Dennis Quaid plays a wide variety of characters in films like Vantage Point, In Good Company, and The Day After Tomorrow, yet he always retains a similar, recognizable appearance. That all changes with Smart People, where Quaid dons a fat suit, a scruffy beard, and a depressed attitude to play Lawrence, a college professor and widower struggling to come to terms with his wife’s death. He must also deal with his two rebellious teenaged children, one of whom is played by Juno star Ellen Page, and a disruptive adopted brother played by Thomas Haden Church.
Did he observe real college professors in order to get into character? “It was the script really, Mark [Poirier]‘s script,” Quaid says. “He comes from this world really and his family comes from this world and so it was really just relying on the script more than any kind of research or anything like that.”
Equally as important was the character’s physical appearance. “I put on a fat suit everyday which gave me a wedgie which helped me feel uncomfortable which he should be and just be kind of sedentary with the beard as well,” he says. “I had fun doing it.”
A moment later he changes his mind and admits that having a beard wasn’t that much fun. “Not really in the end,” he says. “It’s kind of great for the first week because you don’t have to shave and then it becomes too much of a carpet on your face.”
Although, Quaid realizes that all of Lawrence’s physical attributes were necessary to show his state of mind. “I figured he hadn’t really done much grooming since his wife had died,” he says. “He’s sleepwalking in a way.”
That is, until he ends up in the emergency room and meets Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), a doctor and a former student of his. He becomes attracted to her, and she’s immediately attracted to him too despite his gloominess. “[Her] character was also my student back when I was alive and had a passion for what I was doing as well, so I think maybe that’s it,” he says. “Her character also has a similar dysfunction in her ability to form relationships in an intimate way and we sort of meet somewhere in there, where that is I don’t know but it just sort of happens.”
Lawrence buries himself in academia as a teacher at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon, but Quaid can still remember his days as a student. “In 8th grade there was this one history teacher that all of us guys had a crush on,” he says. “We were very attentive in class.”
However, Quaid feels strange calling himself a “smart person”. “In truth how many of us feel that we’re smart, even if we are?” he says. “For the most part I walk around feeling kind of in the dark.”
Recently Quaid had a scary, almost tragic, eye-opening experience when his newborn twins were accidentally given the wrong dosage of blood thinner medication. He has now made it his mission to speak out and educate people about the dangers of malpractice. “It happened to us and we’re the people supposedly with special treatment so it can really happen to anybody,” he says. “But the only difference is that something that happened to my kids killed 3 other kids a year and a half before. No one heard of it and so if there’s good that comes out of it it’s that it does get out there and raise public awareness of it that maybe we can do something about it.”
Despite his protests to the contrary, Dennis Quaid is one intelligent guy.