Through the door of a suite in a London hotel, a woman’s voice can be heard making athletic demands. “Can you put one leg over the other?” she pleads, and then, “Undo your buttons and crouch on the floor.”
The two likeliest explanations are an enthusiastic honeymoon or a celebrity photoshoot and, in this case, the door is opened to reveal the bronzed, thickly coiffed David Hasselhoff being put through some extreme posing for a photographer from a national newspaper. “Are we done yet?” he intermittently begs.
Such pictorial gymnastics are among the abasements endured by entertainers, although Hasselhoff may be helped by having an unusually high embarrassment threshold and an in-built optimism. During our interview, he produces this perky overview of his career: “In the TV industry, Knight Rider was a joke, Baywatch was a joke. One was a show about a talking car, another about women running down the beach in slow motion. But they lasted so long and made so much money that we’re all iconic legends now.”
More recently, however, the résumé of the iconic legend that is The Hoff includes some questionable entries, such as The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (above), a judging slot on Britain’s Got Talent, hosting Scandinavian talk-shows and the 2007 home video shot by his daughter Taylor Ann in which he struggles to eat a cheeseburger while lying shirtless on a hotel room floor, either seriously legless or a better actor than we’ve thought. While he mutters incoherently she can be heard pleading with him to stop drinking.
These experiences would make some performers paranoid about image management, but not the 62-year-old Hasselhoff. Hoff the Record, a six-part series for the network Dave, which will be rebranded David for the first night, is a spoof documentary that purports to follow the actor as, having become unemployable in the US, he seeks to rebuild his career with a rickety, low-budget English production company. At one point, he auditions for a role in a Hasselhoff biopic but fails to get it.
Before our interview, his American publicists have declared off-the-table any discussion of his having been under-the-table during reported struggles with alcohol addiction. On the table in the interview room are, perhaps pointedly, bottles of water. So had Hasselhoff given the writers of Hoff the Record any restrictions on what they could mock? “No. They said: ‘We want to have some fun with some of the stuff you’ve had problems with in the press.’ And I was: ‘Yeah, let’s go there!’ I wanted to be able to talk about some of that stuff, in character, and get the real side out.”
So had the scene in which someone re-creates that hotel burger-eating video been his idea? “At first I said, ‘Nah, let’s not do that.’ But then eventually I thought, ‘All you guys [the media] have exploited it, so why shouldn’t I exploit it?’ The only thing I vetoed is that I didn’t want the guy with the hamburger to be on the floor without a shirt. I said it was enough that he has the hamburger.” His London publicists are on the other side of a communicating door, which he now leans across to pull shut. “I can’t swear it’s not going to happen again. I’m not proud of that night; I’m not happy about what it did to my daughter, who had nothing to do with it other than to say, ‘Dad, I don’t like it when you get this way. I need a dad.’ And it’s good that she did that because she cared about me.”
He questions the public and media fascination with such episodes: “It’s my personal life and it has nothing to do with what I bring to television. Sometimes, I do something wrong and I apologise to myself and… well, my dad’s not here, but I say [looks upwards] ‘Sorry, Dad’.’’
Does he google himself?
“I have a google alert now. For a long time, they kept me from having one because I’d be: ‘What? What? What?’ But I have one now that things have been going well for a while.” He catches himself in a rare negative thought. “Actually, they’ve always gone well, even during all the crap. I’ve worked and made money and been happy, really, even going through the transitions of a divorce.”
Has he ever thought his career was over? “No. Not once. Never.” That answer suggests the determination that has made him, in the words of the latest record in his sideline as a singer, a “True Survivor”. His endurance is partly due to a strong commercial nous, shaped by his revered late father, an Irish-German businessman.
When Baywatch was cancelled by network TV after one year, Hasselhoff bought the syndication rights, revived it as a hands-on producer and achieved a Guinness Book of Records entry as the world’s most-watched TV franchise. “My partners were always pushing it in the direction of women running down the beach. And I’d be: ‘Fifty minutes of running women is fine, but you need ten minutes of story as well’.”
Subsequently, his least defensible acting credit, he acknowledges, was the 2008 TV horror film Anaconda 3: Offspring. “People would say, ‘What’s it about?’ And I’d say, ‘It’s about an hour and a half.’ Look, I was in Malibu, with a hot tub and a hot chick, but I had to get a divorce and the money was running down. My agent said, ‘What about Anaconda 3?’ I said I wasn’t leaving Malibu for a stupid movie of the week about a snake for $100,000. So I asked for $500,000, figuring they’d never pay it. The next morning, I was off to Romania.”
Hoff the Record came about, he explains, when he was invited to discuss ideas with the UK-based producers of the Karl Pilkington show An Idiot Abroad: “I was going to pitch my idea for a series called Tales of the Hoff, in which David Hasselhoff is down on his luck, has several ex-wives and an illegitimate son.” In reality, he has two ex-wives and two legitimate daughters. “They started pitching their idea for Hoff the Record and I said, ‘Hey, had you guys read mine?'”
Part of the writing process – although many scenes are improvised – involves Hasselhoff sharing stories about the low moments of his life: “There’s a scene where he’s having to negotiate to be allowed to spend time with his child, which has happened to me. Almost everything in this show has happened to me in some form.”
Does it worry him that the washed-up, Hollywood-toxic ex-celeb he plays in Hoff the Record might be taken by some viewers as the truth? “No, things are going well for me. I let people perceive what they want to perceive.”
He accepts that “David Hasselhoff has become a character, an acting role”, and most of the offers he gets now are to play some version of The Hoff. But there are limits: “I turned one down just recently. It p****d me off. I was offered [an episode of] CSI, playing myself. The murderer was gonna say, ‘Oh look, it’s David Hasselhoff, can I have a selfie?’ And I said, ‘I’m not doing that. I’m an actor, I wanna play the killer’.”
He can, though, see material for several seasons of Hoff the Record: “I haven’t even hit the divorce stuff yet.”
Hoff the Record begins on Dave (aka David) tonight (Thursday 18th June) at 9.00pm