Dax Shepard and Michael Peña Talk About Big Screen 'CHiPs,' the Importance of Ponch and the Thrill of the Ride

Dax Shepard and Michael Peña Talk About Big Screen 'CHiPs,' the Importance of Ponch and the Thrill of the Ride
Nearly 40 years ago, American drama CHiPs first appeared on televisions. These days, you'll be hard pressed to find a 20-something who remembers much about the series. But for a whole generation, the highway patrol procedural was an introduction to the California coast and its cast of (often bikini-clad) characters.
Dax Shepard was one of those people.
"What I loved about the show as a kid was that it was California, it was motorcycles and it was these two unlikely buddies," says the Michigan native, who wrote, directed and stars in CHiPs (in theatres March 24), a loose adaptation of the classic show. "I knew if we had those three ingredients, I thought we had serviced it enough."
Read on to find three things we learned from Shepard and co-star Michael Peña during their press junket in Toronto about making the movie, riding motorcycles and the impact the show had on them as kids.
1. Shepard wasn't worried about staying true to the original show.
Parent company Warner Bros. is no stranger to rebooting and revisiting former franchises (the studio also produced 2004's Starsky & Hutch and 2005's The Dukes of Hazzard). CHiPs is closer to the latter, a modern day retelling that keeps some of the characters, but takes way more liberties when it comes to story, action and pacing.
"I knew right when I started I wasn't going to be loyal to the show," Shepard says. "I don't think I could have written that way. I wasn't remaking The Sopranos, so it's not like I was tackling sacred ground. People knew it [and] had an affinity for it, yet no one is claiming it should have won an Emmy for best drama."
2. As the child of Mexican immigrants, the character of Ponch, played by Erik Estrada, was important to Peña.
"For me, as a Latin guy, it was kind of important, and at the same time it was a celebration," he says. "We'd get around the television with our dinners and we'd enjoy that moment of TV. Because he was a good guy and he was a Latin guy. He wasn't like some drug dealer, or something like that — that was kind of ground-breaking for us," hey says. "We all wanted to be Ponch for Halloween. It was me, my dad and my brother as Ponch. You couldn't help but do it."
3. Riding motorcycles was a main motivation.
CHiPs is a action-heavy comedy, with a lot of Shepard and Peña whipping around L.A. on a pair of Ducatis.
"To be honest with you, I looked forward to it," Peña says about riding motorcycles in the movie. "It was on the bucket list."
He wasn't the only one.
"I know with [Vincent] D'Onofrio, he would have done it anyways, because we're friends, but I know he was like, 'I'll do the movie, but I get to ride a motorcycle, right?' Because his wife was like, 'You can't ride unless it's for a movie,'" Shepard says. "It was like a carrot we were dangling in front of people."