Dennis Quaid Shares His Vantage Point


A veteran of the movie biz for over 25 years, actor Dennis Quaid has taken on a lot of different jobs from baseball coach to gunslinger to the father of twin Lindsey Lohans, but who knows if any of them might have prepared him to play Secret Service Agent Thomas Barnes in Pete Travis’ political action-thriller Vantage Point. After having been inactive for a number of years after taking a bullet meant for William Hurt’s President of the United States, Barnes is reinstated for the President’s trip to Spain for anti-terror rally, which is marred by violence forcing Barnes to face his own fears and worries about a repeat of the earlier incident. sat down with Dennis Quaid at a press day in New York City to talk about the movie. You’ve mentioned you only have 18 lines of dialogue in this movie, and you’re mostly running around and doing action. Was doing something more action-driven a reason to do this?
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 sparce in that way. It’s an exciting story, an interesting story told in an interesting way by it being a “Rashomon” like that.

CS: We know that he took a bullet for the President, but did you know a lot more stuff about your character’s background that we don’t see in the movie?
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.

CS: Is it hard keeping track of where you are in the story while making a movie like this?
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 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.

CS: Can you talk about how you played with the characterization when shooting from different points of view?
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.

CS: Can you talk about the car chase sequence in this movie? Is that you or mainly a stunt driver?
Quaid: Ninety-nine percent of it is me actually. For the parts where they really kind of bang into each other I left that to someone else. I love 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.

CS: Is it as dangerous as it looks?
Quaid: 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.

CS: Were all of the people we see in those scenes that close to the action?
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.

CS: 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.

CS: 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.

CS: Of all the professions that you have played in your career, whether it be a baseball coach, or a secret service agent, are there any professions you look at as a possible 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.

CS: It’s interesting you say that because a lot of younger actors are scared of getting to the age where they’re cast as fathers rather than the love interests.
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.

CS: William Hurt plays a very presidential President in this movie, but you played a president last year who was a little more of a…
Quaid: A buffoon.

CS: 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.

CS: If you could hang out with any of the characters you’ve played, which one would it be?
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.

CS: Is it hard to have fun on the set of a movie like this one, since it involves a lot of set-ups and a serious subject matter?
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. 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.

CS: Do you have any funny anecdotes you can tell us about Matthew Fox before we talk to him?
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.

CS: You’ve maintained a career for over twenty-five years so what do you think is your secret where you can remain consistent while other actors peak when they’re young and 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.

CS: What’s your motivation for doing these films and staying in the game? Is it the roles or the film?
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!” you go onto the next thing.

CS: You’ve been so busy this past year. Can you 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 Horsemen” 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.

CS: Having seen “Smart People” at Sundance, I thought it was interesting to see you playing against type like that.
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.

CS: Now that you’re a new father again, has that affected how you schedule things, and what advice can you give to other working fathers?
Quaid: 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 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. 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.

CS: Do you have a hobby that nobody would guess?
Quaid: Yeah I draw and paint, I write, I horseback ride, I play golf. Basically those are my hobbies.

CS: What kind of movies do you generally enjoy?
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.

CS: 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, but it’s hard to remember that far back.

CS: Do you plan to direct again yourself?
Quaid: Yeah one of these days I’ll sit in that chair, but nothing worth talking about until it happens

Vantage Point opens on Friday, February 22. Also, check out video interviews with Quaid and the cast here and some more from Quaid and his co-stars on upcoming projects here.