically as a director and physically as an actor?
Shepard: All of the challenges in making this movie were logistical in that we had to shut down areas of L.A., which is really hard to do. Our schedule was Wednesday to Sunday every week. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday would be fun—it would be Michael and I acting and being funny in some kind of small scene. And the weekends were like, “S**t, we’ve got two days to do this whole bridge sequence.” It became a mad dash of solving the puzzle. The jigsaw puzzle of our locations and getting everything we needed in this condensed schedule was the main challenge.
Peña: It was fun though, because sometimes when you do action movies, what happens is you go away and do the action part and it takes way too long, and then you forget the rhythm and tone that you were doing it in. I think it worked perfectly where we did all the “talking scenes,” and then the action scenes on the weekends.
Onda: “CHiPs” is certainly the first movie to ever destroy a dozen inflatable bouncy castles during a car chase.
Shepard: Funny enough, originally that whole sequence was gonna happen inside of Dodgers Stadium with a college team playing the College World Series. Then we got the rental fee for Dodgers Stadium, which I think was like $250,000 for the day. And so we were like, “Ok, we’re not in Dodgers Stadium.” The whole scene was supposed to take place around Elysian Park around Dodgers Stadium, and I knew we were locked into these other things so I’m like, “What can we do at Elysian Park?” That one was out of necessity and as a placeholder. One of my favorite shots in the whole movie is the camera is mounted in front of the handlebars on my bike and I’m riding and the cop cars are next to me and they’re hitting [the inflatables] in real-time next to me. It’s such a bizarre shot to see the actor of a movie next to the s**t getting hit.
Onda: To that point, I really appreciated that the action sequences in “CHiPs” were done the “old-fashioned” way. When you see a guy on a motorcycle in this film, it’s a guy on a motorcycle and not computer animation.
Shepard: As great as CGI is—and it’s amazing and best used as backgrounds and mattes—but whenever they’re dealing with anything moving or flying, the physics just will never be right. It’s a binary attempt at something that’s actually fluid and analog. It’s always the physics. And you, as a primate, who used to brachiate and catch vines—your depth perception and your ability to predict movement is the best in the animal kingdom. We’re just really, really savvy about “that wouldn’t have moved that way.”
Peña: It’s like watching a cartoon.
Shepard: On a cellular level, it feels a little off. You’re not really emotionally connected. But in every single [“CHiPs”] stunt, some ballsy m********ker got on a motorcycle and jumped 100 feet in the air. And that’s really what happened.
Peña: And it’s crazy when you see it live.
Shepard: And that [stunt] guy Dave Castillo, with no practice says, “Do you want me to rip over this car?” “Yeah, dude, can you just f***ing rip over that car?” “Yeah.” Glass shattering!
Catch Dax Shepard and Michael Peña in “CHiPs” in theaters everywhere now. Click here for more information and to order tickets through Fandango.