CHiPs, the 1970s TV show starring Erik Estrada as Ponch and Larry Wilcox as Jon Baker, has gotten a movie update starring Dax Shepard (Baker) and Michael Peña (Ponch). Shepard also wrote and directed the action comedy about two California highway patrolmen, which opens in theaters nationwide today. Shepard and Peña were in Dallas promoting the film last week, and we got a chance to sit down and chat with them about the movie, California and Peña's dad.
Observer: What’s up?
Michael Peña: What’s up? Did you watch the movie?
Yes, I did. With my father.
Dax Shepard: That was comfortable I’m sure.
Peña: What was the talk on the ride home?
Shepard: Did your dad laugh? Did he like it?
He laughed at a masturbation line, so that was exciting.
Shepard: Let me guess: “Yes, if this was a public restroom, you’d be shooting all over the place.”
Yes. I was pleasantly surprised with this movie.
Shepard: Women seem to really like it because of the love story between Ponch and Jon. Women seem to think it’s a cute relationship.
Right. So, you wrote this. All by yourself.
Shepard: Yes, I am the one to blame.
Why did you want to turn that sitcom into a movie?
Peña: It wasn’t a sitcom, that’s the thing.
I don’t know anything.
Shepard: No one your age does. It was a family-friendly prime-time drama.
Shepard: Simply, it had motorcycles, and the two heroes rode motorcycles everywhere, and they were in California, which was a very exotic place to me as a kid from Detroit, so those elements appealed to me a lot. I try to do motorsports with comedy whenever I can because that’s my first love.
Peña: Not your family?
Shepard: Well, that’s always a given. Why do people act like it’s not a given?
Peña: Well, first love.
Shepard: Well, no, first love would be motorsports. I loved motorsports before I ever met Kristen [Bell, his wife]. Before I liked girls, I liked motorsports. Well, I liked my mom first.
Did you have Michael Peña in mind when you were writing it?
Shepard: Always. He was always more integral in my opinion than I was. Because when I pitched the studio the idea for the movie, he was the only person I felt had it to play Ponch and I wasn’t certain that they would want me to play Jon, but they suggested it and I was happy to do it. I didn’t think I could make a version without him being Ponch.
Did y’all know each other before?
Shepard: We didn’t.
Peña: After he sold it, we met. With me starring in it.
Did y’all like each other?
Peña: Right away. I thought he was great. I thought he was cool.
Shepard: But we definitely got to know each other rehearsing, and we got to know each other well shooting the movie and now all over again for the tour.
Were you a fan of CHiPS, the TV show?
Peña: Yeah, I grew up in Chicago and I was like, “Is that even in this country?” Because it was snowing [in Chicago] and all these girls were wearing bikinis and like basically everybody was happy all the time. The only people who were unhappy were the criminals.
Shepard: Ponch was the first huge Latino star on television. And [Pena’s] family really dug the show. His dad fancied himself a bit as a Ponch.
Peña: I think we all wanted to be Ponch, and my mom really loved him. My dad was a stud. I’ll show you a picture. My dad was a total stud growing up.
Does California live up to your childhood hype?
Shepard: It does for me. I love it there. I live on a motorcycle, and you can ride 360 days a year, probably.
Peña: It’s not like Baywatch. For me, I was like, “I’m going to Baywatch. Pamela Anderson is going to be there.”
Shepard: You thought you would see more swimwear.
Peña: Here’s my dad.
Yeah, he’s hot. Do you find writing a movie with just one person that it has a more concise voice at the end? I didn’t know you wrote it before seeing the movie, and I found it to be more ...
There wasn’t a scattered voice or jokes that felt out of place. Would you agree with that?
Shepard: Yeah, I’ll go a step further. Typically what happens in a movie is there’s a writer or writers, so that’s one or two points of view on life, then a director comes in and he interprets that and then he puts his point of view on it, and then if there’s two actors, those two go through their filter, right, so by the time you see it on the screen, there are minimally four people’s points of view on what you see. Whereas because I wrote it, directed it and was half of the cast, you’re down to two points of view. Which I don’t know [whether that’s] good or bad, but it’s definitely a unique experience in a movie.
Peña: What I do normally, I talk to the writer a lot. And it amazes me because a lot of actors on set, they don’t really talk to the writer. They talk to the director. He’s not the one who wrote it. They literally make something out of thin air. This entire set, this entire thing comes from a writer first. And so I always go to that.
Shepard: What’s funny is when we were rehearsing, I can’t remember what I said or how I said it, but I said something like, “Oh, it must be weird to have your scene partner occasionally give you direction. It must be weird.” And he goes, “Oh, dude, I’m not working with the actor or the director. I’m working with the writer. All I care about is the writer.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s really fascinating.”
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What have you done in Dallas?
Peña: I was here just last year. I played a festival in Denton, Texas, and I played golf in the Dallas club and then I played in Denton, like in two days, I played in three places. I’m a big-time golfer. With the wind from Texas, you have to be a good player. The wind is blowing so much, you can’t really curve the ball too much. It’s hard not to. I love playing golf over here.
Shepard: I just have about 2 pounds of smoked sausage. From Sammy’s Bar-B-Q.
Peña: Are you lethargic at all?
Shepard: No, I feel strong. But I used to work in Carrollton, Texas, in the ’90s and this city has come so far. It’s so different now.
What were you doing in Carrollton?
Shepard: General Motors press. I would loan cars out to Texas journalists. All that kind of shit.
CHiPs is now playing nationwide.