ON Ashton Kutcher's popular MTV comedy reality series "Punk'd," Dax Shepard was the comedic man of a thousand faces who would wear wigs and mustaches to catch celebrities in outlandish, embarrassing situations. "I knew this was my one shot and pushed it as far as I could," he said.
He's brought the same master-of-disguise act to the big screen.
"I gained 30 pounds and dyed my hair black for this Mike Judge movie I did, 'Idiocracy,' " Shepard explained. "Then I did 'Zathura' and I had to dye my hair brown. Then I did 'Let's Go to Prison,' and I gained 20 pounds of muscle and grew my hair really long and grew a beard."
For his latest film, "Employee of the Month," which opens Friday, he dyed his hair a Billy Idol-blond and even waxed the hair from his forearms.
"I like to really change up my look when I do a movie because my acting's very weak," he deadpanned. "So I figure the more I do physically...."
In the comedy, Shepard plays the thoroughly obnoxious Vince Downey, the fastest cashier in the Southwest at a Costco-like warehouse store. Vince has won "Employee of the Month" 17 times in a row and will receive a "newish" 2005 car if he can make it 18.
Stand-up comic Dane Cook plays the store's affable box boy Zach, who decides to go for the employee of the month honors when he learns that the newest cashier (Jessica Simpson) only dates winners of the title.
"I approached this role as if I were Tom Cruise in 'Cocktail,' " Shepard said. "I wanted to be really flashy. In my mind, he's the Brad Pitt of Costco."
But trying to dye his naturally light brown hair white blond took a lot of work. "My hair changes through the filming," he lamented. "It's a tragic story, the story of my hair."
It began by going to "a local hairstylist for the first round of bleaching," Shepard recalled. "That was an eight-hour day, which ended with my hair being the color of papaya."
He went back the following day for another eight hours of bleaching; his hair came out brown.
"Then we had a third four-hour day with a guy who did punk rock hairstyles," said Shepard. "He made it white, but it took so much bleaching and astringent that half of my hair fell out. Then I panicked. It was like four days before filming starts and I have half my hair and scabs on my head."
That's how he looked when production started. But halfway through the film, his hair looks even whiter because he got a new dye job when his roots started growing out.
The decision to wax his forearms was a "double whammy," Shepard said. "It exudes metrosexuality. Because I work with my hands and I am the fastest cashier in the Southwest, obviously I would have pretty developed forearms that I would want to show off for the ladies. So I worked out my forearms in the gym for a month to get them ripped. I found if I waxed them it gave me a little more definition."
But the wax job was almost too much for Shepard to handle. "I had it done by a 70-year-old German lady with a very thick German accent," he said. "In that situation, you are hoping for a very comforting, warm, motherly voice. Instead, I felt like I was marching with the Third Reich as she tore the hair out of my forearms."
Though Shepard never worked in a store as a cashier, doing the movie fulfilled a childhood dream of sorts.
"When my mother and I would shop at Kroger's," said the Michigan native, "I would watch almost in a catatonic state the bagger loading the paper bags. The obsessive-compulsive disorder side of me was obsessed with how they stacked the stuff. I would get home from the store and unload the bags and reload them and inevitably break half of our merchandise."
"Employee" director Greg Coolidge said Shepard was one of the first actors he approached to be in the comedy. "I had vaguely seen him in 'Punk'd' here and there," he said. "Then I went to a cast-and-crew screening of 'Without a Paddle' and said, 'Who is this guy?' "
Originally, he envisioned Shepard for the Zach role because "Dane's comedic style is all 'in your face.' Then as the project went along, Dane wanted to play the other role and I thought Dax would be great playing the smarmy role."
Coolidge also allowed his actors to brainstorm ideas and ad-lib, which got Shepard's creative comic juices flowing -- including a whole subplot involving the cheesy 1978 Exile song "Kiss You All Over," which Vince and his buddy Jorge (played by Efren Ramirez) listen to on his car radio.
Having his ideas embraced, Shepard said, helped with his confidence. "In my experience, how good I am is determined in how confident I am feeling. And to have a director who is so supportive
EVEN as a kid, Shepard tried to make people laugh, but generally his jokes, quips and pranks didn't sit well with his teachers.
"My mother has probably fielded over 100 phone calls from school saying I had no business in a public setting," he said. "I couldn't resist making jokes. I would put a zinger in at all costs."