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August 17, 2004 > Without a Paddle

Without a Paddle

Interview with Dax Shepard and Matthew Lillard

by Veronica Velasquez

Dax Shepard has been reincarnated.

"I died twice during filming," he says.

Funny, because he's sitting right here at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, talking about the new Paramount Pictures release "Without A Paddle", which also stars Matthew Lillard ("Scooby Doo") and Seth Green ("Austin Powers").

"Matt (Lillard) died seven times," he adds. Shepard and Lillard seem to delight in telling the most embarrassing tales; the more nonsensical, the better. They chide each other throughout the interview, reminiscent of two brothers bent on annoying their sibling for fun.

Shepard (formerly Ashton Kutcher's sidekick on MTV's "Punk'd") and Lillard look healthy enough now, as they relax on a couch and recall the hair-raising experience of shooting the film, which features extensive white-water rafting scenes.

The film, directed by Stephen Brill, is the tale of three friends on a quest through the forests of Oregon to realize their boyhood dream together: to find the lost treasure of an infamous plane hijacker by the name of D.B. Cooper. They have a map, they have the GPS equipment, and they have the desire to succeed in their mission.

What they don't have is any experience navigating the miles of wild rivers and mountaintop terrain that stands between them and the treasure. Before they are even close to finding the treasure, they lose most of their clothes, some of their faith of ever getting out alive, and almost all of their tolerance for one another.

While there were stunt doubles available on the set for the more dangerous scenes, Shepard, Green and Lillard all tried their hand at performing some of their own stunts.

"We did a lot of stunts, oddly enough," says Lillard. "We just didn't go over the waterfall for real."

"I jumped off of the waterfall," Shepard immediately contradicts him, all wide eyes and earnestness. "It was an idiot move, because I couldn't even be seen. I could have been a sack of potatoes, for all anyone knew," he laughs.

"The river is the most dangerous place to shoot," says Lillard. "On the ocean you realize there's nothing underneath and you're safe."

"Except for the great whites, devil rays, jellyfish..." interrupts Shepard.

I got caught in an eddy line," Lillard says, ignoring Shepard. "I was getting pulled down when I was trying to go toward my safety guide, and I could see him coming at me."

"You're obviously going to come up, but you don't know that when you're under and it feels like it's about ten minutes long and it's only about 2 seconds," he said, flailing about and making drowning noises.

"There was so much water in the boat, it was sinking beneath us," remembers Shepard.

"We've gone rafting through rapids before, but not canoeing through them," Lillard says. "And we worried about Seth (Green) a lot."

"It was scary watching Seth trying to get back in the boat," agrees Shepard.

Green, who stands easily a foot shorter than his co-stars, was a major cause for concern as he was in constant peril of being swallowed up by the waves.

"He was just as capable as we were (on the rapids)," Lillard says. "But we could barely get out with our own lives. We kept getting carried into the current. The canoe would tip over a lot, and the first thing we'd think when we fell out was 'oh my God, where is Seth?'"

It's not that Green is too short. "Matt and I are both 7'3"," Lillard says, feigning sincerity again.

Green's two co-stars developed a sort of parental watchfulness for the diminutive actor. Even during encounters with fans, Lillard and Shepard kept a sharp eye out.

"He is the friendliest guy in the world, and he has that shocking red hair," Lillard explains. "And he stops and talks to people FOREVER! And people gather around him. We found ourselves hustling him out of restaurants, everywhere, and yell "Seth, we gotta GO!"

The constant vigilance was all out of brotherly love, as the two taller actors both foster a great fondness for Green. "There's no ganging up on Seth, or anything like that," warns Shepard ferociously.

It is touching how the three of them became so close. In one scene, they must spoon together against the outdoor elements. Did they enjoy this?

"Yes!" Lillard shouts enthusiastically. "Now we read Shel Silverstein books together. Dax likes me to read to him; we cuddle up, it's nice."

Nice as it may be, the cuddle time can't be the reason why they chose to do this film together. What is the reason?

"Money!" they say in unison, with perfectly straight faces.

Of course, they're lying again. Although Lillard, whose career has found him playing the best friend/sidekick/comic relief in movies such as "Scooby Doo" and "Scream" for the past 11 years, he has also done live theater work in England, and has aspirations of doing a "break-out" role soon.

"It gets to be a balance of making successful films and trying to maintain your dignity," he says. "I've always loved Nicholas Cage's work. And I'd give my eyeteeth to play in a movie like "The Bourne Supremacy". You're in a niche."

Perhaps it helps to pick up influence from acting veterans. Burt Reynolds plays a mountain man in the film, and the three agree that they were in the presence of greatness.

The fans' reaction in New Zealand to the seasoned actor was overwhelming.

"They hardly noticed us," says Lillard of himself, Shepard and Green. "And then when they got a look at Burt, they practically threw a parade," he says with mock jealousy.

Reynold's "hillbilly" character is sure to be a hit. In fact, the movie has several such characters. Are hillbillies a frightening reality to them?

"I grew up in Michigan," says Lillard proudly. "The hillbillies are my people."

"We grew up six miles from each other," says Shepard. "Detroit is practically in Canada."

"I HATE Canadians!" Shepard exclaims, pretending to be a spoiled star throwing a tantrum. He is thinking that he has been asked about what he makes of our neighbors to the north.

"There are so many great Canadian comedians!" he says. "It's a disproportionate amount of funny people up there, maybe because they are on the outside of America, looking in."

At this point, Shepard is told that the question had been whether or not he admired any comedians, not Canadians.

"Well, I did have a great angle about Canadians though, didn't I?" he says unabashedly, as the room erupts in laughter.

To answer the question seriously, Shepard allows that Will Ferrell is "the funniest comedian on the planet."

Speaking of funny, Shepard's previous antics with Ashton Kutcher on "Punk'd" was quite a cause for hilarity, as the premise of the show was to play practical jokes on the rich and famous.

Shepard had occasion to feel the wrath of many an angry celebrity on the show. Was he ever fearful of any of them?

"I was pretty afraid of Frankie Nunez," he says of the pint-sized teen Disney star, who got "Punk'd" when Shepard and Kutcher pretended to destroy his truck.

The new season of "Punk'd" will no longer feature Shepard. "It's too hard now, because too many celebrities recognize me," he says, describing that his identity has compromised the stealth of the show's pranks.

Fortunately, Shepard is fine with this, as he is now turning his attention to other projects, such as the "Jumanji" sequel "Zathura", in which he will play the lead role as an astronaut who ends up with a board game for a nemesis.

As for Lillard, who together with his wife is expecting a new baby this year, he has completed work on the film "Wicker Park", a romantic drama that is a decidedly different genre of film than he has done in the past.

The romantic premise of Lillard's new movie must have rubbed off on Shepard, because they pose for photos in a psuedo-possessive embrace.

It must be a guy thing.

"Without A Paddle", rated PG-13, is due out August 20th

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