Tone is often one of the trickiest aspects of cinematic storytelling. Inconsistency can stop an audience from understanding a movie's intent, and rapid, ungraceful changes can wind up being disorienting for both movie-goers and performers. For example, it's hard to have a character go from accidentally sticking their head in their friend's naked crotch to then having them express an emotional secret. But that's exactly what writer/director/star Dax Shepard had to do in the making of CHIPS, and he couldn't be more proud of his co-star Michael Pena. He recently told me,
I know the [scene] that as a director I was most 'fingers crossed' for [Michael Pena] as an actor. And that was after the bathtub scene, which is definitely the broadest moment in the movie. He has to go from reacting to face-planting in someone's genitals, to recovering, to denying it, to admitting it, then laughing, then sharing this moment and connecting with John's life on the wall, and then deciding to tell me about his partner. And then becoming best friends! And that happens in, what, 90 seconds? It's not easy for an actor. And he right out the gate made the whole arc, and I was like, 'Oh my god, he's so good.'
Dax Shepard detailed the trickiness of this particular sequence when I sat down with both him and Michael Pena at the Los Angeles press day for CHIPS earlier this month. Taking into consideration both the big comedy scenes as well as the big vehicle-heavy action sequences in the movie, I asked them both about the most challenging scene to put together -- and the filmmaker told me why one of the most ridiculous moments wound up being one of the hardest.
In the scene in question, John (Dax Shepard) wakes up naked on a rainy day and finds himself in serious pain thanks to the hip surgery he once had performed courtesy of his motocross past. What he really needs to do is get to his bathtub, but it's a feat that he can't accomplish himself. Even though they don't really like each other, he winds up calling his new partner, Ponch (Michael Pena) for help -- and after a bit of physical comedy involving Ponch's face to John's crotch, they wind up having an intimate talk that winds up solidifying their friendship.
As Michael Pena explained in the interview, part of what made this sequence easier to pull off was the fact that it was actually engineered in reverse. He recalled that rather than taking care of everything in order, it wasn't until after they had figured out the emotional levels for Ponch's confession that they incorporated the "faceplant." Said Pena,
Now that think about it, didn't we rehearse... I think that was an addition to what was already written, about me telling you that I'm FBI? I mean, it's in the trailer. I think we rehearsed the crap out of that. THEN you added the faceplant. So that actually was a great little accident where I had to get back into that.
You can watch Dax Shepard and Michael Pena talk about their work on the set of CHIPS in the video below: