‘TRUE CONFESSIONS’ EPISODE : ESTRADA PLAYS A TV ROLE HE’S SUITED FOR: FATHER
Erik Estrada steps on the scale, and the machine announces in a relatively macho voice, “Your weight is 182 pounds.”
“That’s all muscle,” he said, half-joking as he continued leading the tour of his Hollywood Hills home in a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts.
Absent from television since his “CHiPs” series ended in 1983, Estrada has been keeping in shape. His hair is streaked with gray and his teeth still gleam. A TV superstar for six years, he knew he was destined to return to the airwaves. “These things go in nine-year cycles,” he said.
Estrada will return to the tube in “True Confessions,” a syndicated anthology series that starts Sept. 8 (on KCOP Channel 13 locally). “These stories are nice little showcases,” he said. “They’re like 90-minute playhouses in 30 minutes. I can really show my stuff. I’m not selling my personality here. I’m performing.”
Estrada’s episode, “You’re the Only Mommy I Need, Daddy,” features him as a single parent whose in-laws are trying to gain custody of his daughter. He said the part suits him well, now that he has become a father himself. “I could really relate to the role. I can imagine some bimbo trying to take away my son.”
Anthony Eric (not Erik or Enrique, as his father once was known) Estrada was born in March, and already the house is swamped with toys and stuffed animals. Estrada and wife Peggy, a songwriter, have been married for two years. Estrada credited her with “straightening my act out. Actually, my act was always straight. I was crooked.”
As if on cue, the blond Mrs. Estrada appeared and told her husband she was going shopping for a dishwasher. “Don’t go over 55,” he cautioned her as she departed.
Does a reference to the speed limit mean that Officer Frank (Ponch) Poncherello will ride again? Ponch’s Kawasaki 1000 motorcycle is now a lamp in Estrada’s exercise room. Will he have to convert it back into a vehicle?
“I’ve got a script about a ‘CHiPs’ reunion show on my desk,” Estrada said. “But I can’t get beyond Page 67. Looking back at this formula and the style of writing, it doesn’t grab me anymore.”
Although Estrada hasn’t been idling his engine for the past three years, his career has been in the doldrums. After taking a year off, he appeared for three months in an off-Broadway production of “True West” and then made three movies abroad.
The most recent, “The Deadly Hour,” was shot this spring in Peru and is scheduled to be released this fall. Estrada plays the avenging son of a South American newspaper owner killed by his government.
It’s not Shakespeare, but then neither was “CHiPs.”
“I appreciate everything ‘CHiPs’ did for me,” Estrada said. “It bought that soda you’re drinking.” He motioned to the glass boot filled with cream soda that the housekeeper just brought in.
“I could relate to Ponch because I wanted to be a cop, but they got me into the glamour part. I always had to come up with that smile. I didn’t always feel like smiling, but I had to smile for six years.
“One day I remember coming to work feeling hung over, tired, really wiped out. I said, ‘Couldn’t I play Ponch like this, like he was really tired?’ They wouldn’t let me.
“When I do another series, I’m not going to smile when I don’t want to or do any of those things that were such a tight formula for Ponch. I won’t wear a uniform, so I won’t have to hold my stomach in. I remember all those days when I had to drink water and eat sushi. My personal life wasn’t worth anything.”
During the making of “CHiPs,” stories flew fast and furiously about dissension on the set. Was Estrada really such a bad boy? “This is the way I always was,” he said in a cheerful voice. “I’m very calm. But if you say you’re a cameraman"--the decibels increase--"you’d better know your stuff and be there on time. If I blow my temper over that. . . .”
So some of it was true, then?
“I’m stuck with that rap,” he said. “Negative sells real good. If I live long enough, everyone who thinks I’m a certain way and meets me will see it’s not true. But I don’t think life’s that long.”
During “CHiPs,” Estrada’s first marriage, divorce and various dalliances were reported with vigor in the press. Those days are over, he said. “Peggy watches my back. If I had met her when I was doing the ‘CHiPs’ stuff, I’d have blown it. She wouldn’t have stayed.”
Yet life is not quite perfect. “I am busy but not at the pace I’d like. I’m a workaholic. I love doing movies, but I love better the pace of a series. I don’t understand being out of work. I don’t handle it well. I become anxiety-filled, nervous and real quiet. Without work, I don’t bubble.”