Interview : Dennis Quaid

Dennis Quaid admits that he didn’t find it difficult to identify with his latest screen character. In the already acclaimed Far from Heaven, Quaid plays a family man in hyper-realistic 50s suburbia desperately trying to hide his homosexuality from his very suburban middle-class wife and homemaker [Julianne Moore]. “I definitely was able to relate this to my own life, in that I’ve come through periods where I lived this secret life”, Quaid explains, referring to his addiction to cocaine. “I was hiding that, or at least thought I was, and there’s a lot of shame that went with the behaviour of that. What I had at the time was not really an authentic life, but a secret life until it all came out. ”

Relating Quaid’s own past torments to this latest screen role could have been tough, but “not now” responds the calm 48-year old actor. “I’d already gone through it. I’ve been able to drop it, go home and have a great time,” responds Quaid, laughingly.

It’s easy for Quaid to laugh about his once publicised personal life. He had it all: Drug addiction, a bad marriage and a failing career. All of that is in the past as he remains circumspect. “After I went into rehab for my drug habit, I spent more than a decade rebuilding my career. It was a struggle to find good roles and it was all the more frustrating because I was married to someone who was getting handed everything on a silver platter. It made it so much harder emotionally and psychologically for me.” Quaid says he and ex-wife Meg Ryan are “on friendly terms,” but there is no likelihood for reconciliation. Professionally, Dennis is slowly but surely rebuilding his career. Quaid seems to be having the best time, professionally, after his prior hard knocks. “It’s a really good time for me” as the actor sets about successfully rebuilding his career. “I had taken time off and I thought I could pick up where I left off. But you see, Hollywood has a very short memory, so I really had to start rebuilding again and the scripts weren’t coming my way like they used to be, back then. That’s kind of a cold awakening for me and so I was scrambling for parts.”

Quaid coped “by just keeping on and that’s all. You know, it’s very discouraging, but things happen. I love acting and I’m not going to complain about the business because that’s just the way it is. This is a town that’s really run on success and so I’ve been trying to rebuild as I go along, and I think, things have been, slowly getting better.”

Earlier this year, he had a personal and critical success playing real-life Texas baseball player Jimmy Morris in The Rookie. The film’s success was a huge shot in the arm for the actor. “Since then, I don’t have to scramble so much and I’m having a lot more and better choices that come my way.”

Critics are also suggesting that an Oscar nomination is a possibility for his performance in Far From Heaven. “It’s flattering but I don’t time to give all of that [hype] much thought.”

Playing the often tortured and homosexual Frank Whitaker in Far from Heaven was a considerable departure for Quaid, but he wanted to do the film even before reading the script, because of writer/director Todd Haynes. “I’d seen Velvet Goldmine and Safe and I wanted to work with this director so I was ready to do it. It was definitely different from anything I’d been offered before “He denies that playing a gay character brought with it any degree of risk. “I don’t think it’s such a big risk anymore, unless you sort of get it wrong. With this, I just felt that the story was told with such sincerity and really dealt with what was going on with these people so I didn’t have any second thoughts about playing it.” He also plays the character in 50s melodramatic style while finding a more realistic balance, but a challenge that Quaid relished. “It didn’t really seem so difficult to pull that off, and I credit that to Todd because there’s not a thing in the film that shouldn’t be there.” As the film is inspired by the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Quaid recalls “sitting in my trailer and watching his movies so I become immersed in that.”

Quaid’ career is in full swing. He is currently wrapping work on Mike Figgis’ The Devil’s Throat co-starring Sharon Stone. “I guess if you were to compare it to some movies, it would be films such as Cape Fear or Pacific Heights. I’m the good guy, with Sharon and I are as this married couple who decide to move to the country from the city after 9/11 and we buy this house at a really good deal. The guy who used to own it before gets out of jail and wants it back.” Quaid then heads to Quebec for the big-budget Day After Tomorrow.

When he is not acting, he revels in two other passions, the first being his 10-year old son who is expressing interest in Hollywood “He makes his own action hero movies at home, writes his own scripts and draws comic books. In other words, storyboarding is what I tell him.” Quaid says that he will “support whatever he wants to do. If he wants to change his mind and become a veterinarian, that’s fine too. After all, that’s what I wanted to be when I was 15.” But Quaid gave up animals for performance, and when not acting, there is also his music. Quaid and his band managed to hit the road this past summer “getting my Elvis fantasies out of the way.” Comparing acting and music, Quaid won’t be drawn on deciding which is better. “They’re like apples and oranges but music is really a lot of fun. It’s a live performance and I look at doing music on stage as my substitute for theatre because it’s a live experience with an audience. Although I love making movies I find the process of making movies an excruciating experience,” confesses the actor. “You’re always waiting around for something and then when you get there, you find out that what’s holding up the delay is that something doesn’t work. So you’ve got to work out this problem, then you go to the next thing and you’ve got to work out the next little problem.” But despite his misgivings, he loves acting too much to give it away just yet, “because I love it. What they pay me for is for that excruciating experience of waiting around, while the acting part is free.”

FAR FROM HEAVEN OPENS ON FRIDAY