The comedic actor decides to make his own action film in this new mockumentary, on VOD now
Dax Shepard wants to be an action star, whether Hollywood is ready or not. Brother's Justice chronicles the comedic actor's attempts to gain entry into this genre with surprising and hilarious results. Is it real? Is it fake? It's hard to tell as Dax appears on one talk show after the next, flaunting his ideas, and picking up a few famous cameos along the way.
Co-starring Tom Arnold, and featuring such actors as Ashton Kutcher, David Koechner, Bradley Cooper, and Jon Favreau, Brother's Justice is a rollicking run down the wrong side of the Hollywood food chain.
We recently caught up with Dax Shepard to chat with him about making his directorial debut with Brother's Justice.
Quite a bit of this film is real, and you're eliciting authentic emotions and responses from some of the people you are interacting with here, right?
Dax Shepard: Its very confusing, isn't it? You get halfway through the movie and you say, "Wait a minute, he's really on a talk show. They couldn't have faked that. He's really at the Teen Choice awards. They couldn't have faked that." There was a good deal of real life stuff in this. Even with some of the people we are pitching too, they didn't realize I was making a real movie about trying to sell a movie. They never realized that I was intentionally selling a very bad idea.
Is it common when you go into meet with a producer or a financier to pitch a movie, that you are toting along a camera crew. Is that how its done nowadays?
Dax Shepard: No, not a all. But when you explain to them that you are trying to get into martial arts, and that it has never been done before, and that we thought it would be cool to document the whole process, it does seem feasible.
How good are you at the martial arts? Can you actually beat up Vince Vaughn, as you proclaim in the movie?
Dax Shepard: I don't know a thing about karate. I have been in a ton of fistfights, though. So I do feel confident about beating someone in a fight. I would fight Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal, for sure. I am pretty confident that I could beat them. Vince Vaughn is a bad ass though. That would be a gnarly fight.
You seem like such a nice, approachable guy. Why are you getting into so many fistfights?
Dax Shepard: I used to drink too much. That helps a lot. If you hang out at Country and Western bars in your twenties, and you are drunk often? You are going to find yourself in a scuffle or two. And, I lived in downtown Detroit for two years after I graduated high school. There are a bunch of scenarios that I have put myself in that have really upped the chances of getting into a fistic encounter.
Telling me this certainly ups your chances of being singled out next time you are in a bar. Any number of Frat boys will read this and think you want that confrontation. They'll think, "I can beat up Dax Shepard!"
Dax Shepard: I think they think that anyways. (Laughs) Also, I lose every fight in this movie. I don't come across as thinking that I am a real bad ass. The real glimpse into me that you get comes when Jon Favreau is dressing me down. He goes, "You know, if you only won half the fights you've told me about, I'm inclined to think you are good." I really have told him a thousand fight stories.
So, you've actually won half of those fights?
Dax Shepard: Much better than half. If you only won half of them, you'd probably stop getting into fistfights. You would hope.
What about Bradley Cooper? Is he really the karate expert we witness in Brothers' Justice?
Dax Shepard: He is not. But he's very convincing, isn't he? I think he has done some Jujitsu training.
This is one of the most cameo heavy movies I've seen in a long time. Were these guys doing this out of love, or did they all owe you pretty big favors?
Dax Shepard: There are a few different elements. Once certain people were involved, other people weren't as afraid to be in it. I was actually shocked at how willing people were to be in this. I show up with a video camera and wireless mics. So it's not like a big production has come over to the house. I'm sure they were all terrified that they were going to be embarrassed. But, you know, everyone that is in the movie has seen the movie. And I sat there scared, waiting for their response. All of them really liked it, so that has made me really happy.
How did you convince David Koechner to put his kids in this movie?
Dax Shepard: That wasn't hard, actually. (Laughs) He was quite willing to do that. But I know Charlie and Margo really well. I have been friends with David Koechner since we did Let's Go to Prison in 2006. I have known those little guys for a long time, so they were comfortable around me.
And he is man enough to just leave those pink bikes out on his lawn.
Dax Shepard: Oh, yeah. Dave's the ultimate family man. He has four kids. Or five. He is like The Brady Bunch over there.
I was talking to Tom Arnold earlier, and he explained that he had no idea what you were up to when you showed up at his house with the camera...
Dax Shepard: The thing with Tom Arnold is that it doesn't matter if you explain the concept to him on the phone. Because he will be doing five other things while you are telling it to him. Even if I had of told him everything that we are doing, and we show up a day later, he has no idea what we are doing there. So, yeah, we got into a real fight. We always do. That is part of our relationship. We have done USO tours together, where we were in Afghanistan. Instead of signing autographs we just had big fights in front of everyone. Which was very entertaining for them. We just decided to capitalize on that dynamic, which is the fact that we love each other and that we fight non-stop.
Does it really bother you that Tom is hanging out with your dad?
Dax Shepard: No, that doesn't really bother me in real life. I have always been so happy with how nice Tom is to my dad. When Tom has been in Detroit working, he hangs out with my dad. He has always been super generous with my dad. So that has always been a source of true happiness for me, actually.
From what I understand, your dad is a driver. Is that something he got into after you got into the business? Or was he always doing that?
Dax Shepard: No, he is not even a driver. He just did that so he could hang out with Tom while he was working. (Laughs) He was two hours late to pick Tom up the last time. I don't think he would have made it as a driver.
To hear Tom Arnold tell it, you were actually quite upset that he was hanging out with your Dad when you didn't know about it.
Dax Shepard: (Laughs) Right. They definitely talk and stuff, which is a shock to me. I will talk to my dad, and he and Tom will have had a two hour conversation a week ago. Which is more recent than the last time I talked to my dad.
Now, we saw Joaquin Phoenix put out a similarly themed movie last year. And people thought he was a straight-up nut. How did you find that balance in keeping people on your side while making a documentary like this?
Dax Shepard: I don't want to start a rivalry. I think he is the greatest actor alive. And I think he is a super creative guy, a wonderful guy. I have hung out with him a couple of times. I would say the big difference between our movies is that the audience seemed to be the butt of his joke, where as here, I am the butt of our joke. To delineate the difference between the two movies? I think the public at large was the target of I'm Still Here. He said, "I can fool you guys." Where as, the goal and target of ours is, "Look a how stupid Dax Shepard is!"
We all know you are not really an idiot. People that work with you only ever have nice things to say, and they often talk about how intelligent you are. So was this just a blow you wanted to deliver to yourself? Its self-deprecation as an art form from that standpoint.
Dax Shepard: You are right. In the movie, I come across as a homophobe, a pussy, and an idiot. (Laughs) I am none of those three things. But I think if you are going to do a movie that is such an egomaniacal venture...I am writing, I am directing, I am producing, starring, paying for it...I think, just the fact that I am making this movie, I have to then make fun of what an egomaniac I am. I am playing the megalomaniac that I am. If I weren't to comment on that, I think it would be ironic.
Its also one of those things, where you are starting to tread into Tom Hanks territory. The more your career grows, and you grow as a celebrity, you are gaining this reputation as being a cool dude. A nice guy in the industry. Were you looking to shake that image, and give people a different perspective?
Dax Shepard: To be totally honest, I didn't have any goal towards the perception of this film and me. I wasn't trying to manipulate anyone's thoughts about me. It's weird that anyone would be thinking of me when I am not in front of them. I don't accept that as a reality. My literal thought was, "Hey, I am friends with all of these amazing performers. What if we all got together and made something that had no expectations, that didn't have to fit into a studio box, that didn't have to be marketable, that didn't have to do anything? What if we got together just to have fun, and do whatever they thought was funny? What would that turn out to be?" It turned out to be this movie, for better or worse. Everyone got to do what they thought was funny. No one had to come service a script, or service a director's desires, or service a studio's desires. Whatever Jon Favreau thought was funny, that's what he got to do. It was the same with all the guys.
What about the vignettes we see running throughout the movie? Where did those come from?
Dax Shepard: We were thinking that, if I were so cocky as to think that I could sell a karate movie with me as the star, surely I would have thought of other movies that I could have starred in. So I thought, what are some other serious movies that I would never get hired for? One of them, we thought, would be a take on There Will Be Blood. No one would hire me to take on that character. So what would happen if I took on that movie? Or what about a racecar driver? No one is ever going to hire me to do that. So we went through the list of what would be the most preposterous films that I would try to get made. Like a Western. I doubt I will get hired for a Western.
I don't know, you kind of have a Western edge to you.
Dax Shepard: I would love to be in a Western. I had never learned to ride a horse until that day. I got there, and the horse trainer said, "What do you plan to do in this scene?" And I said, "I want to get that thing running as fast as it will go." They told me that it would take days for me to learn how to do that. I said, "We need to be shooting at 10 am." This was at 8. They let me ride the thing around the ring. They said, "You know what? You are pretty good at this. We're going to let you go." I rode that thing faster than I was supposed to. The thing bucked, and I didn't even know it bucked. But that was the first day of riding a horse for me.
Your Character in Zathura was a bit of a cowboy.
Dax Shepard: You are right. Maybe its better that I didn't know that at the time. Jon Favreau definitely knew that at the time. I didn't realize that while we were shooing it. We had the funniest conversations while we were shooting that movie. I hadn't done much up to that point. I had only done Punk'd, Idiocracy, and then I went into Zathura. I am playing a hero. I was afraid to play a hero. I thought I was going to look like an idiot trying to play a hero. And Jon Favreau would say the funniest things. I am shooting up to the roof with my jetpack on. And I am making a face during the first take, where I'm scared shitless, as I would be if I were blasting through a hole in the ceiling. He says, "Listen, you have to grit your teeth when you are going through that hole." I said, "Don't you think I would be scared shitless?" And he says, "I don't care what you would really think you'd be doing. I'll tell you what a hero does when he blasts through a roof. He grits his teeth." I said, "All right. I'll grit my teeth."
Did you see Mars Needs Moms yet? The main spaceman character in that reminds me of your character in Zathura.
Dax Shepard: I didn't see that. But that would be really flattering if I inspired that. I think Zathura, in terms of movies, is the best thing I have ever been associated with. I think that was a really great movie, and its heartbreaking that it didn't do better. But it's definitely found a place on cable, and TV, and DVD. I meet tons of little kids who have seen that movie. I guess it found its way to people. As a movie, I think Jon Favreau killed it.
And it still stands up. It's going to stand the test of time, because it doesn't look dated.
Dax Shepard: No. Because, in a weird way, it was dated when he made it. That was one of the first movies to do practical effects in a long time. That was a choice that Jon Favreau made. It made it look more like a Steven Spielberg film from the 80s. I am not a huge fan of CGI. The next movie we are trying to make is a car chase movie, with all of these same guys. The reason I want to make a car chase movie is that we haven't seen a real one in the last ten years. Smokey and the Bandit was the last great one, where they jumped the car. Instead of jumping it five feet in the air behind a green screen, making it look like it was flying. I would love to see a practical car chase movie.
When are you and David Keochner going to team up for a movie where its just Dave and Dax?
Dax Shepard: Whenever they call. I would kill to be in a movie with David Koechner. But the only time we seem to work together is when we do one of our own projects. He'll be in this car chase movie. But if someone were to offer us the chance to work together, we'd both do it. We have crazy crushes on one another.
Now, talking about Zathura being dated, Brothers' Justice takes place at a certain time that you can't escape. Were you ever concerned that it would feel old before it even came out?
Dax Shepard: I was concerned about that. I still am. What happened with that is, originally, I was going to fight Chuck Norris. That was going to be the third act. And we had all of these really promising leads in getting Chuck Norris. So we filmed the first part of the film, then we wait around for four or five months, waiting to get Chuck Norris. Then we finally figure out that we're not going to get Chuck Norris. So, then I say, "We need a different third act." We edited together what we have so we'd know what to shoot. Then we had this crazy legal battle with this editor we brought on. That wasted six months of our time. So we are going back to shoot a year later. Now we have all of these people's schedules to deal with. Then we end up shooting the third act, but we want to test it. By the way, I am paying for all of this, so its not like we can carve out three weeks. We have to pay for everything. We have to pay for a screening room at CAA. We have to do this, we have to do that. We wanted to get people's input. We got there input. We did reshoots. We reedited it. We started taking it to festivals. We needed to find a distributor. Time just clicked by. So, yeah...I don't love that that much time has transpired since I started. But it is what it is. I think it's still really funny, and at the end of the day, it doesn't matter too much. It's kind of a cool thing. And in the interim, Bradley Cooper becomes the biggest thing in the world. And all of these other things happened. I think its cool in that way.
Brother's Justice is available on VOD today!
Brother's Justice was released May 13th, 2011 and stars Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper, Jon Favreau, James Feldman, David Koechner, David Palmer, Michael Rosenbaum, Jess Rowland. The film is directed by David Palmer, Dax Shepard.