David Hasselhoff on Piranha 3DD, Saving Lives, and How Leonardo DiCaprio Dodged the Baywatch Bullet

David Hasselhoff - Piranha 3DD

Most actors might think twice about playing dark and depressed versions of themselves on the big screen, parodying their most cringe-worthy moments of cheeseburger-craving internet fame for all to see in movies — like this week’s Piranha 3DD — more concerned with seeing big-bosomed babes being eaten by fish than with exploring the existential pains of celebrity. But then most actors don’t refer to themselves in the third-person with nicknames like “The Hoff” ™, a la David Hasselhoff, who spoke with Movieline last week about his Piranha 3DD cameo, that one time Leonardo DiCaprio went out for Baywatch, and how he’s learned to just “get on the Hoff train and ride.”

Two decades after introducing the dashing L.A. County lifeguard Mitch Buchannon to audiences on the sun-soaked series Baywatch, Hasselhoff is back on the beach in Piranha 3DD playing “David Hasselhoff” — a bitter alternate version of himself who, while making an appearance at an adults-only water park, is finally called upon to live out his on-screen persona and actually, you know, save people.

Questions? Movieline had so many. Like: Has the real David Hasselhoff ever rescued someone from the ocean? What did Bob Weinstein have to promise him to get Hasselhoff onboard for Piranha 3DD? What did The Hoff think of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury? And did Leonardo DiCaprio really once audition to play young Hobie on Baywatch?

You’ve played yourself before many times and are comfortable riffing on your public persona and poking fun at yourself, but how exactly did they get you to play this dark version of David Hasselhoff in the first place? Did they already have it written?
They had it written and Bob Weinstein called me and said, ‘Come on, man — if you do this and it does really well I’ll put you in Scary Movie, and we own Knight Rider and maybe we can put you in the Knight Rider movie… you’ve got to do this for me.’ I read the script and saw the last Piranha. [Laughs] My dad and I watched it — my dad’s 87 — and we both looked at each other and said, ‘Well, the movie kind of sucks but the girls are really hot!’ And it was so funny because we both picked up on the same things. So I said, ‘Why not?’ My manager called me and said, ‘You cannot make this movie,’ and I said, ‘Come on man, why not?’ Besides, it turned out to be a much bigger part and a much more irreverent film than I could possibly imagine. And we really had a lot of fun on the set. I just thought it was funny — especially playing David Hasselhoff, but not David Hasselhoff like Mr. Up and Mr. Happy. A burned-out David Hasselhoff; I’ve had it with life. This is the worst possible thing that I could do. What am I doing in this park? And not making any of the rescues — I just thought it was the funniest thing ever.

Do you feel like this cameo captures the darker side of what it’s like to be you?
No — I mean, that’s how I was playing it. I think people who know me… you’ll see me on Chelsea Lately and she said, ‘What was the lowest point of your career?’ And I said, ‘Probably making this film!’ [Laughs] But you know, it really wasn’t. It was fun. It’s just such an over-the-top film, it appeals to my major love of bad taste.

This pertains to your big moment in Piranha 3DD, where burned-out David Hasselhoff is called into action — can you actually save lives with your Baywatch training? Have you ever had to?
Yeah, I have. I mean, I’ve had to be rescued myself. But I’ve made rescues in the water. In fact, I’ve made four or five rescues on land because I just happened to be — Oh my god! My dog — we got balls from Chelsea Lately and I guess they give you Chuy’s balls, and she’s chewing up these balls all over the place. Sorry, I’m picking up foam all over the place because I have an obsessive-compulsive dog who will not leave balls alone. But yeah, I’ve made rescues. I was actually doing a scene for People Magazine and this stupid kid was throwing the ball for his dog and his sister. I was on the set doing my three poses like Zoolander and I saw this guy throwing the ball, and he threw the ball into the water and the dog had a leash on it, and the leash was connected to a four-year-old girl. So the dog went out, and the girl went under, and the parents were laying on the beach, I think they were stoned or something. I went, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to go do this.’ I went out and ruined all my People Magazine shoot but they loved it, because they filmed the whole thing. But then several times I’ve seen really bad accidents where I’m first on the scene, and because I’m trained and have done so many scenes I was able to clear the airway and save a life. It’s scary and icky, and I don’t want to do it anymore. [Laughs]

What’s your philosophy on embracing those private moments of your life that have gone public, like the infamous cheeseburger video?
You know what, when that happened it was such a devastating thing because it involved my daughters, but it also got me custody of my daughters. So in a way, it drew the lines in my life that said, okay, if this is the game that someone is going to play, this is very, very wrong. Six weeks after that tape came out, I had full custody of my daughters. Even the judge said ‘This is bullshit.’ I learned from that moment, and my daughter went through so much at school because it was a private moment, and she’s such a sweet girl. Now we laugh about it and we embrace life on a daily basis. We have each other, we all live together, they have a great band, and she just walked in and gave me a hug. Life goes on, and there’s a reason for everything. At the time you don’t see it, but in the end, it’s funny. It’s kind of worked for me.

There seems to be that fine line between owning and protecting your private life and being owned by the things that come out in public.
To me, it’s like no matter what happens in my life, I know the truth. It’s not what people say about you or think about you, it’s what you think about yourself. And once you realize that life is not fair, and you don’t abuse yourself over it, it’s like, ‘Okay, life’s not fair! Fuck it!’ You get screwed over all the time, and just when you think you’re not going to get screwed over, you get screwed over again! Then you just go, ‘Okay.’ So I just go with the flow. I just get on the Hoff train and ride.

Your reality TV show was cancelled after a few episodes, but I totally watched those few episodes. I didn’t understand why they pulled the plug so soon.
We didn’t understand why they pulled it and why they didn’t sell it back — E! Entertainment wanted to buy it, and it played over in Europe and everyone loved it. It was just great. We don’t know why. I think it was because our family was too real. We weren’t fake — we weren’t, like, putting on make-up every day, or hoarding things… [Laughs] We were too normal!

I have a quick Baywatch question. Okay, I have SO MANY Baywatch questions, but… having re-watched Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding on a big screen fairly recently, what are the odds of having another Baywatch reunion movie? Can you just keep making those every few years?
I have no idea what’s happening with Baywatch! Right now I’m trying to concentrate on bringing Knight Rider back in a correct way because they screwed it up when they brought it back on NBC. But I’m not sure what’s going on with Knight Rider. I think if they bring it back, they’ll probably screw it up, or they’ll make a joke out of it, which is unfortunate, but you never know. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. I’m looking at the Baywatch episodes right now in my office — I’ve got 200 of them. I’m looking at Knight Rider, going, ‘Wow, I’ve done some pretty wild stuff.’ Would I go back to it? Sure. I’d do anything.

Jeremy Jackson once said that he had beaten out Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Hobie, your onscreen son, on Baywatch. Was that true, do you remember?
Yeah, it was true! You know what, it was the best thing to happen to Leonardo DiCaprio. [Laughs] I saw Leonardo DiCaprio and I said, ‘You know what, that was the best thing that ever happened to you! You would have never gotten Titanic and have been this big star. You’d be like Jeremy Jackson and David Hasselhoff, looking for work.’ Ha!

Of course, your career dates back before Baywatch and Knight Rider. There’s Starcrash, and a little movie called Revenge of the Cheerleaders, which had a very memorable dance number which I’m not sure if you still remember…
How could I not remember that? [Laughs] That was great!

You also played Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Avengers recently came out and became one of the biggest movies of all time. Have you seen it yet, and how do you think Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury measures up to yours?
I didn’t see The Avengers yet. I love Sam Jackson, but you know… my Nick Fury was the organic Nick Fury that was written and discussed with Stan Lee before anyone got in there to change it. Nick Fury was written to be tongue-in-cheek, and he had a cigar in his mouth, he was a tough guy — he was cool. Stan Lee said, ‘You’re the ultimate Nick Fury.’ Avi Arad, when they bought it, said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be the Nick Fury forever,’ and they lied. [Pause] But that happens to me all the time. That’s when you realize life isn’t fair. But I had a blast playing Nick Fury, and if it ever came back and Nick Fury has a brother — Dick Fury? — I’d be there.

Piranha 3DD is in theaters Friday.

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