With such a wide body of work but such consistently great performance, you can never count on what Dennis Quaid will do next, but you can always count on him to be good in it. In Vantage Point he plays a veteran Secret Service agent who has just returned to the force after taking a bullet for the President a year earlier. As you’ve probably seen from the trailers, though, this won’t be his easiest day on the job.
Quaid chatted with a group of journalists about getting ready for the part, what it takes to be a Secret Service agent, and his favorite movies of the last year. There’s also some details about G.I. Joe in there, but you’ve gotta read the whole thing to find out where they are!
Why did you choose to do such an action-driven movie?
It’s part of the appeal, really. I thought what was really good about the movie is how it really pulled the story through the action, rather than a lot of exposition and set-up. It was spare in its way. It’s an exciting story. Interesting story, told in a very interesting way.
As an actor how careful did you have to be about knowing where you were in the story, given how it jumps around?
That was really Pete’s job. Because he did it so well he made it very easy for everyone else. We would be on the same set, say in the square, and we would shoot one point of view for about four or five days, and then we’d 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 cameras were in place, to skip around. It just made it a little clearer for everyone to know whose story we were doing, and to do that all the way through.
If you could hang out with any of the characters you’ve played in real life, who would you pick?
Really? Wow, what a dinner party that would be. Jerry Lee Lewis [from Great Balls of Fire] and Gordo Cooper [from The Right Stuff] and Doc Holliday [from Wyatt Earp]… I think Doc Holliday and Jerry Lee Lewis would really get along, or kill each other. They’d be running buddies. I had a really good time playing Gordo Cooper, and I did hang out with him, actually. He was my favorite, because he was my hero when I was a kid.
What kind of movies do you enjoy when you’re not working?
I try to be eclectic in my choice of films. If I’ve done anything that’s intentional in my career, it’s to try to do as many different types of characters and as many different types of genres of movies that I can. It’s the same in my taste. I like any kind of film as long as it’s good.
What were your favorites of the last year or so?
No Country for Old Men. I really liked that film. I liked The Kite Runner, The Namesake… I was working so much this last year I didn’t really have time to go to movies this summer.
You’ve been really busy. All of a sudden you’ve got so many movies come out. Can you talk about working a lot?
I did four movies in a row, which I don’t know if I’ll ever do again. It starts to get to you after a while. It happens to be a year where four unique, very interesting films came along back to back. There’s this, then Smart People is coming out in April, which is very anti-action. I’m a college professor who’s overweight and sort of pudgy and his emotional life has sort of 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. The movie in the end is really about race relations in this country. It speaks historically and speaks to today.
Can you talk about the car chase in this movie? How much of that driving was stunt work?
Well, 99% of it was me, actually. I love to drive, and I have so few lines of dialogue that I really had to do something in this film. That was where it would happen, in the chase. I wanted to do as much of that as I could. It’s not as dangerous as it looks. We worked a lot with the stunt guys.
Have you seen your action figure for G.I. Joe yet?
I got scanned for my action figure the other day. It’s anatomically correct.
Are you involved in any romances in the movie?
I have no romances. My aide de camp is a Victoria’s Secret supermodel, Karolina Kurkova. Her name’s cover girl. So it can’t be too serious.
What is your role?
Hawk, General Hawk Abernathy.
Is the action that movie more intense than in this movie?
Not so much for me in this one. Hopefully there’s going to be two more. I don’t really have a lot to do here in the first one. I really kind of signed up for the future as well.
Is this the first time signed on for a franchise based on one film?
Yeah, I think it is actually.
What made you decide to do it?
I remember G.I. Joe from my generation. It’s a little different, a little bit younger generation remembers it from the cartoon show. It just seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun. it’s a little bit like the cartoon show, and it’s a little bit like a modern action film, and it’s a little bit like James Bond, old-style. Back in the 60s, with Dr. No and Respektor was taking over an island, it’s own criminal country, threat to the entire world. It’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and it’s great action. It just seems like a lot of fun.
Will it have a message like The Day After Tomorrow did?
I feel it’s a straight up blow-up [action]. People gotta have it.
Do you think you could actually be in the Secret Service, based on what you’ve learned from this film?
No, absolutely not. I don’t think they would have me. I don’t have the past credentials to get in there. They might consider me to be a security risk, I don’t know. What those guys do, it’s amazing. They make themselves larger when everyone else is making themselves smaller, hitting the floor when the guns go off. I really don’t see myself as taking a bullet for anybody, except for my kids. They’re amazing people. I don’t know if I’d want to be a Secret Service agent. In the movies it’s exciting and romantic and all that. Really most of their job is standing in a hallway for 12 hours making sure somebody doesn’t come through a doorway off of a stairwell. I guess I can relate to that—the most boring part of my job is waiting for them to set up [the shot].
Of the professions you’ve played in your career, are there any that would be a second career choice?
I always wanted to be an astronaut. I actually got my pilot’s license from that [The Right Stuff]. You can pay to do that now, almost, if you’ve got an extra $20 million on your they’ll put you up there. And baseball players. I love doing that. The only thing about that is that ends when you’re a certain age in your 30’s. I really love doing what I do, being an actor. It’s the greatest. You can do it until you die.
What’s your secret for having such a long career?
I don’t know. I look around and a lot of people that I started out in the business with, I really have no clue where they are now. I think so much of it has to do with luck. I’ve been extremely lucky. I think a large part has to do with tenacity, about hanging in there. When you do lose the fire for what you’re doing, find some way to get it back. I’m having a better time than when I started out. I have a fire in my belly to do this. I feel very appreciative of having the opportunity to do it at this level. We all go through periods in our life when we become bored or jaded or lose sight of what we started out to do. I think it’s getting it back—keeping the fire alive is the most important that.
Is there a fear of moving up to playing a father as opposed to the younger man?
This business is much harder on women than it is on me. The spigot for women, once they turn 40, it’s shut off in terms of what they can be accepted doing or not doing.
What motivates you to stay in the business?
I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick, and in different worlds. Before I was an actor I was never able to hold a job for more than 3 months for some reason. It just wouldn’t hold my interest, so there was some way that I wound up quitting or getting fired from it. But being an actor is perfect, because movies usually take about three months to shoot. Then it’s over and they say “Hey, great job!” And you go on to the next thing.
How has being a father affected your work schedule now? And what advice would you give to people who are working fathers?
Family is the most important thing in life, period. Daddy also has to make a living, usually. With my first child, with Jack, I feel like it was very important, I was very aware of spending time with him. That’s really what being a dad is, you’ve got to be there. I was fortunate enough to be able to do that throughout his growing up. He’s 16 now, and in a way it’s kind of like it’s more important than ever to spend time with him. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s doing really well. With the two that have just come along at this point, I have a stay-at-home mom, and that means they can all travel with me. They’re very portable at this point.
How about the ordeal with the twins? [Quaid’s newborn children were given an accidental overdose at a hospital, but have now recovered]
It was very horrific two weeks for the two of us, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody. We really did feel thoughts and prayers from so many people. That really helped us to get through it, and I think had an impact on how the kids recovered.
You said you’re hoping something good will come out of this. What advice would you give to parents who go through something like this, or how to avoid it?
My wife and I are going to tell our story very soon. We’re starting a foundation 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. Any advice for parents, or even adults, is have somebody there looking after you. Sometimes you don’t know, because you’re not a doctor. Something needs to be done about it. We’re going to try to turn something bad into something good.