The director is naked. Now what?

Dax Shepard (above) wrote, directed, produced and stars in action comedy Chips (with Michael Pena).
Dax Shepard (above) wrote, directed, produced and stars in action comedy Chips.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Dax Shepard wrote, directed, produced and stars in action comedy Chips (with Michael Pena, far left).
Dax Shepard wrote, directed, produced and stars in action comedy Chips (with Michael Pena, left).PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Dax Shepard talks about directing Chips wearing only a shower curtain and solving problems in unpredictable ways

NEW YORK• From Dax Shepard's perspective, the movie Chips, which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in, was the ultimate feature film project for him. "I love action comedies; I'm obsessed with cars and motorcycles," said Shepard, who races both and has the mended bones to prove it.

In his spin on the 1970s to 1980s- era TV series, his character, the once buttoned-up officer Jon Baker, is now a wheelie-popping, painkiller-swallowing ex-professional motorbiker who tries to save his marriage by joining the California Highway Patrol.

He is partnered, odd-couple- style, with a swaggering undercover cop, Frank Poncherello (Michael Pena), known as Ponch.

"The traditional buddy cop dynamic is that there's always a strait-laced one and a loose cannon," he said. "With this, I set it up so that we both have the nuclear option. It's assured annihilation the whole time."

This tall, chatty 42-year-old got his start pranking celebrities on the MTV hidden-camera series, Punk'd, appeared as an insult-hurling layabout in Idiocracy (2006) and turned a family black sheep into a responsible adult on NBC's Parenthood. His ring finger betrays a softie at heart - on it is a tattoo of a bell. "I can't stand wearing jewellery," he said, explaining that the image is a reference to his wife, actress Kristen Bell, and his two daughters' middle names.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Why Chips?

It debuted when I was two and went off the air when I was eight. What I was drawn to was that I was living in Detroit, where it's grey and cold eight months of the year, and you'd turn this show on and for an hour, it was sunshine, California and palm trees and these guys on motorcycles chasing people. That one- hour vacation from Detroit really appealed to me. Those were the only three elements that I felt I needed to be loyal to in the movie.

In one scene, Pena carries you in his arms to the bathroom.

Is it difficult to have directorial authority while wearing only a shower curtain?

It was Day Two of filming. Michael and I didn't know each other very well and the crew didn't know me all that well either. I started the morning by putting a robe on between every take. I'd yell, "Cut", talk to the camera guys, then take the robe off. An hour in, I stopped putting the robe on. I was nude for at least eight hours. I was talking to everyone. They seemed to get used to it. It wasn't until later that I thought, "Wow".

Why did you cast your real-life wife to play your character's cruelly dismissive other half?

I wanted this character to be very unlikable. So the last person I'd think of to play that would be my wife. But she read it and she was like, "I'm playing Karen", and I said: "I don't think that's a good fit. You're so innately lovable". And she said, "I can do it." And she was right.

She embraced the idea that because I was a motocross star I'd have probably had a trophy wife with big, fake boobs. She really went for it: She was breast-feeding at the time and would have normally pumped every three hours, and I don't think she pumped for 18. I was nervous for her.

Are you looking forward to teaching your daughters to drive?

We're already in the process.

What? Aren't they two and four?

Yes. Both have been on my motorcycle many times. They have Power Wheels. The older one just learnt to ride a bike this week and she's really good already. She knows she's one step closer to a motorcycle. They're little gear-heads, for sure. They understand tools. I let them drill stuff. The two-year-old can't be trusted with anything, but the four-year-old? I can tell she has a mechanic's brain.

Is there an intersection between working on cars and directing a movie?

What appeals to me about being a mechanic is that anything where, say, the lug nut is supposed to come off, but now it's stripped and now what? I love the "Now what?" I love the MacGyvering. I love solving a problem in an unpredictable way. Likewise, when you get on set, every single morning, everything you planned? It's a joke. Nothing is ever how you think it's going to go. So the day is just about solving one problem after the next.

When did your roguish charm first exhibit itself?

I will simply say that in junior high, I had a good little run. My brother, who was older than me, was dressing me and making me get a certain haircut. It was working. Then in ninth and 10th grade, I was 6-3 (1.89m) , 149 pounds (67.6kg), huge nose, bad skin, terrible haircut and for about two years I went from doing well to nothing. And I remember thinking, OK, I'm not Brad Pitt, so going forward I will be focusing on my sense of humour.


•Chips is showing in cinemas in Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'The director is naked. Now what?'. Print Edition | Subscribe