The man with the most affable smile in show business, Dennis Quaid is one of the most reliable actors we have, with a three-decade long career of well-received films. It was back in 1979 that Quaid first broke out as one of four teenage friends in the hit Breaking Away, and classics like The Right Stuff and Postcards from the Edge followed.
After a spotty mid-’90s of hits and misses, Quaid re-emerged with success stories both critical (Traffic) and commercial (Frequency) before establishing himself as a bona fide box office draw in the hit Disney spots movie The Rookie.
Not wanting to pigeonhole himself as simply the likable lead, Quaid’s next role was playing Julianne Moore‘s closeted gay husband in the 1950s-set Far From Heaven – a performance that most people agree was snubbed of an Oscar nomination.
Since then, he’s toyed with his age (playing a man with a much younger boss in In Good Company), starred in a mega-blockbuster (The Day After Tomorrow) and even played the president of the United States (in the satire American Dreamz). And while not all of his movies have been hits, he’s currently back on top – Vantage Point, an ensemble action flick that tells six different perspectives of a supposed presidential assassination, debuted at #1 last weekend. We were luckily enough to chat with Quaid just prior to the film’s release.
“It’s sort of like Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame,” Quaid says of the film’s structure, which shifts viewpoints between its six main characters. “You get to be the star of yours for fifteen minutes, and then you’re a glorified extra in everybody else’s story. Just like in life!”
He notes that it’s easier than carrying the entire movie on your back. “It was actually a very fun way to work. I thought it was such an interesting way to tell a story. I’d seen Rashomon [a classic movie with a similar narrative conceit] before, and I think there was actually an American version of Rashomon made shortly after that. It had Paul Newman in it. I can’t remember the name of it. It was told from three different points of view. It’s a very interesting way to tell a story.” (The film is 1964’s The Outrage.)
And despite his modest claim to only be the star of his section of the film, if you had to pick a central character of the film, it would be Quaid. One of the major climactic set pieces is a ten-minute car chase through the narrow streets of Spain.
Quaid admits that seeing the finished chase was an eye-opener. “We really wanted it to be good, and I did a lot of the driving myself, ’cause I only have seventeen lines of dialogue in this movie so I had to do something,” he says with a grin. “To see it all put together, because it was done in bits and pieces over a 10-week period, was very exciting. I just love to drive, too.”
Since Quaid’s character is a CIA agent trying to protect the president, you know what that means â€“ he got to train with real agents before filming began. “It was really interesting,” he says. “Mostly it was a few ex-Secret Service guys who came down to Mexico City and trained us for a few weeks before we started shooting. It was mostly about choreography, how they protect the President when he goes into crowds and receiving lines. It’s almost like a football team, everyone knows their job. It’s all been planned out six months in advance to begin with. Nothing happens impromptu in those situations. Within the crowd too. You have the guys in front of the President as he goes down the line, someone behind the President with his hand up under his jacket under his belt so he can jerk him out of the way, guys that are three rows into the crowd scanning everybody, and guys behind the crowd.”
He was able to learn a few other choice tidbits about the CIA, too. “For instance, the Reagan assassination attempt, even though it was ultimately a failure, those guys still feel like it was a failure on their part because they should have caught it way back,” Quaid says. “They receive a lot of threats to the President every day from all different sources throughout the country and the world, and they have to check out every one of them. They keep tabs on people, call them up every once in awhile, find out where they are, form relationships with them.”
Vantage Point was one of four movies that Quaid worked on back-to-back â€“ an experience that he says was worthwhile but that he’s never planning on doing again. First up is the indie Sundance hit Smart People, co-starring Juno‘s Ellen Page as well as Thomas Haden Church and Sarah Jessica Parker. After that comes the sports movie The Express and the dark thriller The Horsemen.
And now Quaid’s about to start work on another huge summer blockbuster: G.I. Joe.
“My generation is only familiar with G.I. Joe the doll, which really didn’t do much,” Quaid says. “He was ‘G.I. Joe, fighting man from head to toe.’ The generation of 35-year-olds remembers the television show, and that’s really more what it’s going to be like. The actual playing out of it, the way it’s written, the way we’re going to do it is more like the cartoon show and a little like the old James Bond â€“ Dr. No, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., lots of gadgets, things like that.”
Yep, it looks like Quaid should have a bright future of crowdpleasers and the occasional indie for some time to come. Still, you just can’t top some things â€“ and when Quaid is asked what his favorite film experience was, he doesn’t even hesitate.
“The Right Stuff. Because it was such a boyhood thing wanting to be an astronaut. My favorite astronaut was Gordon Cooper. I read the book before they even mentioned doing a movie. I read the book and thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to play Gordon Cooper if they ever do this.’ And then I got it! From there I got my pilot’s license, Chuck Yeager was on the set…It lasted nine months. Not only that but the director and the cast were so close. It was just a special time.”