A Moment With Dennis
ennis Quaid has the 'right stuff' and has been an award-winning film
star for decades. Some of his most memorable films include The Right
Stuff, Enemy Mine, Wyatt Earp, Dragonheart, In Good Company, The Rookie,
The Day After Tomorrow, Great Balls of Fire, The Express, The Horsemen,
Flight of the Phoenix, Traffic, Any Given Sunday, Vantage Point, Yours,
Mine and Ours, The Big Easy, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Far From Heaven,
The Alamo, Cold Creek Manor, Switchback, and The Parent Trap.
By Beverly Cohn
His latest film, "Soul Surfer," is the true
story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen surfer who lost her arm in a shark
attack and how she overcame her extreme handicap through faith and determination
to become a champion surfer. Directed by Sean McNamara and co-starring
Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood, AnnaSophia Robb and Lorraine Nicholson,
Quaid plays Bethany's real life dad, Tom Hamilton.
No stranger to overcoming personal challenges, Quaid
and his wife Kimberly almost lost their infant twin daughters who were
admitted to Cedars-Sinai hospital for treatment of a staph infection.
Someone blundered and instead of giving the infants a pediatric blood
thinner called Hep-lock, they were given the adult version of the drug
which almost killed them. Quaid has been an outspoken advocate of hospital
safety since then using his celebrity status to appear on talk shows
and before Congressional committees.
The following interview, conducted at a recent press
conference, has been edited for print purposes.
Q: Are you tired from all these press conferences?
Quaid: This is the easiest part. (Looks at the assembled
journalists) Wow. There are so many of you here. (laughter)
Q: Are we intimidating you?
Quaid: No, I can handle this. Actually, I prefer it
Q: How are you kids?
Quaid: They're doing great. You know, there's soccer
and ballet and all that stuff.
Q: You are had pretty bad scare with the twins.
Quaid: No kidding, but I think it was the power of prayer
that had a lot to do with their survival. We had a happy ending to what
could have been a major tragedy.
Q: You turned your potential tragedy into something
positive. What changes have you caused to be affected?
Quaid: Although a good part of me says 'you're an airhead
actor,' and the stereotype is usually true, (laughs) I wanted
to be taken seriously and did my research and educated myself. I was
invited to speak on Capital Hill about the incident and joined forces
with experts in patient safety. These are people who know how to get
things done and know the mechanics, just like I know my acting. They
can't get on talk shows, but I can and assumed the role of spokesman
to raise awareness on hospital procedures, some of which have been changed
as a result of that near tragedy with my twins.
Dennis Quaid as Tom Hamilton and AnnaSophia
Robb as champion surfer Beth Hamilton. Photo by
Mario Perez, Courtesy of FilmDistrict and TriStar
Q: Speaking of a near tragedy, when did you first
hear about Soul Surfer?
Quaid: I had a dim memory of the Bethany Hamilton story
from the news accounts when it happened. Then a couple of years ago,
about three days before Christmas, I was sitting on the couch with my
one little boy at that time and Bethany was on television promoting
her book, Soul Surfer. I was about the change the channel, but
there was something about her that was so very special and inspiring
that I welled up. (He wells up) She hit me right in my soul.
Three days after Christmas, my agent called to tell me they wanted me
to play her father. I said ok immediately.
Q: Did you identify with the religious aspects of
Quaid: Very much so because I believe strongly in the
power of prayer and I think that's what got Bethany and her family through
what could have been tragic circumstances. They walk the talk, but it
isn't as though they beat anyone over the head with their beliefs but
it's a very integral part of who they are and I'm glad that was portrayed
in the movie.
Q: Were there any concerns that because of the strong
religious element in the film that it might not be "mainstream?"
Quaid: It was a question at first and a fear of theirs
that the powers that be might try to extract that element from the story
for marketing purposes, but I think the studio made the right decision
as it was really important to tell Bethany's story from that point of
view. As a matter of fact I think it's a marketing asset. People are
afraid to talk about religion or feel uncomfortable talking about, but
I think it's something people want to see more of.
Champion one-arm Surfer Bethany Hamilton's
onscreen family: Dennis Quaid as her dad, Helen Hunt as Bethany's
mother Cheri, and AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany. Photo:
Mario Perez - Courtesy of FilmDistrict and TriStar
Q: We understand that her father was really happy
that you were playing him and it looks like you're really good at surfing.
Quaid: (laughs) Tom and I bonded really well.
We both play golf and he helped me out with the surfing because I didn't
surf at all before this film. I would get out in the water with him
and got to know who he is as a person. It was a great experience, but
I'm still not very good at surfing.
Q: Is there additional pressure on you when you play
Quaid: I've played a lot of real people and I've been
lucky enough to spend time with the ones who were still alive. I think
it's important to try to capture their spirit and also tell the story
from their point of view. Playing someone like Tom is not that difficult.
We don't look alike and he's not a famous figure so there's no comparison.
Playing someone like Bill Clinton, however, who's probably the most
famous and smartest man in the world, is different because everyone
has an opinion about him so that when I portrayed him, it gave me pause.
Q: What was the most challenging scene in "Soul
Quaid: The shark attack and hospital scenes. Those were
tough because the whole family was there on the set and I kept thinking
oh my God, they're reliving this horrible experience all over again
and I'm sure it had to be difficult for them.
Q: After seeing how this family handled a tragedy,
did that affect your outlook in any way?
Quaid: I grew up with my own faith. You have to turn
to some sort of higher power or whatever you want to call it. You have
to understand that you have no control over the outcome and have to
just surrender. That's why this story touches people so much. We all
get barriers thrown up at us, and sometimes unfair things just happen.
It's how you handle it is that counts. Do you just give up or do what
Bethany did and turn it into a bump in the road and make something positive
out of it.
Q: Some people might feel that if you want a sermon,
you should go to church. Do you think that might apply to this film?
Quaid: I completely agree that you don't need to beat
people over the head and proselytize, but like I said, this is a story
about this family and I don't think we beat people over the head with
it. If you were to do a movie about Billy Graham, what would you leave
out? (laughs) I mean you know where you're going before you go
Q: How does religion play a part in your next film?
Quaid: Oh you mean "Footloose?" I'm the party-pooper
preacher. It's a little darker than the first version that starred Kevin
Bacon and John Lithgow because it's built around the tragedy of these
kids who die in an auto accident that spurs the laws in that town.
Q: Why do you think so many films from the 80s are
Quaid: They're even remaking films that I was in.
(laughter) They've been doing revivals of plays for centuries so
why can't you do that with films? Movies also speak to the times in
which they are made and how many new stories are there really? It's
always a new twist on an old tale.
Q: What's your #1 most recognized movie?
Quaid: "The Right Stuff." People come up to
me no matter where I am from Nepal to France and say 'You're the space
Q: Are you moving to Texas?
Quaid: I already did.
Q: Why did you leave Pacific Palisades?
Quaid: I had a fantastic place in the Palisades but
I dreamed of living in Austin since I was six. My little brother lives
there and we've moved my mother, who's getting along in age, from Houston
to Austin. Also my wife's family all live there and it's just a great
place to raise kids. It's a different lifestyle and I'm really ready
for something different. It's one of the best music towns in the United
States and I have a lot of friends there so it's a natural fit. I just
Q: Has living away from Los Angeles placed some career
challenges on you in terms of being immediately available?
Quaid: I've already flown in twice as a matter of fact,
so I don't see that as being a problem.
Q: You have a fabulous body of work going back decades.
Is acting different for you today?
Quaid: I enjoy acting more now than I did in my 20s
and 30s. I have more enthusiasm and less angst and certainly as apprentices
and journeymen go, I would say I'm at the master's level, but still
feel like I'm a student. That's what makes it fun and interesting for
me - the idea that I can learn something new.
Q: Do you have a specific technique for developing
Quaid: My technique is a gathering of different things
I've picked up over the years and that changes. I found that as time
goes by, I really kind of let go of a lot of what I considered to be
my technique or method and just let things happen.
Q: Is it easier to combine your wonderful career
and family living away from Los Angeles?
Quaid: I think it's the same. It's all about your focus.
I'm around more of my family in Austin then when I was living in Los
Angeles. One of my regrets is that my son didn't get to see his grandmother
all that much - maybe twice a year. I saw my grandparents a lot growing
up. Now my kids will be able to see both sets of grandparents anytime.
I think it's important.
Thanks for a great interview.
Quaid: It's been fun talking to you guys.