When veteran TV actor Erik Estrada signed on for “Mira Quien Baila!,” a dance-competition series entering its sophomore season on Univision, he had a good reason. “My mom wants to see me in a Latin television program,” says Estrada, best known for his role as “Ponch,” a California highway patrolman on NBC’s long-running drama “CHiPs.” “I can do 10,000 things in English, but Latin is God to her.” And Estrada is confident he has game. “I’m not a big salsa dancer, but I can move,” he assures us. “I can do some disco. I can do some rock ’n’ roll. All I’ve got to do is learn what they’re going to teach me.” In honor of the show’s September 11 premiere, we challenged Estrada to talk pop culture with us.
What’s on your reading list?
Charlotte’s Web. My daughter has to do a report on it.
What was your first cultural experience?
When I watched “The Untouchables” -- the original one with Robert Stack, back in the ‘50s when we finally got a black and white TV. I loved that a bunch of guys went after the bad guys.
What was your first record purchase?
I have so much music. I have over 40,000 CDs! I think it was Rod McKuen at Carnegie Hall.
What was the last song you downloaded?
“I’m Yours,” by Jason Mraz
If you had to be stranded with one DVD what would it be?
Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” is a brilliant movie. It’s about four hours long, but it’s so well done. It’s about the Jewish mafia in Lower Manhattan.
What was the first R-rated movie you saw?
What TV reruns consistently draw you in?
“Everybody Loves Raymond.” I dig chilling out and watching four or five episodes, because I didn’t catch it when it was first running, and it was a great show.
What TV show would you like to revive?
I’d like to revive Dean Martin, and have him sing one more song for me. He was a big “CHiPs” fan too.
What’s your cultural guilty pleasure?
Well-prepared, authentic Latin food
What’s next in your Netflix queue?
“What Dreams May Come,” with Robin Williams
On a scale of 1-10, lowbrow to highbrow, how would you rate yourself?
One brow up
What was your worst cultural experience?
When I had to learn to read and speak Spanish at the age of 44 for a Latin soap opera. I grew up in New York in an English-speaking environment. This happens to a lot of kids from different backgrounds -- they lose a lot of their parents’ and grandparents’ teachings, language and culture because they have to deal with another language and culture 24/7. By the time I was 44, I was terrible at Spanish. I was always intimidated whenever I had to speak it. But I was offered such a great opportunity that I had to dig in and learn it.
What movie character do you most relate to?
Max von Sydow’s character in “The Virgin Spring,” a movie that influenced me when I was about 14. It had a lot-- the love of his wife and daughter and then the loss of the daughter. He performed justice on the guys who took her innocence. And he prepared for it -- he didn’t just go hit them with a bat. He prepared for himself to bring justice as if he was going off to fight in another country. It was pretty awesome and really impressed me. I think it was my first foreign movie.
Who would you want to play you in a biopic?
Wilmer Valderrama, because he’s very grounded with his love for his parents.
If they made a movie about your life what would it be called?
“My Road from Harlem to Hollywood”
What’s the first movie you snuck out to see?
“House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price
What’s your opinion of reality TV?
It depends what type -- cooking reality shows are very interesting, and very conducive to a person’s betterment. They encourage people to learn culinary skills. But some of this other reality stuff they’ve got on is garbage. It’s purely people’s egos being put out there. “Top Model” is pretty good, because it gives these girls an opportunity to chase their passion and possibly get a contract. But this other stuff--the Housewives of 42nd Street, or Housewives of Toilet Alley -- those things are wacked.