David Hasselhoff wasn’t actively stalking Zac Efron on the way to the beachside port-a-potty. But now that they were both there he figured, well, why not make the most of it?
“You’ve gotta check out Hoff The Record!” Hasselhoff said about his little-known mockumentary sitcom as the two stood on the sand outside the bathroom at the Baywatch premiere in Florida in the US.
“Oh, you were able to make it?” Efron said, sounding convincing in his interest.
“We made it! In England. We have two seasons already. Come over to my house! I’ll show it to you!”
“OK!” Efron said.
“It’s my best work. You’ll love it,” Hasselhoff assured him of the comedy series about the actor’s post-prime-time life in which he plays a version of himself. “Do you have my number?” He pulled out a phone and implored Efron to do the same. “Let me give you my number. Here, take my number,” he repeated.
To say David Hasselhoff is enjoying a moment toying with his image is to imply there was a time he wasn’t doing that. In the 16 years since he left behind Mitch Buchannon, the all-American lifeguard character of the Baywatch franchise, Hasselhoff has played himself – or an outsized simulacrum known as “The Hoff” – more times than you can count, though he certainly could.
“There was SpongeBob and Dodgeball, and (the parody music video) True Survivor. And, oh, yeah, the Swedish talk show,” he said, beginning a list that also includes an A&E series, a Jamie Kennedy series, another parody music video, a Finnish talk show, an upcoming indie movie titled Killing Hasselhoff and of course, Hoff The Record.
Even Hasselhoff’s most infamous moment – that footage of him crawling in a drunken stupor toward a cheeseburger – had the feel of a viral-video character about it.
But a few months shy of his 65th birthday, the actor who first became ubiquitous as Knight Rider’s Michael Knight, has been giving it all a bit of a turbo boost. Millions have been seeing the Hoff in Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, in which he plays the distillation of ego (literally) in a late-movie cameo.
Somewhat fewer people, to his chagrin, have been watching Hoff The Record. A second season was released last year – it can be found on Netflix if you know where to look – and he nervously awaits word of a third-season pickup.
Now, with a new Baywatch film, the Hoff strikes again. He has a scene playing “the Mentor”, a nod to his original Mitch, guiding the new Mitch, played by Dwayne Johnson.
Hasselhoff plays The Hoff
In 1991, Hasselhoff backed a new version of the lifeguard series with his own money when the series was cancelled after a dismal debut season. The revived programme would turn into a global phenomenon and help create a market for so-called first-run syndication.
After all that, Hasselhoff is irked that the makers of the movie, directed by Seth Gordon, didn’t solicit much of his input. (“It’s a double-edged sword, being here,” he’d said earlier in the day.)
Hasselhoff began strategising various ways to work in Hoff The Record on the carpet – how, when playing a character based on yourself, do you tout a show in which you’re playing a character based on yourself?
After all, there’s a beauty to sourcing your public image to a meta character: Nothing ever fails. Even when a quip doesn’t land, you’re not making a bad joke; you’re simply commenting on the idea of yourself making a bad joke.
But where does the Hoff end and David begin? “To be honest, I don’t know, “ he said.
In the car on the way to the premiere, crowds came into view – 1,000 fans at least. “What’s the security situation here?” Hasselhoff said to no one in particular. “I’m going to get annihilated.”
It seemed like narcissism, but his concern was quickly validated: Getting out of the car and making his way down the 90m carpet extension toward the beginning of the press line, Hasselhoff was bombarded by a military-grade cacophony. Shrieks mixed with chants, “Mitch, “Mitch” ... “Michael, Michael” ... “Hoff, Hoff.”
A few security guards came to meet the Hoff posse, but they provided thin cover. Hasselhoff slowed periodically and slapped some palms, signed some memorabilia and posed for selfies, often using his reliable two-handed gun salute.
One person did call out “Cheeseburger”. He pretended not to hear. Though the video still sticks in Hasselhoff’s craw, he has a rationale for why he had made peace with it. “The other day I talked to Hulk Hogan and he said something smart. He said, ‘David, they want us because we sell tickets’. And that’s it. We help the media make money. We sell tickets.”
The press line, on a boardwalk, was seemingly endless. Either because of innate charisma or his general habit of repeating the same stories as if he were telling them for the first time, Hasselhoff worked it expertly.
Two ideas were nearly constant: One was that he had joined the new film reluctantly. “My daughters said to me, ‘Dad, you can sit here and whine or you could get out there and make a difference,’” a point that befuddled some reporters because they weren’t aware he had been annoyed in the first place.
The other was about Hoff The Record. “You’ve got to see it,” he said, enthusiastically and insistently to one reporter. He would echo the message down the line. “It’s really something for everyone. It shows the behind-the-scenes.” Few reporters picked up on it.
The new Baywatch
Dwayne Johnson and his posse passed Hasselhoff just after the latter had finished an interview. Hasselhoff called out to him.
“Mitch!” Johnson said, coming back and giving a bro hug for the cameras as they popped off.
“Mitch!” Hasselhoff replied with a sarcastic edge, making clear who he thought the real Mitch was.
They had a conversation about acting.
“I’m a people person,” Johnson said.
“I’m a people person too,” Hasselhoff said.
“We’re the same,” Johnson said.
Pamela Anderson was nearby, but she and Hasselhoff didn’t see each other. One of the show’s producers, though, did appear. Hasselhoff gave a perfunctory hello and moved on, exchanging a knowing glance with Katz.
Someone noted Hasselhoff’s moustache; he said he had it because “my people wouldn’t let me wear my red trunks” to the premiere.
Someone else asked Hasselhoff about getting ripped. Apparently he was worried about the movie because he was in poorer shape the day he shot than he is now. “I’m feeling good,” he said to a reporter who’d asked him whether he’s a “lower body guy or an upper body guy”. That’s a good question, he said, then went into a humblebrag of sorts that he used throughout the carpet: “No one is in good shape when standing next to the Rock.”
The carpet was ending and the cast was preparing to ride to the theatre about 15 minutes away. As Hasselhoff and his posse exited via a back path to a waiting car, he saw fans waiting for him and crossed the sand for more selfies and two-handed gun salutes. He had logged two hours of press and fan time – much longer, by many multiples, than his few moments in the film.
A moment later, Hasselhoff chastised himself for missing a carpet opportunity. “I only got in a mention of the show about 10 times. I was so overwhelmed at the beginning I forgot about it.”
He turned to a reporter. “Write whatever you want. Just make sure you mention Hoff The Record.” – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service/Steven Zeitchik
*This story was edited for length and clarity.