Directed by seasoned comedian, producer, and writer Dax Shepard, the adaptation of beloved TV comedy CHIPS is now in theaters. Before the film opened widely, I sat down with Shepard for a wide-ranging interview about how he came to the project, his career thus far, and what he has coming up. He talked about what hooked him on the project, how he got Michael Pena to be in the film, what filming in California brought to the production, what he learned in test screenings, how hard was it to keep a straight face while filming some of the underwear scenes, future projects like Scooby-Doo, and how often people want to talk to him about Mike Judge’s comedy classic Idiocracy.
If you’re not familiar with the source material for CHIPS, it was a television comedy that ran for six seasons between 1977 and 1983 about a pair of California Highway Patrol officers. Shepard wrote, directed, and stars in the action comedy as Jon Baker, who was played by Larry Wilcox in the TV series. He’s joined onscreen by Michael Peña as Frank Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello, played by Erik Estrada in the TV show, and the story finds the pair patrolling their West Coast city for any and all criminal behavior. Baker is a beaten-up professional motorbiker who’s looking to put his life back together, while Ponch is an undercover Federal agent investigating a heist that may or may not be an inside job. The film also stars Adam Brody, Jessica McNamee, Ryan Hansen, and Vincent D’Onofrio.
COLLIDER: Jumping backwards, did you grow up with CHiPs?
DAX SHEPARD: I did. I was 2 years old when it debuted, and then I was 8 when it went off the air. I’m from Detroit where it’s gray and cold 8 months of the year and you turn o this show for like an hour and it was California, beaches, bikinis, motorcycles, and then this weird, odd couple of this lanky white dude and a latino, and I dug it. I didn’t follow any of the storylines, I just liked the motorcycles and the California.
I remember watching CHiPs in reruns where I grew up.
SHEPARD: How old are you?
Old enough [Laughs]. I remember watching it on channel 25 or something.
SHEPARD: What city?
In the suburbs of Boston.
SHEPARD: Oh, so yeah, weather sucked there too.
It was horrible. Maybe CHiPs is the reason I wanted to move to L.A.
SHEPARD: Oh, 100%.
Because every episode is just bright and sunny with huge pollution. It was great.
SHEPARD: No clouds in the sky.
But a lot of pollution.
SHEPARD: Yeah. Back then it was much dirtier.
It was crazy. How did this project land on your lap? Was this something that you’d been like thinking about?
SHEPARD: It didn’t land on my lap, I went and begged them to let me do it. They had developed different versions of this movie in the past, Warner Brothers. I think all the previous attempts went in a parody direction, like Starsky & Hutch kind of. I was writing another script and I made a Poncherello joke in that script, but I didn’t know how to spell Poncherello so I googled Poncherello, and then this image popped up of Jon and Ponch but they looked really tough, it wasn’t the traditional image of the like family friendly TV, they looked kind of like they were in Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys. And I was like, “Hold on a second. That show could handle that treatment. It’s guys on motorcycles at the end of the day, so it could hold that kind of Bad Boys tone” and that’s really all I pitched them. With Michael Peña as Ponch.
So you had Michael prior to the pitch.
SHEPARD: No, I sold it with him starring but I never met him or talked to him about it.
[Laughs] That’s great. And you got him!
SHEPARD: And I got him, by hook and crook. My TV sister Erika Christensen is really good friends with him and I knew that so I was like, “You gotta…” she looked at me and I was like, “I just sold a fucking movie with Peña starring in it. You gotta text him and tell him I’m a good dude.” And then we went ad had like a blind date breakfast and it went well and then he was on board.
So obviously you shoot in California and you get the California tax credit, but more than that it opens the door to getting people who live in L.A. to be the side supporting characters.
SHEPARD: Absolutely. Yeah, you’re not gonna get Maya Rudolph to fly to Louisiana for one scene in CHIPS. Never gonna happen. Or even Ed Begley’s not gonna do it, Josh Duhamel is not gonna do it, Mae Whitman’s not gonna do it. There’s so many advantages to shooting here in L.A. because, as you say, everyone lives here. And then just for my own mental health, we were shooting n the winter in L.A. which means there was only 10 hours of daylight to shoot, and the whole movie is exterior, so I was home every day at 5 o’ clock to eat dinner with my kids and put them to bed, and just being able to have that be part of my day really helps keep me happy and healthy and working at my best.