CineSchlockers choose their heroes carefully and no doubt many have latched onto A&E phenom Duane "Dog" Chapman whose Dog the Bounty Hunter reality series has single-handedly captured the network's highest ratings yet. The ex-con turned born-again bail enforcer is as unique as he looks, which is saying a lot given his pompadour mullet, mace holster and overstuffed muscle tees. But beneath all that beats the heart of a street-stalking saint who'll whup the tar out of a Hawaiian hophead and then preach love 'n' forgiveness to 'em all the way to the pokey. On his DVD debut, Dog picked seven favorite half-hour hunts from his first 18-episode season alongside his bodacious bride Beth, son Leland, blood-brah Tim and black-sheep understudy Justin. Yours truly recently rang Da Kine Bail Bonds and spoke with the bossman himself as Team Chapman prepared to roll on Season 2 ...
I've watched the show and love it, of course. One of the main things that stands out is your faith and how it's so integral to your job, the show and your team. Could you talk a little about that?
I learned the faith from my mother and father. My mother was half Chirakawa indian and she was a minster. The mother before her, my Grandma Pauline, was almost fullblood Chirakawa indian and she was a preacher. So the women on my side of the family have been preachers. My mother would take me to the reservation with her. We would preach to the American indians. Collect money in the offering. I was raised a Christian -- with a spirit like that.
I made bad mistakes in life. When you do that, you go back to your roots to see what went wrong. I realized God had given me a mission in life that was very important. Either I was going to do what he wanted me to do or I wasn't going to do anything at all. I realized that in the '70s when I went to prison. Sitting in that cell, I asked, "Where did I go wrong?" God told me, "You know where you went wrong." So, I thought, "I'm already a criminal in my mind. What do I do about my heart? Maybe if I completely straighten up and be the exact opposite of a criminal, which is some kind of law enforcement, that might work." So far it has.
While you'll take bounties down hard, unlike other bondsmen, you seem very concerned about what happens to them afterward.
I really am. I've been in their position. I always looked for the cop to say the right words to me to help me out. I never found them. Where was the guy coming to me to say, "Duane, you're making a mistake. Stop!" It just never happened. If someone would've done that, besides throwing me in a prison, I would've stopped. So, now it's my chance.
The real truth of it is, years ago, I asked the Lord, "What kind of people am I responsible for in life? Judges? Lawyers?" In Christianity, we believe Jesus died on a cross and with him there were two guys. In a dream, God asked me, "What do those guys do for a living?" I said, "They're thieves. Robbers. They're sinners." And God said, "Those are the guys you're responsible for." I told my mother about what I thought was a terrible dream -- that I would be responsible for criminals! Why can't I be responsible for something nice? [Laughs.] My mom said, "That is one of the greatest gifts from God, son, because Jesus died with the same kind of people next to him." When she said it like that, it made me cry out.
To this day, I'm proud that those are my people. I feel responsible in a parental kind of way. When I first started, all the criminals were older than me. Now, as I go through life, all the criminals are younger than me. I'm like their stepfather. Their uncle. "Uncle Dog the Bounty Hunter got me and I changed my life!"
Did you get to see HBO's bounty hunter show?
I watched every episode. Tom Evangelista and his family.
The concept is the same, but the shows couldn't be more different. How do you account for why yours has really connected with people?
I don't know. I talk to Tom once and awhile through the shows. He watched mine. I watched his. His little boy called me and said, "Uncle Dog, you're my hero!" I was like, "Whoa!" I told Tom we were a lot different and he said, "Well, you live in Hawaii and I live in New York." [Laughs.] I left it at that.
Your wife Beth is a force of nature all on her own.
Boy, is that a kind way to put it!
Y'all seem to have such a wonderful relationship. Is it editing that allows you to be in a verbal tussle one moment and all lovey the next?
No, that's real! We don't argue. We call it debating. [Laughs.] I told her the United States Constitution says all MEN are created equal -- it doesn't say women. [Laughs.] She thinks she's in this woman's world and that she's got as many rights as I do. No, in all seriousness, we had to sign waivers that said we'd show what really goes on. You'll notice A&E doesn't use the word "reality" with our show -- it's our real life.
I understand you're starting to film the second season. Anything different to look ahead toward?
Well, Justin is no longer on the show. He's been replaced by my oldest son Duane Lee II. He bounty hunted with me for years until he decided he wanted to go be a money investor. He was doing a very good job and I literally had to pull him away from it.
My good, good friend Richie is a cop from Texas. I told him, "Please, take a few years off and come join me, brother." I went looking for a guy for the team and I didn't want to find some tough guy or someone who chews nails for breakfast. I wanted to find, like, The Professor on Gilligan's Island. You know what I mean? And I wanted him to have a cop's knowledge of police work. But, most of all, I went looking for the guy with the heart.
I found out Richie had booked thousands of prisoners into the Tarrant County jail in Texas and the cops told me, "He always goes back to the cell and talks to the inmates. He's the cop who'd make the phone call to your mother." You get one phone call and, of course, you call your lawyer. Meanwhile, your wife or your mother doesn't know what the hell happened to you the whole night. Sometimes there's this one cop who'll use his own cellphone -- and that was Richie.
Sounds like a kindred spirit for sure.
Yes, absolutely, that's a good way to put it. Thank you for saying it.
Surely it has to be more difficult to work with a couple of cameramen and a guy with a microphone. How are you able to still do your job?
Over 10 years, I've worked with six or seven other crews, including Langley Productions' COPS film crew. But this crew here -- they're men. They're tough. They won't run. We had a guy the other day who wouldn't come out of the house and wanted to, what we call, "hold court in the street." He was going to shoot it out. "Come get me! I don't care!" And then he said, "What's that guy got over his shoulder, Dog?" I said, "That's a bazooka grenade launcher. He's gonna shoot a missile into your house and blow it to the ground!" Two minutes later, the guy came walking out with his hands in the air.
So, whatever you have with you, you can use. Like if it's raining that day, I have to use that rain to my advantage -- to make it good. Because there's four or five people on the camera crew, when the guy first sees all of us, he doesn't know if God's just opened up the gates and there's 12 angels in front of him. He's going down no matter what. He doesn't know half of them are only carrying cameras and microphones. [Laughs.]
There's been crew guys whose wives wouldn't let them come back or the guy says, "Dog, I just can't stand this. I couldn't sleep. I thought I was going to die." So, through the years, we've gone through them. These guys today are, "OK, Dog, just do your thing!" I don't mean to say this to be some badass, but as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, "They're not sissy men." They believe in me. The chemistry we have is like fighting in Iraq or Vietnam where you and the guy next to you go through a battle and become brothers. You write letters to each other for the rest of your life. This is our little bit of that. The camaraderie. You face death with these guys. They become your family. I'm very proud of the crew.
Listen, you've been great. As a fan, could you just do me one last favor? Could you call me "brah?"