When asked to recall the moment he realized he wanted to be an actor, Dax Shepard replies, “When it occurred to me that classmates of mine in the Groundlings were making their car payments with funds generated from beer commercials.”
It’s just this sort of tongue-in-cheek retort you’d expect from the 37-year-old actor who got his start as prankster sidekick to Ashton Kutcher on the original incarnation of MTV’s “Punk’d.” In the decade since, Shepard has collected more than a dozen film credits and just as many television roles, including a regular stint on NBC’s “Parenthood.”
In 2010, the Michigan native added yet another few titles to his resume—writer, director and stuntman—when he made the meta-mockumentary Brother’s Justice, about Shepard’s decision to leave the comedic roles behind and become the next great action star. Now he’s stepping back behind the camera again as writer-director-star of Hit & Run—opening this week—in which he plays a former getaway driver in the Witness Protection Program risking it all to get his girlfriend (played by real-life fiancée Kristen Bell) to Los Angeles.
To prove that Shepard’s up to the challenge, we dared him to “Take 10.”
1. What is the first movie you remember seeing in a movie theater?
Scarface. I was very young. My grandpa took my brother and I because he wanted to see it and my grandma wouldn’t go with him. The chainsaw scene made a lasting impression/scarred me for life.
2. If you weren’t a moviemaker, what would you be doing right now?
Drugs. As many as I could afford. I wouldn’t be able to deal with not doing what I love without pharmacological assistance.
3. As an actor, what are the three things you look for in a script?
Originality. Originality. Originality. And before you point out the obvious fact that many movies on my resume lack that quality, I will remind you that I have spent the majority of my career on a rung of the ladder that doesn’t specialize in originality. I have tried my hardest to add that element to the roles I’ve had.
4. What’s the first thing you do in preparation for a role?
I try to attach real experiences from my own life to the fictitious ones in the script. I try to ground the things that I don’t know in things that I do know.
5. Which is harder, comedy or drama?
Comedy. Drama can be faked or assisted heavily by score (especially Jon Brion’s). You can’t cheat with comedy. People simply won’t laugh in the theater.
6. Which moviemaker—living or otherwise—inspires you most and why?
Tarantino is the only acceptable answer to this question, so let me go to second place: Hal Needham. There is a blue-collar joy to his movies that is palpable. His movies are unpretentious and honest. They celebrate his loves, not his fears. And above all, it is clear that everyone involved is having the time of their lives. Burt looks straight into the damn lens in Smokey and the Bandit and winks at us. That wink says, “Yeah, this is as fun as it looks.”
7. What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Be nice to people on the way up, because you will be seeing them all on your way down.
8. As an actor, what’s the biggest benefit in writing and/or directing your own work?
It is way easier to memorize dialogue when you’ve written it. Also, if you’re shooting a scene and something feels phony, you have the authority to change it on the spot without going through all the traditional channels.
9. Give me one do and one don’t when it comes to directing your fiancée in a movie.
Do collaborate with her and make it a shared goal. Don’t forget that she’s your fiancée first, and your lead actress second.
10. What’s the one question you’ve never been asked in an interview but would love to answer? (And what’s the answer?)
Q: How is it that you look SO MUCH like Brad Pitt, yet aren’t Brad Pitt?
A: Great question. It’s one I get a lot. The truth is, I am Brad’s identical twin brother. There’s a 12-year age gap because I traveled at the speed of light for nine seconds (which was 12 years for Brad).
Open Road Films will release Hit & Run on August 24, 2012.
Top photo courtesy of Open Road Films