If memory serves me correctly, it was more than half a lifetime ago, during the winter of 1985, that I shirked the responsibility of shoveling my Nana's front stairs and porch, and snuck off to the local eight-screen multiplex, alone, to see Enemy Mine. That was the first time that my eyes set upon Dennis Quaid.
At that time I had not yet seen The Right Stuff, the movie that had catapulted Quaid to leading-man status two years before, and a movie that showcased his boyish good looks and lopsided grin. It was in 1978, though, at age 24, that Quaid made his first appearance on the big screen, in the obscure film September 30, 1955.
It has taken Quaid nearly a quarter century, amidst a career of highs ( literally ) , and lows, to star in a seemingly unanimous critically acclaimed film with the serious possibility of an Academy Award nomination for his work and many nominations for the film in which he stars.
The movie, Far From Heaven, a throw back to the 1950s Douglas Sirk melodramas ( yet not a parody ) , directed by the openly gay Todd Haynes, is also an acting stretch for Quaid. "It's the first time I'm aware, at least," he says, laughing, "That a character I play is gay."
Quaid co-stars with Julianne Moore ( the lead in the film ) , as her devoted, executive husband, and father of two preteens, living in a rustic Hartford, Conn., home amidst a nosy coterie of neighborhood women. The movie takes place at the height of foliage season, allowing for not only a colorful storyline but also equally as brilliant photography.
While the movie alleges to take place in 1950s Hartford, the film was shot on an old military base in New Jersey, not far from the World Trade Center in NYC. "It was an abandoned military base," says Quaid, "Everything outside the frame of film was '90s Jersey ghetto. The cinematographer, combined with Todd's brilliant idea, allowed for a magical outcome, without any digital enhancing."
There are a lot of ironies in Far From Heaven; the most obvious being Dennis Quaid's character in the film, playing the role that Rock Hudson played in all of the Douglas Sirk movies. "Who would have ever watched Rock Hudson in those or any movie and thought that he was gay?" exclaims Quaid, in an excited tone. "You just never know. Do you?" For the record, though, Quaid insists that he is not gay. "I have a lot of gay friends. I am very comfortable with my sexuality and am able to enjoy friendships with everyone. In fact, one of my good friends is going through the same issues that my character goes through in Far From Heaven. He can't come to terms with his sexuality and it is taking a toll. That is the problem with many men who are my age or older, especially. We were raised in a different time. A time when there was no such thing as coming out of the closet. If you were gay, you got married, pretended to be in love with your wife, had children, and lived a lie. Thankfully, today, though the world is not perfect, many children, especially in this country, are raised to accept everyone and to be who they are. My feeling on the subject of homosexuality is that love is love. You cannot help being attracted to who you're attracted to."
"I have wanted to work with Todd Haynes," says Quaid, sipping from a cup of coffee, "ever since I saw Safe in 1995. He is a brilliant director. But his movies, until now, have not had characters that I would be suited to play. And to be honest, I thought I would be the last person to be chosen to play the husband in Far From Heaven."
What Quaid means is that most--critics, producers and moviegoers alike--would not first think of him for a 'gay' role. "That is what Todd wanted, though," Quaid explains. "He wanted an actor that the audience would least expect to be gay because the movie is told through the eyes of Julianne's character and she is oblivious to the fact for the longest time. As Todd says, he wanted 'someone who came with a ready masculinity.' And I am glad that he thinks that I come with 'ready masculinity."
Six-foot, three-inch Quaid is in a good humor the day I chat with him in Los Angeles. And why shouldn't he be? Not only is he being considered for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Far From Heaven, he is riding the wave of the success of his 'comeback' film from earlier this year, The Rookie.
Battling a cold that he caught while shooting a new movie at night, in the rain, a couple of days earlier, Quaid, with gray eyes glowing, reveals that the fact that he screwed up in the past makes it "all the more sweeter now" that he is back on track, being given a second chance.
"Hollywood has a short memory," explains Quaid. "I made some good movies in the '80s but then I screwed up big time. I became addicted to cocaine, and was depressed because my wife, [ at the time, Meg Ryan ] , was at the top of the world, getting handed the lead in every major motion picture while I sat at home, of course with no one calling me for any good acting gigs. It was very frustrating."
Instead of staying at the bottom, Quaid decided to fight and stop feeling sorry for himself, got into rehab and took some time off. "I made a conscious decision to take a couple of years off, after I cleaned up, so that I could get back into the shape and mindset that I was before I screwed up. I was very fortunate to be cast in The Rookie. No one expected or even thought remotely that The Rookie was going to be a $100 million film. It was a G movie, with no sex, no violence. Not even a swear. The fact that The Rookie was such a huge hit has helped me a lot. I am getting better looking scripts now."
Quaid can sleep easier now. Though Far From Heaven isn't opening wide until late November, Hollywood has already taken notice. "I hope the movie makes $100 million, too," says Quaid. "It deserves to make 10 times that much. I am probably proudest of this film than any other I have done. I am glad that I took the ride with Todd [ Haynes ] . He is a genius."
There is one more thing that Dennis Quaid is ecstatic about right now. The Anaheim Angels won the World Series, the first time they ever were in contention for it. "I am rooting for the Angels. Yeah. Why not?" says Quaid, a week before they win the series. "Gene Autry is my mother's cousin so the team will always have a special place in my family." Of course, Gene Autry was the first owner of the Angels and described by many as "the most beloved owner in history of a professional sports team."
Writer Tim Nasson divides his time between Boston and Los Angeles.