In Good Company: An Interview with Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace
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By Todd Gilchrist
EVERYONE SAYS THAT YOU'RE A SWEETIE PIE NOW. WHAT HAPPENED?
QUAID: I don't know what happened. It's medication.
PAUL WEITZ SAID THAT HE AND THE STUDIO WERE SURPRISED THAT YOU DID THIS ROLE BECAUSE IT'S A DANGEROUS ROLE TO TAKE AS YOU APPROACH FIFTY?
QUAID: Well, I don't see how that's a risky thing to play your own age. I don't see how it's a risky thing to take a great part with a great director and a great script. That to me is not really a dangerous, risky proposition. It's actually a really good choice.
DO YOU THINK THAT THIS MOVIE IS SAYING THAT AS YOU GET OLDER YOU BECOME IRRELEVANT AND IS THAT SOMETHING THAT'S TRUE FOR HOLLYWOOD?
GRACE: Well, I think that the film is saying that there's a perception that's true and that perception is wrong. My dad has a phrase that goes, 'Having more energy doesn't mean that you're smarter.'
YOU HAVE A GREAT LINE WHEN YOU SAY, 'NO ONE HAS TAKEN THE TIME TO GIVE ME SUCH A HARD TIME BEFORE.'
QUAID: That is a great line.
CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT WHAT IT IS THAT CARTER'S CHARACTER IS DRAWN TO AND WHAT BOTH OF YOUR PERSPECTIVES ARE ON A HEALTHY AND REWARDING FAMILY LIFE?
GRACE: Well, sure. Carter has got everything on paper. His parents were both absent, but he's got the right car, and the right job and the right life and the right house. But I think that once I go home to Dennis' character's house I start to actually see something that I really want, but I don't know how to get it. I don't know if Paul would agree with me on this, but I think that he's dating Dan's daughter as a consolation prize instead of actually being in the family. Like, he would trade it all in just to be in his family.
QUAID: I think that in the film too what happens in the relationship between the two of us, I think that it's by design. Here I am a guy with two daughters and you're rooting for him to have a son in a way. He's certainly surrounded by women and he winds up in the end happily having a daughter, but he's also gained a son in his relationship with Topher I think, Topher's character.
THE CARTER CHARACTER BEGINS BY SELLING CELL PHONES TO CHILDREN FEWER THAN FIVE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE THEME IN THE MOVIE OF OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE NEW?
QUAID: Well, back in the day when I was a young man, no one had a cell phone up to their ear or a laptop that was wireless to carry around anywhere that you wanted or a video game that you could carry in your pocket. People had to talk to one another in between the three channels that they'd watch on TV and the commercials.
GRACE: I don't know what you're talking about.
QUAID: All that's changed now.
GRACE: What I hate is that what cell phones have done is that time that you'd have to yourself in the car or something, you could actually be alone with your thoughts. You don't have that time anymore.
QUAID: Yeah. You don't have to be alone with your thoughts anymore. You don't have to process anything. You can call up someone to do something to instantly make you sort of feel better. But they're also great things. They opened up communication and now you can do it any time.
RECENTLY, YOU SAID THAT YOU'D HAVE TO BE DRAGGED KICKING AND SCREAMING TO MAKE ANY CHANGES. IS THAT STILL TRUE?
QUAID: Well, I think that's what most of do in a way. We get settled in our lives and we get comfortable. That's what I meant. We get comfortable in our lives and things work for us and someone comes along and says, 'You know, your jeans are really out of date.' And you don't see it or whatever. But whatever it is I have a resistance to change in things that I feel comfortable with and that I'm used to. So that's what I meant about being dragged kicking and screaming.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT IS THAT YOU HAVE THAT MAKES PEOPLE ADMIRE AND IDENTIFY WITH THE SORT OF EVERYMAN CHARACTERS THAT YOU PLAY SO WELL?
QUAID: I don't think that it's anything conscious, what I do. I don't set out and say, 'Well, this guy is an Everyman. I'm going to play an Everyman.' I play a specific person when I do a part. But each actor brings a big piece of himself to a role. That's the way it is. It's an actor's interpretation of that. I don't know. As far as like keeping touch with my roots or whatever, I just feel really grateful to still be here doing this thing. I don't feel an entitlement to the position that I'm in, in life. I'm really grateful and I feel blessed that I'm still able to do it. A lot of people that I started out with, I wonder where they are now. So I just feel like I'm lucky.
PAUL SAID THAT HE WAS A LITTLE BIT INTIMIDATED BY YOU, DENNIS...
QUAID: Well, everyone does. [Laughs]
WHAT'S YOUR DEFINITION OF A STRONG DIRECTOR, AND FOR TOPHER, DID YOU FEEL INTIMIDATED IN THIS SITUATION AND OR OTHERS, AND HOW DO GET PAST THAT INTO BEING COMFORTABLE?
QUAID: My interpretation of a strong director is someone who knows their story. That's what directors are, they're storytellers because they're directing where your focus is going to be as an audience. As an actor, it's really difficult to see yourself a lot of times, and what will happen when you're in doubt is that you will rely on crutches. That's what I call them. They're the things that you do, actor's mannerisms or whatever that you do that you know work in a sense. But at the same time, that may not be right for the part or it may be something else there that if you just dug a little bit deeper would propel your character a little farther. That's what a great director will see in you. He won't let you get away with your own bullshit.
GRACE: Yeah, I mean, I knew Dennis a little bit from the kind of three month post release party for 'Traffic.' But just the idea of acting with someone who's so good for three months, you might be able to get away with for one day. It was daunting, but you can see that Dennis is the nicest guy. He's the most easy going, nice guy. I think that it's just his talent that's intimidating.
WHAT ABOUT THE PRACTICAL JOKES THAT HE PLAYED ON YOU?
GRACE: You know what, that was the first day of shooting. That really set the tone. It was this scene in the restaurant where he thinks that he's getting fired and then he's not. So we shot his side of it. I think that Paul did his side of it first so that I could get my flow going and then they turned the cameras around on me and I came back and his stand in was there, and he said, 'I'll be reading Dennis' lines during this scene.' I went, 'Okay.'
QUAID: I was just over at the monitor with Paul watching the beads of sweat come up on him and the inner monologue. It was good. [Laughs]
DID YOU TRY AND GET HIM BACK FOR THAT BECAUSE HE'S STILL LAUGHING AT YOU?
GRACE: I hope that our relationship is the opposite of our characters, and it is. I'm really open in talking about how green that I am and how much I just want to learn. I want to be the least good person in any project that I do. It was certainly true of this.
DENNIS, WHEN DID YOU REALIZE, 'HEY, THIS KID CAN ACT. I'M NOT GOING TO HAVE TO WORK TOO HARD?'
GRACE: That moment never happened [Laughs].
QUAID: Look, I want to work with great people. Great people really make you better. Topher and I, we read together before we even started the movie and it was just really obvious how talented he was.
GRACE: I'll also say that there were a lot more famous people who wanted to play my role. This was before the film. Dennis was kind enough to put in his three cents and I don't think that I would've gotten the role if Dennis hadn't had stepped in and said that I could do it. So I'm grateful for that. It's not something that was on the set, this kind of figuring it out.
SO A SHAFT OF LIGHT DIDN'T COME DOWN AND YOU DIDN'T REALIZE, 'THIS KID IS AN ACTOR?'
GRACE: I think that's a moment that the director had.
DID YOUR GENEROSITY TOWARDS ACTORS THAT TOPHER HAS TALKED ABOUT COME TO YOU BECAUSE OF THE WAY THAT YOU WERE TREATED AS A YOUNGER ACTOR EARLY ON?
QUAID: [Deep Voice] Well, I've been around so long that I've had it all. Okay? I've been from the bottom to the top, treated like a dish rag and yesterday's news. [His voice now] I don't know. I think that it's the way that you grow up. It's the way that you're taught to treat people. I think that it makes for a good work environment to support everyone, you're all there on the same team or whatever. The idea that there's some sort of competition going on between the new hot guy and the old or whatever, that might make a good story someplace, but it's not the way that it actually is on the set. I think that it's best to pull from everyone.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU LEARNED WHILE YOU WERE SHOOTING THIS FILM?
GRACE: Sure. A big part of it for me was just trying to shut up and observe because you can ask tons of questions to people who are as accomplished as Dennis, but the best thing to do I think is just to watch how he talks to the director, how he relates to the crew and how he comes prepared everyday. So for me it's like that. I never went to acting school.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN APPROACHED ABOUT 'SUPERMAN?'
GRACE: No. No. I never got that call. No. It was Jimmy Olsen. [Laughs] And no. I think that I know the guy who is playing the role.
BUT YOU HEARD THAT?
GRACE: Yeah. I bumped into Mischa Barton and I said, 'Hey, are we in "Superman?"' She said, 'No. We're not.' [Laughs]
IS THIS THE LAST SEASON OF 'THAT '70'S SHOW?'
GRACE: No. Well, I don't know. This may or may not be our last season. This is my last season. I have ten episodes left as of Friday night.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN AFTER THE SHOW FOR YOU?
GRACE: Well, I did three movies this year and the show. I bought an apartment in New York and I'm going to try and relax. Although, the reality of what's going to happen is that this will come out and I'm going to do two other movies in a row.
QUAID: That's good. I think that it's good timing for him actually because I think that he's really getting ready to take off.
GRACE: See, look at this guy, how great is he?
WHAT WOULD YOU WARN HIM ABOUT IF YOU THINK HE'S GOING TO EXPLODE?
QUAID: Warn him about? He doesn't really need my advice. He's a smart guy and he handles himself really well. So certainly I don't think that he really needs my advice about anything.
THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO ARE IN JOBS THAT THEY DON'T LOVE. WOULD YOU ADVISE YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WANT TO ACT THAT THEY BETTER LOVE IT OR GET OUT OF IT?
QUAID: Absolutely. I mean, if you don't really love this, I don't see how you're going to last at it because it's just too frustrating of a career to get into number one. It's almost impossible. Some people do fall into it. But if you don't love it, it's not going to sustain you. There's just too much there against it.
TOPHER, IF YOU DIDN'T LOVE IT RIGHT NOW WOULD YOU DO IT?
GRACE: I did fall into it as Dennis was alluding to. At the beginning, I was excited to be on a sitcom. Like, I liked sitcoms. But once I did 'Traffic,' once I was in a situation that was that good, all of a sudden I started to realize, 'Uh oh, I'm really starting to fall in love with this new job. I've got to find a way to replicate this experience.'
QUAID: It's a lucky thing in the world to do this. You were nineteen when you got that show and I was eighteen or nineteen back in drama class at the University of Houston. There's a moment that comes and I think that it comes for anyone who loves their job and what they do and they've been at it for a while where you realize at an early age, because it's such a gift to realize at an early age what you want to do with your life and know what you want to do. It's really a great gift.
WHAT EXPERIENCES PERSONALLY HAVE YOU HAD IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU COULD DRAW UPON TO COMMUNICATE WHAT YOUR CHARACTERS NEEDED TO COMMUNICATE?
GRACE: Well, I'm a wreck right now. No. First of all, I don't think that Dan Forman is that. I mean, I know what you're saying. They are Ying and yang. But Dan is doing well. He just gets displaced a little bit by a couple of events in his life. I mean, even Carter recognizes that he's a great salesman.
BUT YOUR BOSS THINKS THAT DENNIS' CHARACTER IS A LOSER.
GRACE: Yeah that's true. I think that there's always...I think that irony is always present in everyone's life. I stayed in the hotel last night and I was watching Tony Robbins and there were some really interesting points about how something is going well in one part of your life, but it's not going well in the other part of your life. So I'm going to those tapes soon [Laughs].
HOW DO YOU THINK THAT MOVIES CAN BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN WHAT LIFE IS REALLY LIKE AND HOW HOLLYWOOD MAKES LIFE SEEM LIKE?
QUAID: Well, maybe the Hollywood community in way is being perceived here especially during the last several months of the political process as very polarizing. I think that it was for all of us. But as far as the films that actually come out of Hollywood, Hollywood makes a lot of films that have family values. It's not necessarily all of them, but you can go back to 'It's A Wonderful Life' or 'Forrest Gump.' I've been in one, 'The Rookie.' Especially around Christmas time there's quite a large amount of films that come out and express family values.
GRACE: I think that it's specific to the filmmaker. And I think that Paul, I mean, I've never met someone with better family values than Paul.
QUAID: Yeah that's the truth.
GRACE: Just to see him with his wife and newborn. So I know that it's very present in his mind. And you can see it in the film.
WHAT ABOUT AN OSCAR NOMINATION FOR THIS MOVIE?
QUAID: I don't know. I think that it's all a lot of talk until something happens. I'll leave that for other people to decide about. It feels really great. You can't deny that. It's always nice to be recognized for you work.
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