STACK met with CHIPS stars Dax Shepard, Michael Peña and Kristen Bell to talk motorcycles, buddy cops and bringing the cheesy '70s TV series to the big screen.
When Dax Shepard told his wife he was planning on writing, directing, starring, and doing all the motorbike stunts in his next movie project, she gave him her full blessing.
“In truth, Dax is safer going 80mph on a motorcycle blindfolded than I am walking in a straight line,” says Kristen Bell, who also snagged a role in her hubby’s movie CHIPS, playing his heartless ex-wife.
“I always want to work with my husband. If I could only work with him, I would because I trust his moviemaking perspective. I think he’s very smart. Every time he says something, it's very inspiring,” says Bell, who has worked with Shepard on Veronica Mars, The Boss and Hit and Run.
“We both believe that you have to make the kinds of movies you would want to see, otherwise you are guessing what the audience wants. He loves action and comedy and he also loves bikes, so this was perfect.”
Shepard’s CHIPS sees him as Jon Baker, a former X-Games star with a busted body and a painkiller habit who is teamed with Michael Peña’s Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello, an oversexed undercover Fed.
Both rookies take to the California Highway Patrol – what could possibly go wrong when these two get a badge and a bike, and go in search of an inner ring of dirty cops?
Shepard and Peña share the same character names as their predecessors in the cheesy '70s TV series CHiPs, Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada, but that’s where the similarity ends in this (US) hard-R buddy cop comedy loaded with action and stunts.
Unlike Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s send-up of another famous '70s TV cop show, Starsky & Hutch, Shepard had other ideas.
“They went the parody route, and we went the Bad Boys/Lethal Weapon route. There’s two ways to skin that cat, and I think the previous versions the studio had developed of CHIPS were parodies. And this was the first time that someone had written a script that took itself seriously,” says Shepard, who has since been hired to write and direct a live-action version of Scooby-Doo.
“I started this project knowing Michael and I were Ponch and Jon, so I could play to our strengths. My passion is motorcycles and cars, so I knew we’d be doing a lot of riding, and that gave me the freedom to write scenes where we’re talking trash over a chase. All of that informed the kind of story I was going to tell.”
Part of the gag lies in the fact Peña’s Ponch is not a good bike rider. “I can drive a car much better than I can ride a motorcycle," admits Peña when STACK meets with the CHIPS team in West Hollywood.
"When I was doing End of Watch, we would do pit manoeuvres and stuff, and I wasn’t bad, but when it comes to a motorcycle, all my powers dissolve. Even my dreams dissolve, of how good I am."
When Bell first met her future husband ten years ago, she figured the way to his heart was through motorbikes. “I got my motorcycle licence the first year we were dating to impress him, because I was madly in love and was like, 'I am going to get this guy in my pocket. I’ll become a biker babe.' So I got my licence and framed my certificate for him for Christmas. He thought it was the funniest Christmas present he’d ever received, and I have not gotten on a bike since in nine years. I am not good on a bike. I do not feel good while I am riding it. It's too much for me.”
But she has no fears for her husband. “When we first started dating, before I knew his habits, before I knew his skill level, I used to worry. But he is told by stunt drivers all the time that he is ten times better than anyone they’ve ever worked with. He’s also incredibly safe, despite how dangerous we all think motorcycles are. I know he values his life; I know he values the life we have with our kids and I know he’ll take safe precautions when he’s doing stunts and if he feels its out of his wheelhouse, I know he wont do it.”
Shepard takes the injuries in his stride. “I’ve been hit a few times. I had a very bad motocross injury and had to have my whole shoulder rebuilt, and then I’ve been hit twice in L.A. by cars. It’s not all been without injury.”
There’s so much of Shepard in his CHIPS character that it's hard to know where one ends and the other begins. “I’m very into self-analysis, so that bled into it. I like to think of Jon as an emotional genius and Ponch as a physical genius; it’s a very Mars vs. Venus female perspective. So when we argue, both people are making very valid points, they’re just on two different planes,” he says of their screen bromance.
“Our relationship also mirrored real life,” ventures Peña. “We didn’t really know each other at first but by the end of it, I was like, 'oh, I got a new friend, that’s cool.' I was quite happy. A couple of times, I even showed up to his house, unannounced and uninvited, just with my kid.”
CHIPS is in cinemas April 6.