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Dax Shepard found a pretty fool-proof way of making sure he had plenty of chemistry with his romantic co-star in his new comedy, Hit and Run: as writer and director, he had full authority to cast his real-life fiancee.
It’s hard not to be charmed, on-screen and off, by Shepard and his girlfriend of five years, Veronica Mars and House of Lies star Kristen Bell. In Hit and Run, in which he plays a sweet ex-getaway driver in witness protection, who has started a new life in the rurals of northern California with Bell, who plays his college professor girlfriend, the pair share touching affirmations, bicker over semantics, and complete each other’s sentences. Which is exactly what they did as they during a post-show Q&A at a New York City screening of their film, held Wednesday night by GenArt at Tribeca Cinemas.
“This could have gone south in a hurry,” Shepard said. “Directing your fiancee, there’s a pretty good chance that it could have blown up and ended our relationship, but for whatever reason we really liked it, and it was probably the best six weeks of the five years we’ve been together. Go ahead and throw up now.”
Always the more openly sentimental of the pair — the PC-yin to Shepard’s often off-color yang — Bell swooned while remembering what it was like to watch her fiance direct.
“If you think he’s cute right now, try giving him some cans,” she smiled, “you know so to be able to listen to the take, set him next to a monitor in a director’s chair, which is really the only chair that fits his lanky legs, and you had a cowboy hat on and you were saying things like ‘Cut! Okay, great, moving on, moving on.’ And it just warmed my heart so much, that sometimes I felt myself just drifting and looking at him and staying in the scene.”
The film, however, isn’t all romance; wedged neatly in between the kissy faces are plenty of car chases, gunshots and scatalogical humor — including one fever dream-like set of scenes involving a lemonparty-like get together of naked old men and women, sitting inside a motel room, like a stomach-turning Wonderland behind a cheap drive-up lodging door. A highlight, so to speak, is the physical gift of one of the actors.
How the scene got made adds even more to the story.
“We put an ad on Craigslist, for over 55, full nudity feature film,” Shepard revealed, with Bell clarifying, “Non-pornographic. And I believe the ad also, which was not put up by anyone on our producorial team, said ‘Acting with big stars!’”
They got six responses, Shepard said, and hired all of them, even though they needed just four actors. Insurance, he explained, for cold feet.
“On the day [of the shoot], they all showed up, they were all ready to party, and we said f— it, let’s put them all in the room. I said to our producer, how is it looking in there? And he said, ‘Well one of the guys is very camera friendly, and very camera-ready.’ And I go, ooh, exciting,” Shepard continued, as Bell couldn’t stifle her laughter.
“And I went over there and sure enough, I saw Graham, the 109-pound guy with the 13-pound sausage, and I wanted to get as much of that on camera as possible without blatantly saying to our camera operator, get his ding dong,” he said, somehow straight-faced. “So I kept going ‘And go down to Graham’s socks, great, now tag Graham’s face, and back on to Graham’s socks, those socks are so funny Graham.’”
The physical prodigy was so game, in fact, he came back the next day so that Shepard, ever the improviser, was able to get a shot from between his legs — organ included — onto a disgusted Bradley Cooper, who plays Shepard’s old bank-robbing best friend. As if it wasn’t enough that Cooper had to wear dreadlocks and explain, for a full five-minute scene, how he was raped in prison.
The film, also features Tom Arnold and Kristen Chenowith, the latter of whom plays a pill-popping college dean with a filthy mouth. Which made her quite uncomfortable, given her southern belle, conservative stance on using terms such as “Captain Longdick,” a line that Bell remembered freaking Chenowith out after a take — and a line Shepard wrote specifically for that purpose.
An indie film from Open Road, Hit and Road is on a bit of a city-to-city, promotion road trip with its stars ahead of its August 24 release. And while it’s getting positive reviews, both Shepard and Bell both know it will probably not reach the fame of one of their previous collaborations: the sloth video on Ellen.
“Only people in f—– New York would have not seen the sloth,” Shepard sighed, jokingly chastising the city. “Everyone here’s too goddamn cool to have seen the sloth video? C’mon, I don’t buy it! The sloth video, if you add up all the viewers of Parenthood, all the viewers of Veronica Mars, all the viewers of all of our movies combined, it wouldn’t equal the viewers of the sloth video. Sadly the most successful thing we’ve ever done is a YouTube video.”
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin
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