Parenthood’s Dax Shepard wasn’t even born when actors Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox donned California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop uniforms as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello and Jon Baker on the hit TV series CHiPs. And at first he wasn’t interested in a reboot of the cheesy late-’70s show. But then he happened on a photo of Ponch and Jon.
“It was from the shoulders up and they were staring out over the distance like a thousand-yard stare,” Shepard recalls. “And I thought, wow, there’s perhaps a cool version of this movie that could be made.”
The result is “a Bad Boys, Lethal Weapon–type” Warner Bros. film that Shepard wrote, directed, and stars in; and which highlights action sequences and motorcycle stunts (many of which he did himself). But before you get the idea that Shepard is a particular kind of “guys’ guy” keep this in mind: he’s always hated “jock culture” and went to his high school homecoming game dressed as Tinker Bell — complete with a tutu.
We asked Shepard about modern masculinity, marriage equality, surviving Donald Trump, and whether Jon and Ponch will ever hook up.
When Jon and Ponch are alone on stakeouts, is there ever any chance they, you know, fool around?
“[In the film] there’s a long scene where Ponch is explaining to me that this girl ate his ass. I’m shocked by that and he’s explaining to me that that’s pretty much standard these days and that I’ve been married too long. It’s a really long conversation about eating ass. Afterwards I walked up to Rick Rosner, who was behind the monitors, watching the scene. I said, “This must be a little surreal to see the evolution of this thing you created. If it makes you feel any better, I’m sure I’ll be your age someday and they’ll be rebooting CHiPs yet again and I’m sure Jon and Ponch will be fucking half the movie!”
Beyond eating ass, is there a message to CHiPs?
Ponch is a logical genius and Jon is an emotional genius … so the two of them together make one really good person. I’m fully emotionally intelligent and he is fully logically intelligent, which I think, can kind of mirror — generically speaking, not for everyone — but can mirror the male-female relationship. And I’m in the female role.
[Laughs] I was going to say, that mirrors the best partnerships: people with opposite skills but who work well together.
Yes! That’s certainly the case with Kristen [Bell] and I. Our circles of knowledge almost don’t intersect. If we hammer it out and come to a compromise, it’s probably the sane decision that neither of us would’ve come to independently.
Let’s talk about another film you starred in, Idiocracy. Did you ever expect that movie to be so prescient?
Yeah. I think even at its time there was enough of the stuff that was being made fun of that was already kind of happening — even then, in 2004. That’s not to say [that] I’m not surprised that Trump won the election. If anyone had egg on their face, it was me; I’d been comforting my wife for the previous four months, going, “It could never happen, it’s going to be a landslide!” And I was dead, dead wrong.
Do you have any advice for how to make it through these four years?
I do have a sincere thought on all this, which is I think the way to not have a miserable next four years is to be very brutally honest about the things you have sway over and the things you don’t. Going forward, I could spend all my energy lamenting on every silly thing he does every 10 minutes, or I could pick the things that I might actually have some kind of impact on. [I can’t] just let myself live in this vortex of Trump updates. I don’t think that’s healthy. You know what it is? I got fatigued. Which is not to say I quit, but I definitely got fatigued by it all.
So what’s the answer?
I’m a little bit of the opinion that the solution lies more in the center’s point of view than in my own inclination. The voice you’re not hearing at all — and I think it’s the vast majority of the country — is kind of the centrist point of view. They don’t say anything provocative enough to get those headlines, and so you start believing that the country is in fact split down the middle, with super far left leaners and super far right leaners. I don’t think that’s true. The left and right are married. There’s no divorce; there’ll be no secession from the union. We’re all one country. So, you can either continue trying to blow up the marriage, or you can start looking at how to resolve these things.
Speaking of marriage, you and Kristen are sort of famous for waiting to marry until after Prop. 8 was overturned. Why was that important?
I grew up in a pretty liberal open-minded house, and my mother had gay friends. My father, who was a very alpha car salesman, also had a ton of gay male friends, which was not super popular in Michigan in the ’80s. I think also kind of having a knee-jerk dislike for jock culture — which was very pervasive where I grew up — anything that was anti-jock culture appealed to me, whether that was artists or skateboarders or snowboarders or gay guys or you name it. I was drawn to whatever the antithesis of the rah-rah jock culture was. I think we also felt like we had a very rare opportunity to be vocal about it in a way that [drew media attention to the cause]. It was something that did become headlines. And at the end of the day, we really did feel like it was morally incorrect to have a party celebrating a right that we had that our friends didn’t have. It would’ve felt very weird to have a wedding and then invite all of our gay friends and go, “Come celebrate us do this thing you can’t do.”
I love how in those Samsung commercials with Kristen, you don’t seem constrained by traditional gender roles in the home.
In real life, I’m changing diapers and I’m doing tons of dishes. There’s a few reasons that’s our structure. One is I was raised by a single mother. So my brother and I had to do everything. We had to clean the house and wash our clothes and do dishes and cook. And we had to do all that stuff out of complete necessity because she was working a bazillion hours a week to support three kids on her own. That’s why I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it. I’ve almost always embraced [nontraditional gender roles] — like in high school, at the pep rally for the homecoming game I was Tinker Bell and I wore a tutu. I wore headbands in high school and I had long hair. I’ve weirdly or perversely always enjoyed kind of fucking with those masculine gender norms. I found that that actually aggravated the jocks. I also was not afraid to fist fight, so to me it was an amusing recipe. That’s probably not a cool thing to say out loud.
You’ve been remarkably open about things that a lesser man might worry would make people question his masculinity. You acknowledged you once thought that you must be “secretly” gay. You’ve come out about being molested; you even went public with your vasectomy. What’s the secret to your confidence?
I do have a big man complex. I mean, I did love to fist fight when I used to drink. I race off-road and I ride motorcycles and I do do all this, you know, conventionally manly, Steve McQueen stuff. And I think maybe because I do do that stuff … I’m not nervous about how people might see me. It doesn’t bother me if someone thinks I’m secretly gay. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’m also 6 foot 3.
I mean, I think that probably helps.