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Plymouth TV star says 'yes' to studio

Emily Wilcox
updated: 4/27/2008 5:38 PM

Part 3 in a series about Plymouth Rock Studios seeking West Coast support for its East Coast plans

They used to compare scripts every week to see who had more rescues, and they made fun of each other until the camera guy had to do multiple takes. David Chokachi was usually top dog for rescues, but then his Speedo-clad character, Cody Madison, got to date Pamela Anderson for two years before he made the moves on Carmen Electra.

It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

Chokachi suddenly appears in the doorway of room 1103 at the Tower Hotel in Beverly Hills. He is wearing jeans and a black leather jacket, and his presence fills the room as he smiles and jokes with the crew, laughs at the producer's dry wit and succumbs to makeup brushes.

The former "Baywatch" star strikes a balance somewhere between artist, athlete and somebody's brother. But he moves like the carpenter he is, shuffling slightly and tossing an arm over the back of the chair like he's about to watch a Pats game with his buds.

Likable is the word for this guy, and it's not the one that leapt to mind when you read his bio. How does a man touted as one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful manage to keep his head screwed on straight?

"As soon as you think you've made it, this town will pull the rug out and flip you on your head," he says, laughing. "Being from the East Coast, you don't take things for granted. You're not full of nutty ideas; it's important to stay who you are."

Chokachi is the real deal, no matter how much he got paid to run on Malibu Beach in a red Speedo -- no matter how many times he proved life really is a beach for some of us. 

The other two questions are inevitable, so he doesn't even flinch.

What was it like to star on "Baywatch," and did he call it "Babe Watch" like the rest of us?

"We knew what we were making," he says, laughing. "We knew we weren't making Shakespeare. We honestly took the piss out of each other and made fun of each other. It was pretty much 'Babe Watch' to all of us and about a thousand other names I can't mention."

His name is pronounced "choke-ah-chee" with the accent on the first syllable. Nobody gets it right.

"It's been brutalized since I was a child," he jokes. "I've been in hours and hours of therapy just to get over it. Some people think I'm from Japan."

Chokachi is not from Japan. He has Turkish and Finnish ancestry and grew up in Plymouth, where his dad is a renowned surgeon. David attended Tabor Academy, where he played lacrosse and football, then Bates College in Maine, where he earned a bachelor's in political science. But he still hadn't found his calling; he said he was like so many young people unsure of their path in life.

"Nothing made that much sense. I was one of those people that wanted to do a little bit of everything," he says. "I wanted to be the fireman; I wanted to be a pilot, a Navy Seal. I had a passion for making movies, but being from Plymouth it's about as far from actually happening as you could get. Also it's not realistic. The East Coast breeds a mentality that you go to college, you go out and you get a job."

But Chokachi wanted an alternative to that model. He attended acting classes in Cambridge, did a commercial or two and moved to Los Angeles.

His timing couldn't have been worse.

Two days after his plane landed at LAX International in LA, a major earthquake rocked Northridge and everything ground to a halt. It was January 1994, and Chokachi was in his mid-20s. He survived on his carpentry skills and studied acting while he waited for the job market to pick up again.

He was lucky. Chokachi gutted it out for only a year-and-a-half before the big break came. He auditioned for this new TV series, "Baywatch," and the next thing he knew he was Cody Madison, beach boy, heart-throb and all-around surfer dude.

"Hasselhoff and all the girls and everybody -- we were, pretty much, just big, overgrown kids," he said. "We're shooting stuff on the beach; we're driving speed boats; we're beating up bad guys. It was endless, nonstop humor. It's a fun environment because you couldn't show up at work and be like, 'My job sucks.' It's summertime, and you're making money, and you're on one of the most popular shows in the world."

Looking back, Chokachi ferrets out the seeds of his career in the good old days in Plymouth when he and his brothers would take his dad's camera to make home movies, ripping off "Miami Vice" and using props like flour to double for the cocaine. As much fun as it was, Chokachi knew that was as far as his movie career could go in Plymouth. He knew he'd have to take a big risk moving to Los Angeles at some point.

That's why he's excited about Plymouth Rock Studios' plan to build a movie studio campus and k-12 school in South Plymouth.

"If there's a studio in your backyard, I think it could be hugely beneficial to kids and to adults at any age who are interested in getting into the entertainment business," he said. 'You can figure out if it's something you'd like to do."

Chokachi noted that many talented New Englanders give up on the dream of becoming an actor, director or writer because they don't want to move to LA. Plymouth Rock Studios would create a fabulous artistic mecca for so many kids and adults who want to learn the craft and develop their talents.

"If you're close to your family, which I am, it's hard," Chokachi said. "You move out here -- and you have to because that's where it all is -- but your foot's half in the door here, half in the door there. There's this constant inner battle where you wish you could be working back home."

It was the reason Chokachi opted for a role in the TV series "Witchblade," filmed in Toronto from 2000-2002. He was just an hour from his parents, siblings, nephews and friends.

So, what's the first thing that springs to mind when he thinks "Plymouth?"

"How much crap we have to take about the Rock," he says laughing. "I mean, come on! It's the Rock. Go to the Plantation."

Chokachi and his wife, Susan (Brubaker), fly home to Plymouth frequently and are regulars at Wood's Fish Market, The Colonial restaurant, Cabby Shack and East Bay Grille.

He also loves to run on Plymouth Beach during the winter. Yes, David Chokachi is still running on the beach.

He also continues to star in TV series and may even be getting together with the "Baywatch" cast for a TV show reunion.

And he's so gung-ho about this Plymouth Rock Studio thing, he'll revisit Cody Madison if need be. He wanted to know if the company's founder, president and former Paramount Pictures President David Kirkpatrick needed any PR help.

"Tell him if he needs me to I'll fly out and run around in my 'Baywatch' Speedo," he said, laughing, adding with deadpan seriousness -- "I'll do it."

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