Few actors have had as versatile a career, or have matured as well, as Dennis Quaid. Born in Houston in 1954, he rose to stardom in the 1980s with roles as diverse as a real-life astronaut (The Right Stuff), a New Orleans homicide detective (The Big Easy), a test pilot who is miniaturized and injected into Martin Short's body (Innerspace), an aging football jock (Everybody's All-American), and of course Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire!).
Quaid's star faded in the early 1990s, but in recent years he has earned praise for his work in movies as diverse as the time-bending sci-fi flick Frequency, the political drama Traffic, the real-life sports story The Rookie, and the independent film Far from Heaven, in which he played a closeted gay man married to Julianne Moore.
Now he is dabbling in physical comedy and family films. Yours, Mine & Ours, which opens this week, is a remake of a 1968 film and based on the true story of a widow (played here by Rene Russo) with eight children who married a widower (Quaid) with ten children. Quaid himself has a 13-year-old son, Jack, from his marriage to Meg Ryan, which ended in divorce four years ago. He has since married a woman who, like him, grew up Baptist in Texas.
Quaid spoke to Christianity Today Movies in Los Angeles—first in a private interview, then at a roundtable with several other reporters. The following is an edited transcript from both of those conversations.
You've had an incredibly versatile career, ranging from jock roles to roles with more of a fantasy, sci-fi appeal, and you've also worked in more straightforward dramas. Have you made a point of working in all these various niches?
Dennis Quaid: I've always liked variety. I think actors sometimes pigeonhole themselves and typecast themselves, and I've always just found it interesting to do as many different types of genres and movies as I can. I really don't have any kind of grand strategy, other than show me a good script.
Recently you've been working a fair bit in the family genre—The Parent Trap, The Rookie, and now this.
Quaid: But there was also Far from Heaven, which was very different, and I just finished a film called American Dreamz, which is definitely more of an adult film. But I'm also at that age where you're playing the dad, and it seems like kind of a natural thing for me, I guess.
Are you looking for dad roles?
Quaid: No, they just seem to find me. What I liked about Yours, Mine & Ours is that it seemed to be a romantic comedy at the same time. It's a romantic comedy with 18 kids, so it's kind of a family film and a romantic comedy put together. I think this has something for everybody, parents as well.
Is it hard to play the stern father while also playing the husband who has what you might call a sexy romance with his wife?
Quaid: Well, with Rene Russo, it wasn't so difficult. (laughs) I've always been a secret admirer of hers. She's a really great lady and comedienne.
Your character believes in spanking children. Do you?
Quaid: I'm not really a believer in spanking kids. I just think it teaches them to hit people as a way of solving things. When I grew up, I think I got a couple of half-hearted spankings. My dad was not really a disciplinarian. I never had to do it with my son. I think the only thing I did was I swatted his hand when he touched the stove one time, just because it scared me—and he never did it again! (laughs)
Do you think big families are becoming more popular again?
Quaid: Some people may see this movie and say, "I'm definitely using birth control!" It might be a warning. I only have one child, but I kind of like the commotion of a lot of kids. But if you're going to have a lot of kids, you need lots of help. Back in the olden days, you used to have extended families, with grandparents that lived in the same house, so you had lots of help. And the older ones have got to help out with the younger ones.
How familiar were you with the original version of Yours, Mine and Ours?
Quaid: I saw it, I think, when I was a little kid, but I made a point of not watching it before we did this, because I didn't want to be influenced by it. I just wanted this to stand on its own. And as far as remakes go, they're always redoing Shakespeare in movies, and they make him fresh and they make them for this generation, and I think they stand up.
What sort of family films did you like when you were a child?
Quaid: There were lots. It's a Wonderful Life is a great family movie. I remember The Lindbergh Story, Follow Me Boys with Fred MacMurray, things like The Swiss Family Robinson.
And now that you have a son, what sort of movies do you watch with him?
Quaid: We have very eclectic tastes. My son and I really like comedies because we both like getting belly laughs together.
Does your son see your own films? Is there something you're holding back for now?
Quaid: Well yeah, like The Big Easy. (laughs) I'll let him discover 'em on his own, really. I don't sit him down to watch my movies or whatever. There was a time when Jaws 3-D was his favorite. And he really liked The Rookie a lot. The Day after Tomorrow, of course. [All three are Quaid movies.]
I don't think I've ever seen a film of yours in which you've been quite so slapstick-y.
Quaid: Yeah, probably not since Caveman, with Ringo Starr, have I done something with this kind of physical comedy in it. And I just loved doing it, I really did, despite the pain. (laughs) Because you start fooling around with slapstick, and things hurt. But I grew up watching Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, and Abbott and Costello. And it was a lot of fun to do, to try out this kind of physical comedy.
Since this is Christianity Today, is it fair to ask about your own faith?
Quaid: Sure. I grew up Baptist. I'm a Christian, and I've been baptized twice: once when I was nine years old, and then about five years ago, I got re-baptized—by a friend of mine, John Meyrick, a Baptist minister—in India, in the Ganges River.
How did that come about?
Quaid: Well, I've always been a seeker, and I think everyone needs to have a spiritual life. Along with that comes spiritual growth, and my faith is what's gotten me through tough times in my life. And so, besides being Christian, I've been all around the world, and I've always been interested in other religions as well. I've read the Koran twice, and I've read the Bhagavad Gita and the Dama Pata. I've asked people in my travels what they believe in, and why, and it makes for great discussions, actually.
How would you describe where you were between the age of nine and five years ago? To use church lingo, was there a "falling away"?
Quaid: No, no, I've attended church throughout my life, as well as studied and explored other religions as well. I've been to India several times, and I discovered meditation in my life, which I still practice, and which I don't find conflicts with Christianity. In fact, Jesus himself meditated and told us to go off and be alone with our thoughts, and to know God. God is within you, and I think that's what meditation is, is to connect with God within yourself.
Do you attend church now?
Quaid: Yeah, I've actually been going to Brentwood Presbyterian.
How do people at church respond to some of the roles that you take? You mentioned Far from Heaven, and different churches would have different opinions on that.
Quaid: To me, as an actor, I'm out there to portray life. We're all human beings, and I'm just there to reflect what human beings do. If I got the part of Hitler, I'd just be playing Hitler, I wouldn't be Hitler.
A few of your films, like The Rookie, have had religious elements. Is that something you look for?
Quaid: No, it's not something that I look for. I think God is everywhere in our lives, and like I say, I'm there to reflect what it is to be human. That's my job—to hold a mirror up to life. That's what the theatre is all about, I think that's what movies are all about. So what we watch, when we watch movies—what it's really for, I think, in our culture, is to really see ourselves, and to understand ourselves more. Or to laugh at ourselves.
Do you feel any sort of responsibility when you take roles, in terms of how you hold that mirror up to people?
Quaid: You know, I try not to judge. And I can't help it if others judge me for my choices or whatever. But I don't do horror movies.
That's a conscious decision?
Quaid: Yeah. I really don't like 'em all that much myself, that's why. But I try not to censor myself, in a way, when it comes to being an actor.
Are there any kinds of roles that you're interested in because they would be particularly good mirrors to hold up?
Quaid: Yeah, things like The Rookie, which had a great message to it. Yours, Mine & Ours has a great message as well. But that's not the reason that I took the role. I like a lot of variety, and part of that is portraying the underbelly of what it is to be human sometimes. But I certainly don't think I would do a role that would send a message out there that I didn't agree with, or something that promoted or advocated violence. I don't think I would take a role like that.
Does your son go with you to church?
And what does he make of it?
Quaid: Well, there's a lot of times when he doesn't want to go! (laughs) But you know, that's just being a kid. But I think it's important. Your spiritual life starts when you're young, and it's important so that later on in life you've got something to fall back on, when life gets bumpy.
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