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February 2008
VANTAGE POINT : An Interview with Dennis Quaid


An Interview with Dennis Quaid
By Wilson Morales

February 21, 2008

The last time I saw Dennis Quaid on the big screen, he was playing the role of the President of the United States in ‘American Dreamz’, where a character wanted to assassinate him. That was only part of the story, but what’s interesting is that in his next role, Quaid now plays the role of a secret service agent who has to protect the President from assassination and when he doesn’t, we are taken to eight different angles as to what went wrong. The film is ‘Vantage Point’ and Quaid stars along with Matthew Fox, Sigourney Weaver, and recent Oscar winner Forest Whitaker.

In speaking with blackfilm.com, Quaid talks about his role in the film, working with Fox, and his upcoming role in ‘G.I Joe’.

I just saw this thing on TV saying that you have eighteen lines of dialogue in this movie and that you’re basically running around and doing all this action. Was this something you wanted to do? Did you want to do something more action driven?

Dennis Quaid: It was part of the appeal really, but I thought also what was really good about the movie is how it kind of pulled the story through the action rather than a lot of exposition and set up and all that, it was spare in it’s way of that, it’s an exciting story, an interesting story told in an interesting way by it being a Rashomon like that.

Did you know a lot more about your character? We know obviously that he took a bullet for the President before did they have a lot more about your character that you knew which we didn’t actually know about?

Quaid: I come up with a biography for just about every character I do, especially with something like this, it really doesn’t matter and the audience doesn’t have to know, but sort of for myself it gets felt a little bit, we actually came up with the idea, Pete and I did to put in that scene at the end in the hotel room where he’s getting ready, you know it’s his first day back on the job and he’s doubting himself and that’s all you needed to know really I think it informed the character for the audience and that’s really all one needed to know.

When watching the movie, I think it keeps track of time fairly well and you understand where you are in the story, but as an actor doing the part, how careful did you have to be about, “Okay, where are we in the story? I’m at this point now.” Was that confusing at all?

Quaid: Not the way that we did it, that was really Pete’s job and because he did it so well it made it really easy for everyone else. What we did is, basically we would shoot and be on the same set in the square and we would shoot one point of view for about four or five days and then we would shoot another character’s point of view for four or five days even though it might have been more efficient since you were there and the cameras were in place at a particular point to skip around, it just made it a little clearer I think for everyone to know whose story we were doing and to do that all the way through.

You got to play with the change of your characterization from different points of view, can you just talk about what you were doing?

Quaid: Well, not really, I didn’t. I played it pretty much the same all the way through without changing anything, I think it’s because the audience is informed from another character’s point of view and knows one more piece of the puzzle, it kind of flips everything and makes the audience really wonder what’s going on, so I think you see things in a different way.

You play so many different characters, if you could hang out with any of the characters that you’ve played in real life, who would be the one you’d be most likely to hang out with?

Quaid: Really? What a dinner party that would be though wouldn’t it? To have Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gordon Cooper, and Doc Holliday, I think Doc Holliday and Jerry Lee Lewis would either really get along or really kill each other, they’d be running buddies. I had a really good time playing Gordon Cooper and I did hang out with him actually and he was my favorite, he was my hero when I was a kid.

What kind of movies do you enjoy when you’re not working?

Quaid: I feel like I’m trying to be eclectic in my choice of films, if I’ve done anything that’s been sort of intentional in my career it’s to try to do as many different types of characters in as many types of genres of movies that I can and the same in my taste, I like any kind of film as long as it’s good.

What were your favorite movies of the past year?

Quaid: “No Country for Old Men”, I really liked that one. I liked “The Kite Runner” too, I liked “The Namesake”. I was working so much this past year I really didn’t have time to go to movies this summer, I’m trying to run it back, it’s hard to remember that far back.

You’ve been so busy this past year, you’ve got so many movies coming out you’ve got “The Horseman”, “The Express”, “G.I. Joe”. Can you just talk about working a lot and going from one thing to another?

Quaid: Well I’ve got four movies coming out which I don’t know if I’ll ever do again because really it starts to get to you after a while, but it happens to be a year where four unique, interesting films came along back to back. “Smart People” is coming out in April which is a very anti-action type of character and role, I’m a college professor and overweight and sort of pudgy and his emotional life has come to a halt, he’s kind of lost his fire for what he’s doing in life. “The Horseman” is a horror movie with heart basically where I play a cop, and “The Express” is a sports movie about Ernie Davis, the first black athlete to win the Heisman Trophy and I play his coach, Schwartzwalder, who was a legendary coach, and I think the movie is really about in the end, race relations in the country and it speaks to historically and as well as speaks to today.

I saw “Smart People” at Sundance and I thought was interesting that you were playing against type compared to some other things, I was wondering if that was something you did deliberately.

Quaid: I couldn’t actually understand why they wanted me to do that role and it was really in a way kind of daunting to take it on and it was also why I wanted to do it as well, to really try something different.

Can you talk about the car chase sequence in this movie? When we see you, we see you in the car driving much of the time, a lot of that driving I’m sure is stunt work.

Quaid: Ninety nine percent of it is me actually, you know for the parts where they really kind of bang into each other I left that to someone else. Ilove to drive and I have so few lines of dialogue that I really had to do something in this film and I thought that that was where it would happen, was in the chase, so I wanted to do that as much as I could.

Is it as dangerous as it looks?

Quaid: Well it’s not as dangerous as it looks, there was always a margin of safety and we really worked on it a long time, I loved driving to begin with like I said, and we worked a lot with stunt guys, we’d go out in parking lots and set up cardboard boxes, and come up to them sixty miles and hour, hit the E break and see how close you could come to them with controlling it and not rubbing up against everything.

All those people that we see, were they that close?

Quaid: A lot of it is camera angles that makes it look like you’re a lot closer, but there’s a margin of safety in there, you don’t want to hurt anybody.

Have you spent anytime in Hasbro working on your action figure for “G.I. Joe”?

Quaid: I got scanned for my action figure the other day, it’s anatomically correct too.

Are you involved in any of the romances they talked about in the movie?

Quaid: No I don’t have any romances, but my aide de camp is a “Victoria’s Secret” supermodel Karolina Kurkova, her name is Cover Girl, so it can’t be too serious.

What is your role?

Quaid: Hawk, General Hawk.

Was the action in this preparing you for that? Was it much more intense, or not so much for you?

Quaid: Not so much for me in this one, hopefully there’s going to be two more after this, I don’t really have a lot to do in the first one.

Just bossing people around because you’re the general.

Quaid: Yeah, I really kind of signed up for the future as well.

\ Was this the first time you signed on for a franchise?

Quaid: Yeah I think it is actually.

What made you decide “G.I. Joe”?

Quaid: Well I remember “G.I. Joe” from my generation and certainly it’s a little different from the way the younger generation remembers it from the cartoon show, it just seems like it’s going to be like a lot of fun, it’s a little like a cartoon and it’s a little bit like a modern action film, and it’s also a little bit like James Bond, you know old style where we’re back in the sixties with Dr. No and ???? (10:56) was taking over ????? and doing it’s own sort of criminal country threat to the entire world, and so it’s somewhat tongue and cheek, and it’s got great action, and seems like a lot of fun, I wanted to be a part of it.

The other big summer action movie you did a few years ago, “Day After Tomorrow” had a global warming message, so is “G.I. Joe” going to be just straight up blow things up fun, or is it going to have an underlying message?

Quaid: I think it’s going to be straight up blow things up, yeah people gotta have it.

Going back to this movie, given everything you’ve learned about the secret service, do you think you could really work with the secret service?

Quaid: No absolutely not, I don’t think they would have me.

Why not?

Quaid: Well one thing, I don’t have the pass credentials to get in there and they might consider me a security risk, what those guys do is amazing, they make themselves larger when everybody else is making themselves smaller and hitting the floors when the guns go off, and I really don’t see myself taking a bullet for anybody except for my kids, but they’re amazing people. I don’t think I’d want to be a secret service agent, the movies are exciting and romantic and all that, but really most of their job is really standing in a hallway for twelve hours making sure somebody doesn’t come in a doorway off of a stairwell, I guess I could sort of relate to that, the most boring part of my job is really waiting for them to set up, but they are amazing people.

William Hurt plays a president in this movie whom is very presidential and very respected and you look up to him as an audience, you played a president last year who was a little more of a…

Quaid: A buffoon.

A buffoon. Which do you think is closer to the truth?

Quaid: Presently or in the next election? I really have no idea it’s maybe somewhere in the middle it seems sometimes

.Of all the professions that you have played in your career, whether it be a baseball coach, or a secret service agent, you’re an actor, that’s your living, but are there any professions that you looked at having played them that could be a second career choice if you had the opportunity?

Quaid: I always wanted to be an astronaut, I actually got my Pilot’s license and I could probably still go out and fly for an FBO somewhere, as far as being an astronaut I don’t know. You can pay to do that almost if you’ve got an extra twenty million on you that puts you up there. And baseball players, I love doing that, but the only thing about that is that it ends when you are in your thirties. I really love doing what I do, being an actor, it’s the greatest because you can do it until you die, always something different comes along.

Do you have a hobby that nobody would guess? Do you paint?

Quaid: Yeah I draw, I draw and paint, I write, I horseback ride, I play golf. Basically those are my hobbies.

Do you plan to direct again?

Quaid: Yeah one of these days I’ll sit in that chair, but nothing worth talking about until it happens.

You’ve mentioned your career over the last twenty, twenty five years or so, what do you consider your secret for doing that, because a lot of actors peak and then they don’t do anything?

Quaid: I don’t know, I say that a lot, but I look around and a lot of people that I started out in the business with I really have no clue where they are right now, and I think so much of it has to do with luck, I’ve been extremely lucky and I think a large part of it has to do with tenacity, about hanging in there, when you do lose the fire for what you’re doing, just find some way to get it back, at this point in my career I really feel like I’m having a better time than when I started out I have a fire in my belly to do this and feel very appreciative of having the opportunity to do it at this level and we all go through periods in our life where we become bored, or jaded, or lose sight of what we started out to do and I think keeping the fire alive is the most important thing.

That’s interesting because you mentioned that you could do it at any age pretty much and I’ve talked to a lot of actors who are much older who have had resurgences because a lot of younger actors don’t want to get to that stage of playing fathers, or going to that level where you’re playing the father rather than the love interest.

Quaid: Either that or the audience doesn’t accept you them as playing a father. This business is much harder on women than it is on men, it’s kind of like the spigot for women, once they turn forty it’s really like on their birthday they get shut off as far as what they can be accepted as doing or not doing, there’s a transition there.

What’s your motivation for these films, is it the role, or the film, what’s your driving point?

Quaid: To what?

To stay in this game.

Quaid: I just enjoy acting, I always have, I love playing as many different types of characters as I can, I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick and in different worlds, before I was an actor I was a waiter, I was a construction worker, I was a veterinarian’s assistant, I was never able to hold a job for more than three months for some reason, there was nothing that could hold my attention, I’d either end up quitting or getting fired from it, but being an actor is perfect because movies normally end up taking three months to shoot and when it’s over with and they say, “Great job!” and you go onto the next thing.

You’ve done all these back to back movies, now that you’re a new father again, has that affected how you feel about your press schedule at all? What advice can you give to other working fathers?

Quaid: Being a family is the most important thing in life period, that’s the way it is and that’s the way it goes and daddy also has to make a living usually, with my first child with Jack, I was very aware of spending time with him, that’s really what being a dad is, you really have to be there for them and I was fortunate enough to be able to do that for him throughout his growing up, and he’s sixteen now and in a way that’s kind of more important than ever to spend time with him and where he’s going in life, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he’s doing really well. I’m fortunate now with the two have come along at this point, they have a stay at home mom which means they can all travel with me, and they’re all very portable at this point at least for the next five years until they hit school.

What about the lives of your twins. You recently suffered a health scare with them.

Quaid: Well it was very horrific, two weeks for the two of us that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, as parents, anybody that’s a parent could really feel what we went through and we really did feel the thoughts and prayers from so many people and it helped us through to get through this, and I’m through it and I think it’s had an impact on how the kids have recovered.

What advice if any, could you give to parents who are having loved ones in the hospital?

Quaid: This is really, my wife and I are going to tell our story very soon here in fact, and I don’t want to get to deeply in the context of selling a movie, I’d be glad to talk about it here soon coming up and we’re starting a foundation soon that is dedicated to eliminating the impact of human error in medical errors, which is one of the leading causes of death in our country and any advice for parents or anybody is to have somebody there looking after you, and sometimes you don’t even know, you’re not the doctor, you don’t know the doses, you don’t know what’s going on, something needs to be done about it, we’re going to try to turn something bad into something good.

An action movie like this, is the mood on the set of an action movie different than it would be say from “Far From Heaven”? There’s a lot of work to do on a movie like this and a lot of scenes to set up, is it just all business, is there no joking around, is the mood on the set different?

Quaid: No, not really, it all depends on the director of the film, he’s really the hub of what creates an atmosphere on a movie, no it’s really no difference.

What was the mood on this set like?

Quaid: The mood on the set was great, it reminded me of the old days where everybody hung out with one another because we’re all on set all day and then we’re all in the hotel at night together because Mexico City is kind of a difficult city, you can’t just go out and walk, so it reminded me of the old days actually.

Do you have any funny anecdotes about Matthew Fox when he shows up?

Quaid: No, I wasn’t there for that, I’m sure something happened though. He did tell me all about the end of “Lost” though.




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