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Erik Estrada talks about his role in 'Planes: Fire & Rescue'

In “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” when Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) finds out he has a damaged engine and might not race ever again, he volunteers to help out a crew of veteran fire and rescue helicopters and vehicles to battle some wildfire at a national park. Examiner.com had to chance to speak one of the many voices from the movie, Erik Estrada, about the initial idea for his role and learning Spanish as an adult.

Nick "Loop'N" Lopez was Blade Ranger's partner on the show, "Chops."
Nick "Loop'N" Lopez was Blade Ranger's partner on the show, "Chops."Walt Disney Pictures

I read through the production notes that helped bring the “ChiPS/Chops” element to this film. Was it your idea initially or was it someone else’s idea to bring you on?

Erik Estrada: It was Disney’s idea. There’s a character named Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) and he has a partner named Nick “Loop’N” Lopez because I do these incredible in my helicopter. I used to do it with the motorcycle on “Chips” and now I do it as a helicopter. The whole cast of the animation is watching a television show because they are telling the story of Blade Ranger, who is now a firefighter, but he was on a television series and his co-star was me. My character is basically the same thing as Ponch and this what they wanted to do. I saw the screening of it at DisneyToons Studios, and when that came on and I saw it I was blown away. For me it was like a flashback, and suddenly it hit me that “Chips” had such an impact. When I was doing “Chips,” I was just happy to have a job and get my mother out of Harlem. That’s all I cared about was taking care of her. They created that segment for the movie, threw it in and called me to see if I was interested. It was cool and it was a lot of fun, but I’ve done animation before. I did “Family Guy” and a I had series for three years on Adult Swim called “Sealab 2021,” in which I played Marco.

I read that you’ve learned Spanish as an adult. I wanted to know how come you didn’t learn it as a child and what motivated you to learn as an adult?

Estrada: I was born in Harlem Hospital and raised in Spanish Harlem. At the age of five, I was on the street. My first job was selling Piraguas with my grandfather, then I shined shoes and because of that era (1950′s and 1960′s), I had to deal in English all the time. My mother kicked my father out when I was four because he was a heroin addict. My mom started dating a cop later on, and that’s where my love for cops came from. That’s why I’m a cop today. I’m actually an ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) investigator captain in Virginia. My goal is to have internet safety education put in every school across this country. I want to get it mandated. I’ve already got nineteen schools participating and I’m working on many more. I’m also the spokesperson for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation. All my life, I was interested in being a cop. Anyways, I was in Mexico doing a movie called “Juana la Cubana,” but I didn’t know Spanish and I didn’t even read in Spanish, but they were dubbing me in Spanish. The producer of “Dos Mujeres Un Camino” came to me and told me he wanted me for the role. I said, “Thank you, but I think I am going to have to turn it down. I don’t know how to read or speak Spanish.” He said, “Don’t worry about it. We will make it that you were born in San Diego and then came to Mexico.” I thought they meant that I would be speaking in Spanglish and I said I was agreeable with that. A couple of weeks later, I get the script and I couldn’t read it. It was entirely in Spanish. I went to Berlitz and grabbed me a beautiful woman teacher and we knocked it out for seven days straight for three weeks.

Isn’t it true that you signed up for a hundred episodes and it ended being 400-something episodes?

Estrada: 457. They got crazy. When we did the first hundred and got to 95 and 96, I said, “Four more and I’m out of here.” They said they wanted to do 160 more and I agreed to do more under certain terms of condition.

How long did it take to do your voiceover?

Estrada: The nice thing about animation is you don’t need to shave or shower. You go in, get in a booth with your mic and monitor, and you say the line how they want you to say it. You just have to be open to reacting and be a great listener.

Do they animate it after you do the voiceover?

Estrada: No. It is already animated. When I did the other series, I use to do it by phone. I never met anybody in the cast during the three years of I was doing “Sealab 2021.” Also, there was nothing to look at when I was reading my lines. Disney already knows what they want and they do the animation first and bring in possible voices for that particular character. It was great. We did a screening with the entire cast and crew and they loved it. I love the finished product. The movie is very exciting. It’s got a lot of color. I remember one distinct scene where it really reached me. It was a high shot where they’re bringing in a ranger who got hurt, and I just felt “Wow, this guy is hurt.’ The danger of the fire is very exciting. It’s an exciting movie overall, and it’s a lot of fun. I’m glad to be in it.

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is now playing in South Florida theaters.