Erik Estrada has pretty much done it all.
After getting his break in a Christian film, "The Cross and the Switchblade," that starred Pat Boone, he went on to become chick magnet Frank "Ponch" Poncherello on motorcycle-cop drama "CHiPs." Since then, he's done everything from telenovelas to reality TV ("The Surreal Life") to guest shots on everything from "My Name Is Earl" to "Sabrina the Teenage Witch."
After becoming a genuine police officer in Indiana some years ago, he's focused more on law enforcement, and stopping Internet predators in particular -- but on occasion, Estrada still takes on an acting project. His next one, "Chupacabra vs. the Alamo," hits the Syfy Channel on March 23. As DEA agent Carlos Seguin, Estrada must face off against a murderous pack of chupacabras -- the mythical "goat-suckers" who drain animals (and sometimes humans) of their blood -- while holed up in the Alamo, where his legendary ancestor Juan Seguin fought with distinction.
Watch an exclusive clip of Estrada taking down a chupacabra:
Can Seguin, his estranged son, and their cohorts defend San Antonio from the bloodthirsty creatures? And more importantly, how did Estrada feel about acting opposite the CGI equivalents of what's often called "the Latino Bigfoot"? Does he even believe in these beasts?
He'd heard of them, he told Yahoo! TV. "It's this sort of legendary thing, it's like the Big Bad Wolf. … It circulated through the Latin community, and then ultimately it got here, to the United States." He's not sure he believes in chupacabras or other supernatural entities himself, or that the audience does -- "but they sure like watchin' movies about it!"
So does Estrada, who reminisced about the horror movies he used to love as a kid: "the Frankenstein movies," the Abbott and Costello versions, "and also movies like 'The Tingler' and 'House on Haunted Hill' with Vincent Price -- when I used to go to the movies for a quarter!"
And like Price, Estrada always plays it straight in a role like this. "You don't do camp. You do comedy campy, but you gotta play it straight and real. You got somebody [who] just got bit in the neck, and the blood is shooting in the air, you gotta react to that. You can't go, 'Oooh boo boooo' -- no. You react to it as a real situation, that's all."
Some actors would have difficulty playing against CGI hellhounds, or puppets, but Estrada relished amping it up for the special-effects team. "It was fun! Because you can let your imagination go crazy," he explained. "You can pretend there's four of 'em coming at you, and you start firing your handgun, your shotgun at 'em -- oh, it's just awesome, and then that's the great part, because if you do that, with the right attitude and the right determination, then they can make the destruction of one of 'em that you hit more sensationalistic." The bigger the acting, in other words, the bigger the editors can go with the results. "They love that kind of thing, when you're serious about it."
Estrada himself is serious about being a cop these days -- protecting kids. He broke down his longtime career goals for us: "I've always wanted to be a cop since I was seven years old. A New York cop. I was gonna be one." But he got bit by the acting bug as a teenager, so he made himself a deal: He would give himself 'til age 30 to make something happen. "If I couldn't make enough money to get my mother out of Harlem and off of welfare and living the way I wanted her to live, because my dad was a piece of s--- heroin addict," Estrada said, he'd try something else. Certainly he's never been afraid of work. "I sold sno-cones, shined shoes; I always had a job after school. I was always doin' it. Taking care of business."
At 27, he became a TV cop on "CHiPs," and ten years ago, he became a real-life cop in Muncie, Indiana (via short-lived series "Armed & Famous," which also starred La Toya Jackson and Jack Osbourne). Now he's protecting youth from online predators, and not just as a figurehead, either. "I'm a federal investigator. I belong to a federal task force, and I pop these guys. I cage these animals who want to steal our children's innocence and destroy them."
"So," he summed up, "I was a kid who wanted to be a cop, who became an actor who played a cop. Now I'm a cop who acts once in a while."
Estrada takes his work seriously, but not himself. "Listen," he told us in a serious tone, "laughter is the key, to longevity and a happy heart. But a man does have to have a place to go in the morning; he has to have a reason to get up and go to work. That's why you have family, that's why you have children." He'll do jobs he likes for 10 bucks, and won't do jobs he doesn't like for any price -- but his current job suits him to a tee, he said. "I love what I do, I like people, and I love bein' a real cop."
Not that he's ruled out a return to series TV, mind you. He outlined a show premise for us in some detail: Estrada's the widowed father of three, with a teenager and two school-aged kids, plus a nanny. "It keeps me open for women coming in and out of the show, in a comedy situation, or in a drama situation." He'd love a sitcom gig, because that would let him stay in California with his own family; currently, he's traveling around the country, "trying to get Internet safety education put in our schools."
And keeping Texas safe from ravenous chupacabras, of course.
Dig into the history of the chupacabra with this "Animal X" episode:
"Chupacabra vs. the Alamo" premieres Saturday, 3/23 at 9 PM on Syfy.