PLAYBOY: You realize people have said that about you and every famous beautiful woman you’ve dated—Kristen, Kate Hudson.
SHEPARD: I get that. People want to see us bang. But here’s the funny thing about the response I’ve been aware of to my dating famous people: It’s been very negative. I’m either not good-looking enough, not a good enough actor or not successful enough for these people. It’s ironic, really. Guys should be excited that I got Kristen Bell. If Brad Pitt gets Kristen Bell, it’s like, “Well, of course he did.” With me, it should be, “Oh good, a normal-looking guy got her. Maybe I’ll get me a Kristen Bell.” But guys hate my guts for always dating women I have no right to be with.
PLAYBOY: What’s your secret?
SHEPARD: I attribute it to being funny and a good dancer. And I’m tall, which will get you places as well. I’m also wired for it. The times my brain works fastest are when I’m doing improv on a stage or meeting coeds in a bar.
PLAYBOY: You picked a career in which you’re surrounded by gorgeous women. Does the urge to merge ever go away?
SHEPARD: No, it doesn’t. I wish it did, magically. This is overly deep, but I have to put women in the same category I put drugs and alcohol. It’s an outside thing that I try to use to make my insides feel better, and I have learned that it just doesn’t work. I have to keep my urges in check.
PLAYBOY: What’s your relationship like with Craig T. Nelson, your TV dad on Parenthood?
SHEPARD: Craig T. Nelson is the closest person I’ve met to my identical twin, only we’re separated by 30 years or whatever. He raced cars forever. We both have big noses, we’re both tall, we’re both goofy, we’ve both been around a lot of craziness. He’s a guy I super-fan at work the way I super-fan Burt Reynolds, whom I got to work with on Without a Paddle.
PLAYBOY: Burt Reynolds?
SHEPARD: All the way. My house is a living shrine to Burt, much to K.B.’s chagrin. I have a urinal, and above it is a poster of Gator with a personal message that says, “To Dax, you’re a hell of an actor but more important, a hell of a man. Love and respect.” I would go to his trailer every day just to hound him for stories because I had so many unanswered questions. Like, Jackie Gleason was a very well-known and admitted functioning alcoholic, yet 80 percent of Smokey and the Bandit is him traveling at high speed. It’s clearly him driving, and it begs the question: What were the safety protocols when Gleason was driving? Burt’s answers were implausible. The physics of what he told me couldn’t happen, but who gives a shit? They were great stories. I love that man.
PLAYBOY: Did you feel that way about John Travolta when you were in Old Dogs?
SHEPARD: Well, they say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, and that’s probably good advice unless you employ the strategy of hanging on to your daydream of who they are. Urban Cowboy is in my top five dramas of all time, so Travolta could have been lighting other cast members on fire and I would have just seen Bud climbing off the oil rig, or the guy from Pulp Fiction. I’m like those female fans who saw Elvis on his last tour. They didn’t see the 300-pound beached whale on the stage; they were cheering and crying for the guy from 1956 swaying his hips.
PLAYBOY: Beau Bridges looks pretty good in your new movie, and he’s no spring chicken. What was he like?
SHEPARD: When I saw his age was 70, I almost crapped myself. I would go, “Jesus, Beau, you’re not supposed to be able to punch somebody out in a scene at 70. My grandpa couldn’t have done that. What’s your secret?” And he goes, “I’ve been a vegan for 12 years.” I was like, Damn, I need to think about this. And then I saw Forks Over Knives, that documentary, and I was like, I’m in. I’ve been a vegan since January.
PLAYBOY: And how are you feeling?
SHEPARD: It’s nothing like the pill in The Matrix but damn good, like 15 percent across the board in every respect. I sleep 15 percent better. My allergies are at least 15 percent better. I have fewer body aches. My skin looks better. I’m never starving, and I never need to ride the couch feeling completely full and disgusting.
PLAYBOY: So your vices are pretty much under control?
SHEPARD: I think I have a pretty good handle on my “isms,” but it takes a long time. Each third or fourth bad thing you give up, you still have to hold on to one. I’m still on nicotine. I pound about a dozen of those Commit throat lozenges a day. I still drink gallons of coffee.
PLAYBOY: And you still drive like a maniac.
SHEPARD: I’m still super into driving too fast on motorcycles, yes. I have a Suzuki GSX-R1000 that’s just for the racetrack, and I can get up to 190 on that. When you’re going that fast, you’re thinking only about what you’re doing in the moment. It’s the closest I could ever get to Deepak or God or something like that. You can’t think about tomorrow or what happened yesterday. You just absolutely have to be thinking second to second to second about what you’re doing in that moment. I don’t think I could survive without doing something like that.