Dax Shepard (he’s named after the character Diogenes Alejandro Xenos — or Dax — in the Harold Robbins novel “The Adventurers”) has been known primarily as an actor for the past dozen or so years. But his interests have always been leaning toward also being on the other side of the camera, as well as writing scripts that he would act in or direct. So while he was starring as an astronaut in “Zathura: A Space Adventure,” or playing the dumb, lazy Frito in “Idiocracy,” or Amy Poehler’s sleazy husband Carl in “Baby Mama,” or the shiftless but good-hearted Crosby during his long run on the TV hit “Parenthood” Shepard was paying attention to what was going on around him on the set. The first feature film he wrote, directed, and starred in was 2012’s car chase comedy “Hit and Run.” His newest, in which he’s again wearing all three hats, is “CHiPs,” an action-comedy update of the 70s TV show about two motorcycle-riding partners in the California Highway Patrol. Shepard plays Jon, opposite Michael Pena’s Ponch, a couple of guys who don’t exactly get along, but must work together to find some bad cops who have infiltrated the force. Shepard, 42, spoke about the movie and his background in the business by phone from Toronto.

Q: Has it been a smooth transition from being an actor to being an actor-director?

A: For me, it all started when I became a member of (the Los Angeles improv company) The Groundlings. I learned to act there, but it’s as heavy on writing as it is on acting and improv. So right out of the gate I was writing as much as I was acting. But we would also do video bits that would play on the TVs between sketches. I was also learning to shoot, so I would shoot all these things and edit them, and make short films.

Q: It’s almost 5 years between “Hit and Run” and “CHiPs.” Why so long?

A: After I did “Hit and Run,” I had written a film called “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money,” which I still intend to make, but I would only have 3 months off each year with my hiatus from “Parenthood.” I had a cast that could have gotten the movie made, but every time my window would come up, invariably one or two of them would be doing something else. I played that game for about 2 years, then I pitched “CHiPs” during the last season of “Parenthood.” I wrote a version that was PG-13 with a bigger budget, then the studio cut my budget in half, and I said, “OK, I’ll do that but I want to do an R version.” They said OK, so I rewrote it. But getting past the many hurdles at a studio to get greenlit with no stars is not easy. So that took some chess moves, as well.

Q: Rick Rosner, who created the original TV show, was onboard as a producer on this film. What kind of input did you get from him?

A: I remember the day I hit “send” on the email to Rick that had this R-rated script attached. I was expecting a phone call saying you’re basically urinating on my grave. But he called and he said, “I can’t tell you how many times I laughed and how fun it is to see something I created 38 years ago.” He loved it. So once I had his stamp of approval, I didn’t worry about whether I was going to offend certain diehard fans or not. My only obligation was to make a movie that I would pay $14 to see.

Q: I’ve got to throw a political question at you. A decade ago you played the dumb and greedy Frito in the Mike Judge comedy “Idiocracy,” which told the story of a society that had devolved so far into stupidity, they elected a power-mad president with a celebrity background and violent tendencies, who constantly acted on impulse rather than thinking things through. So, how relevant do you think the film is today?

A: (Laughs) I believe it’s relevant enough that Mike Judge and I went around and screened it all over L.A. during the election. We seemed to think it was kind of topical even though it was 10 years old at the time. Then Maya Rudolph (who co starred in it) and Mike went up to do a screening in San Francisco, as well. We got great responses. But you have to remember, I’m in the bubble echo chamber of L.A., so it was met favorably.

Q: Your next project is writing and directing a computer-animated film based on “Scooby-Doo” for Warner Bros. Can you say anything about it?

A: No, the studio won’t let me, and that pains me. All I can say is the tone is skewing toward something like “The Lego Movie.”


“CHiPs” opens on March 17.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.