The Hoff endures: Behind the scenes with David Hasselhoff as he encounters the new ‘Baywatch’ crew

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 on a recent Saturday night.‎

“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.

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“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 this spring 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, as a new ”Baywatch” film arrives in theaters from Paramount after a long South Florida shoot, 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.

In the Escalade on the way to the premiere, Hasselhoff polled other passengers on how to handle the question of the “Baywatch” film. In 1991, Hasselhoff backed a new version of the lifeguard series with his own money when the series was canceled after a dismal debut season on NBC. The revived program 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 in an interview earlier in the day.) He wanted to know how to deal with the subject gracefully and turned for guidance to a reporter in the car versed in the art of the actor soundbite.

Maybe, “It’s a new creation but the DNA of the original is still in there,” the reporter said.

He pondered that idea. “The DNA, that’s not bad.” Then he thought about it for another minute. “But would the Hoff say that?”

Hasselhoff began strategizing 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.

The car was populated by Hasselhoff’s small entourage: His fiancée Hayley Roberts, a 37-year-old Brit; his longtime publicist, an old-school New York character named Judy Katz; and Katz’s adult son, who serves as a kind of advance man for Hasselhoff’s publicity appearances.

They began talking about a preferred topic: why the new movie was rated R. Hasselhoff exults in what he considers the “family-show” status of the original, often telling a story about how his mother once got upset over French-kissing. While bouncing bosoms in slow motion may not scream church-group viewing, the “Baywatch” film, which has an extended male-anatomy sight gag in the first 10 minutes, does have a different feel.

“They can’t take their kids to it,” Katz lamented.

“It’s really too bad,” Roberts chimed in.

“We never had anyone go to bed together,” Hasselhoff said proudly.

The conversation turned to some of the original show’s producers, whom Hasselhoff had once clashed with and now hoped to avoid on this evening. “You’ll have to steer me around that,” he said quietly to Katz. She nodded.

The car crept along a main drag in South Beach. Soon crowds outside the premiere came into view — a thousand 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 the 100 yards down the 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 — you know, he had the whole Gawker sex-tape thing — 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 due to 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: first “Access Hollywood” and “Entertainment Tonight,” some lower-profile TV, then local TV, then the national print publications, then websites, then the local Spanish and other print media, and then, the fin de siécle of red carpets, Lifeguard TV. (“The only channel devoted solely to lifeguards!”)

He varied this presentation slightly each time, but 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.

“Hoff the Record” is clearly important to Hasselhoff, and not only because the role is bigger than what he’s typically given these days. The show offers a chance for the actor to fire back at all the people who’ve written him off as a ’90s has-been — when characters treat him as over the hill, for instance, he gets to explain why he’s not. There’s even a cheeseburger subplot. “Hoff the Record” may be a first in celebrity culture: a self-parody that’s also a score-settler.

Up the carpet Johnson was giving a rather generous assessment of the did-you-talk-to-the-original-cast question. “He was so encouraging, so welcoming to me, which I so appreciated,” the actor said of Hasselhoff to one reporter. (Hasselhoff said he and Johnson didn’t speak before production.)

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 mustache; 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.”

Every few minutes a “Mitch” chant would go up from the beach mob. One time Hasselhoff turned and acknowledged the crowd almost papally, which caused them to roar even louder. Another time he turned and shouted, “I’m doing an interview,” then added more quietly, “Good grief.”

A reporter complimented him on all his recent work.

“May has been a good month for the Hoff,” he said.

The carpet was ending and the cast was preparing to ride to the theater 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.

Hasselhoff and his posse piled back in the Escalade. As the car snaked to the theater, he repeated the bathroom story several times, in each telling embellishing Efron’s eagerness and downplaying his own a little more. “Zac wanted to see the show. He was really excited. He was asking if he could come over to watch it,” he was saying by the third recounting.

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.’”

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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