What might seem like one of the most unlikely celebrity couples in Hollywood came to be when when Dax Shepard and Kristin Bell met at the birthday party of a mutual friend and while they’ve only been seen on screen once before in Bell’s 2010 romantic comedy When in Rome, they’ve quickly grown into quite a cute couple, as one can see by watching Hit and Run, the second movie written and co-directed by Shepard after the indie Brother’s Justice.
In the movie, Shepard plays a former bank robber entered into the witness protection program under the name “Charles Bronson” now living in a small California town with his girlfriend Annie, who knows nothing about his past. When she manages to score an interview in Los Angeles for her dream job, he agrees to drive her down there, knowing that it could risk putting him back into contact with his disgruntled former accomplices (two of them played by Joy Bryant and Bradley Cooper) who want to know where he hid the money they stole.
While Hit and Run starts out like a typical indie relationship comedy–not unlike Shepard’s recent foray into Mumblecore with Katie Aselton’s The Freebie–it quickly reveals itself to be quite a fast-paced action comedy with really impressive off-road racing scenes with Dax often at the wheel of the vehicles himself. The cast is rounded out by Michael Rosenbaum, Tom Arnold and Kristin Chenoweth as some of the characters around them who get dragged into his criminal past while trying to protect them.
ComingSoon.net met up with the duo while they were in New York last month to talk about the movie as well as learning that Shepard is already planning his third movie Send Lawyers, Guns and Money, which will shoot in Hawaii next March.
ComingSoon.net: When we spoke for Katie Aselton’s “The Freebie” a few years back, I don’t think you mentioned having directed a movie even though “Brother’s Justice” premiered a month later. I didn’t even realize you had taken up directing.
Dax Shepard: Yeah, yeah, a bunch of shorts and two movies. Hopefully it will be three by the end of 2013.
CS: This seems like a much bigger movie than “Brother’s Justice.” Did you always go into this one knowing it would be bigger?
Shepard: Oh, God, yes. Absolutely. Something where I could actually design some shots and light some scenes and do stunts and rent locations. It was just a completely different experience. This was the full test, a crew of 100 people wanting to know what direction to run in next morning, unlike “Brother’s Justice” which was me, Nate (Tuck, the producer) and (Dave) Palmer (Dax’s co-director).
CS: You’ve worked with those guys for a long time.
Shepard: Yeah, the three of us have been working together since ’06 or ’05. Nate and I have known each other for fifteen years and have been doing everything together.
CS: Kristin, did you generally know about this project the whole way through it and were you always going to star in it with Dax?
Kristin Bell: Yeah, he had said he wanted to make a car chase movie forever and started toying around with writing something with inspiration from the first year of our relationship. He started sort of bouncing ideas off of me, and then decided very quickly to just get it done and write it and attempt to shoot it on his hiatus from “Parenthood.” I live with him so I saw him every day when he was writing and saw him finally when he went underground for two or three weeks to get the script written. Even though he had sussed it out in his head, he hadn’t put it down on paper. So I feel like I saw the process from start to finish.
Shepard: Which was only, from inception to us shooting, about eight weeks.
CS: Wow. That’s really fast.
Shepard: Yeah, because I wrote the script in three weeks. It took about a week to crack the idea and just bat it around, three weeks to write, four weeks to prep and six weeks to shoot and we were done.
CS: That’s pretty fast for a movie that you knew was going to be bigger than your first movie.
Shepard: Well, and there’s cars and renting locations where we can do these stunts and hiring stunt drivers, getting GM to loan us cars. Man, if the most impressive person involved in this movie isn’t us then it’s Nate Tucker, my partner .
Bell: He made it happen. He took the ideas and made them physical.
Shepard: He’s a miracle maker, yeah. No one could have made this movie for the amount of money we had in the time frame that we had other than Nate. Without him
Bell: He was relentless and didn’t sleep for about nine months.
Shepard: He’s also my creative soul mate. He’s like who I most seek creative counsel with. He’s very special.
CS: How did it work with Dave co-directing? Do you guys have specific duties you take when you get on set?
Shepard: Nah, not really. There’s no real good answer for how we do that.
CS: I was curious about the car chases, which is a big part of this. You worked them all out beforehand? Did you have any sort of inspiration for those?
Shepard: Yeah, well I own that 1967 Lincoln Continental in real life and I really did redo that character and basically make it a NASCAR with that body on it and that’s my off-road race car. I knew that I wanted two of the three set pieces to involve those cars, and then my favorite car made in America is that station wagon, it’s a 556 horsepower station wagon, so I knew that I wanted that car in the movie. Really, the cars themselves were the inspiration for what kinds of scenes and then I wanted to do a Ken Block kinda Gymkhana course for those two cars, for the Corvette and the CTSV, and then the Lincoln I wanted to be much more stylized with the pure imagination by Lou Rawls, I wanted that one to be kind of romantic and weird because I’d never seen that before. They all had their own genres in of themselves, each of the car chases.
CS: I saw the movie without having seen any sort of trailer and when it started with that romantic scene between the two of you, I thought, “Oh, it’s going to be a nice
I was really surprised to see these car chases
Shepard: Right, right. The very next scene, Tom’s van takes off and smashes into the house. Yeah, we jumped that thing.
CS: You must know Dax’s driving skills and his love for cars, but what’s it like where you have to rely on his skills?
Bell: You know what? It’s surprisingly easy. I got over my fear of him with anything with a motor in about six months of knowing him. Initially, when I met him, I was very nervous. “Oh, he’s super into motorcycles, that’s so dangerous. He likes to off-road race, does he wear a helmet?” Blah blah blah all these things you think are natural fears but in knowing him, even though he’s risky, he’s very “safe risky.” He really contradicts himself. His skill level far surpasses any other driver on the road that when he’s a little riskier, it just parallels everyone’s skill level on the road when they’re being safe.
Shepard: I do give her pills.
Bell: Stop it! I believe in my captor, but he is very safe. I also know that he respects precious cargo so he wouldn’t be too crazy, but we also like to laugh and we both like to jump cars and it’s really fun. I love
Shepard: You only get one chance at your life so why not jump cars?
Bell: Yeah, right? Bingo.
CS: Where did these skills come from? Did you just drive really fast wherever you went?
Shepard: Yeah, I rode dirt bikes as a kid but mostly, my Mom owned a company that put on press events for General Motors, so they would invite media to come and review the new Corvette and they’d rent out the race track, so from 14 years old on, I had access to Corvettes, Camaros, anything GM made and a race track, so my seat time would rival that of a professional driver. I was just in the cars non-stop. I was doing photo shoots with Motor Trend and Car and Driver and Automobile Magazine at 16 years old, getting sideways over mountain roads and the desert. I was getting paid hourly to beat the sh*t out of brand new cars for photo shoots and that turned into a passion for all things and then I drag-raced in high school and now I do motorcycles and off-road racing. I love itit’s my favorite thing.
CS: But you’ve never had a chance to use those skills in a movie before this?
Shepard: I think I shocked a few people. There’d be these scenes that didn’t even call for sh*t and I would kind of overdo it and they’d like it, but no one’s hiring me for a car chase movie.
CS: Not yet, maybe after this one.
Bell: Yeah, right?
Shepard: They’d get whomever you’d get for that, Vin Diesel or Paul Walker, you’d hire those guys, so yeah, I knew that if I didn’t make it myself, no one was ever going to hire me no matter how much I told them I’m a good driver.
CS: Having those car stunts, you’d need a bigger budget so did Nate just know that this stuff would work.
Shepard: Yeah well, Nate would go off-road racing with me as a passenger, so he too has the same kind of trust in me as a driver. So he wasn’t too nervous. (to Kristen) He didn’t ever care, did he? Was there any stunt where he was nervous?
Bell: I don’t think so. He was a little protective of the barn jump.
Shepard: Of you more than me.
Bell: Mm-hm, yeah, but that’s because you were bigger than him.
CS: But you were using your own car, so I assume there’s only so much he could worry.
Shepard: That’s the other issue. There’s no way I’m letting some other dude get in my sh*t and beat the hell out of it, you know? There’s no way.
CS: What about the rest of the cast? Did all of you generally known everyone else in the cast from over the course of the years doing movies and TV?
Shepard: No, every single person in the movie, those roles were written for that specific actor with the exception of Beau Bridges. We didn’t know him personally. But the other people are our best friends. These are the people you’d see at our house at night if we had a birthday party. These are our really close friends. The assets that we brought to the table were each other–we’d work for free–all these cars I have, and then a lot of our friends who are generous and kind enough to come do this movie for six weeks for sh*tty pay, some points.
CS: Did you realize from the beginning that this would get a wider release and not be doing the festival circuit like your previous film?
Shepard: Well, I didn’t want it to do the festival circuit. It’s not a festival movie, first and foremost, so it was never my goal to do that, but likewise, it was never my goal that this would come out in 3,000 screens. That’s a big shock to me as to anyone. We certainly hit the lottery with the release we’re getting from Open Road. It’s unheard of, as you know if you cover a lot of independent movies. This is really unparalleled. I didn’t even in my wildest dreams think that this could happen to our movie. I don’t even know how to process what has happened with the movie. I’m very myopic though. “Got the script done, great. Prep, great.” (laughs) “Shoot, great, it’s done, f*ck. Edit.” I’m just one task after another after another after another. I’m never pulling back and trying to get the macro-view of the whole experience. It’s just kind of all happening. Then it’s like “Holy sh*t! Three people want to buy it, that’s a shocker. Now test it. Wow, people actually like it, they’re going to put it on a lot of screens!” It’s all being revealed daily, this whole process.
CS: How’s that process been for you, Kristen? You must be used to shooting a movie for a couple months, then going away and coming back a year later to do the junket and then it’s done.
Shepard: Most movies she’s in, they don’t edit in her living room.
Bell: Yeah, most movies weren’t edited in my living room, but I had a huge sense of pride being involved in this, because this whole idea fell from Dax’s head and landed in all of our laps, and I wanted so badly to see him feel successful in his vision and not feel restrained, so I just tried to do my best to support him and a.) do the best job possible in the role he’d written but also make sure that his blood sugar was high enough on set and
Shepard: She also as a producer got us unbelievable things. She moved mountains. She did so much stuff.
Bell: Well, I don’t know about that
Shepard: I know about that and you did a sh*t-load.
Bell: But I also wanted to be his eyes when he had too much on his plate. I’m just really proud that it all came together and it doesn’t surprise me because I know what kind of a writer and director he is so it doesn’t surprise me the product is as good as it is. It’s somewhat surprising that we got there because it was such a difficult road because we really just have no budget.
Shepard: We got lucky because if one thing had gone wrong everything would have gone crumbling down.
Bell: We would have been screwed.
Shepard: If I would have totaled the Lincoln, that would have been it. I don’t know what the hell I would have done because it took a year and a half to build that car. If I totaled it on Day 3, we would have been so f*cked.
Bell: But I learned so much, seeing all the prep work and being the baby helper producer under all these much more experienced producers.
Shepard: Kristen started work 12 hours after we wrapped on “House of Lies” so if we had lost a day we wouldn’t have been able to pick it up. We couldn’t have lost a day, which I’ve never had before.
Bell: But I also learned a ton about the editing process which I didn’t know.
CS: As a producer, if you were walking by Dax while he was editing, would you say “That’s not a good shot of me, can you change it?”
Bell: Luckily, it’s not usually about vanity, it’s about my opinion on how someone else looks or if I think the scene is emotional enough, but I don’t shelter a lot of my opinions from him.
CS: There’s usually a reason why they keep actors away from the editing suite.
Bell: Luckily, he had chosen pretty enough shots.
Shepard: She’s not vain and she’s pretty selfless when it comes to that.
CS: So what’s next for you guys? Are you going to direct another movie? Are you still doing “Parenthood” too?
Shepard: Yeah, I’m shooting the show right now–I work tomorrow morning in L.A. on it–and then hopefully in March we’re going to do another movie I wrote called “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money” and that will be in Hawaii, hopefully in March.
CS: Does it have anything to do with Warren Zevon at all?
Shepard: It’s about the song, yeah, inspired by the song and my last week doing drugs, that’s what it’s about.
CS: Is Kristen going to be in that, too?
Shepard: Yes, she’s f*cking evil in it.
CS: Nice that you get to go back to Hawaii! (Kristin shot the comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” there.)
Bell: Yeaaaaaaah, right?
Shepard: Yeah, but this time banging a big Hawaiian dude.
Bell: Yeah, he’s written me a pretty nasty role in this one. I’m not the ingénue.
Hit and Run opens nationwide on Wednesday, August 22.