The Parenthood star, and writer/director of the new action-comedy Hit and Run, talks car jumps, Punk’d pride, and past demons.
This feature appears in Complex's August/September 2012 issue.
Growing up in Milford, MI, Dax Shepard loved two things: cars and comedy. The veteran funnyman, and writer/co-director of the new action-comedy Hit and Run, credits his affinity for automobiles to his domestic upbringing—in addition to his mother’s job at General Motors, his stepfather served as an engineer for the company’s Corvette division. As for Shepard’s partiality to laughter, it comes from a much darker place, one of adolescent ridicule and self-defensive responses.
For Hit and Run (opening in theaters nationwide Wednesday), Shepard, taking a break from starring on ABC’s hit series Parenthood, combined his two biggest passions into one hilarious, vibrant car chase flick in the vein of old Burt Reynolds classics like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run. Shepard stars as Charlie Bronson, a former getaway driver living under the Witness Protection Program with his girlfriend (played by the actor’s real-life fiancée Kristen Bell). When his girl gets a promising job interview hours away in Los Angeles, Charlie offers to drive her there himself, kicking off a string of high-speed chases with his old, now-pissed-off partner-in-crime (a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper) and a bumbling U.S. Marshal (Tom Arnold), amongst others.
Hit and Run is the second film that Shepard has co-directed with his good friend David Palmer, though its wide release and starry cast give it a much bigger standing than 2010’s Brother’s Justice. It’s also an amalgamation of the budding filmmaker’s biggest joys, marrying his aforementioned vehicular and comedic vices with the presence of main squeeze Bell and the freedom of an independent production.
In this candid and lively interview, for the My Complex feature in our August/September issue (on newsstands now), Shepard opens up about his the inspirations behind Hit and Run, his troubled past, taking pride in his Punk’d origins, and approaching comedy with unflinching honesty.
Interview by Matt
Hit and Run, which you wrote and co-directed with David Palmer, brings back the old-school way of making nitty-gritty action-comedies, when car chases has real cars and no CGI. Was that the driving force behind the movie?
Yeah, it’s definitely way more Smokey and the Bandit than it is Fast & Furious. Like, when you’re watching a Fast & Furious movie, at any given time 80 percent of what you’re seeing came out of a computer and didn’t really happen, whereas there’s not a single effects shot in our movie. [Laughs.] If I jump cars, I jump cars.
Were those the kind of films you grew up loving as a kid?
Well, my number one movie is Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds' epic, tour de force film. I think I saw it for the first time when I was six, maybe even younger. And then I loved the Cannonball Run movies, and I also loved Hooper, another from Burt Reynolds. I loved any Hal Needham movie, basically. If you don’t know who Hal Needham is, he’s a stuntman turned director who did all the and Cannonball Run and Hooper and some other stuff.
What was it about those movies that drew you in as a kid?
Well, I was a car nut, like, immediately out of the womb. Anything with cars, I loved. I knew what day the trash guy came, and I used to wake up early and make sure I was outside to see him. Anything machinery-oriented, I was almost autistic about.
Did that come from your dad’s influence?
Yeah, my dad was a car salesman, and then my mom worked for General Motors, and then she married a dude—I had a stepdad for a minute who worked for the Corvette group at General Motors, as an engineer, so he worked on all the handling of the Corvettes.
During that phase, she was married to him when I was maybe 10-13, I used to get to go on the test tracks at GM. The Corvette group at GM owned all of these competitive vehicles, so they had a Lamborghini Countach, a Lotus Espirit, a Ferrari 308. He had all of these amazing cars he brought home, so, yeah, it just kind of cemented my car fetish.
Considering that Hit and Run is both about that and comedy, it seems like something that must have been in your head for a long time.
Yeah, my thought was always, if given the opportunity and any kind of budget that I could work with, that my first pick would be to do a car chase movie.
Now, when I write, I can’t resist writing comedically. I start off writing a scene that’s supposed to be very dramatic and then invariably I find something funny about that scene and it becomes a little funnier. So that’s just gonna happen no matter what genre I’m writing in, I think—me trying to make it funny.
And then, of course, it was important to me that there was some story under it that you were sucked into, other than, “They’ve gotta get the shit they stole from the bank across the country”—whatever fucking devices are in most car chase movies. I was hoping there’d be something in Hit and Run that hooked you a little more than that emotionally.
And how did you settle on the exact story beats from there?
I think largely the fact that, in real life, I’m an ex-drug addict/ex-dirtbag and [my fiancée] Kristen is an ex...perfect human being. [Laughs.] The arguments our characters have in Hit and Run are very similar to ones we had when we first started dating. My past was overwhelming for her. But I don’t think anyone gives a shit about how deeply personal the movie is for me. [Laughs.] In general, humans are interested in fucking, car-jumps, and shit that makes us laugh, not other people’s emotional trials and tribulations.
Why don’t you think people give a shit about that sort of thing?
You don’t ever run up to your buddy and go, “Dude, did you fucking hear that Michael had a fucking breakthrough with Carol? I guess they were in couples therapy and he finally figured out how to admit that he’s intimidated by her using her cell phone and it made him feel neglected!” [Laughs.] That’s just not the kind of thing dudes are fired up about.
But I, personally, am very interested in that, the psychology of why people do the things they do. There are fears and underlying motivations for almost everything we do, and that interests me, but I don’t think that’s something people like reading about in magazine.
You never know, though—I’m sure there are plenty of people who share that same interest.
That’s true. You never know, there could be one other Dax Shepard out there. A young Dax Shepard.