Dennis Quaid, age 56, has been at this acting even since he had an uncredited role as a bellhop in the 1975 Jonathan Demme film Crazy Mama. Quaid is a bonafide movie star who hasn’t done a lot of television. But he’s been nominated for lead actor in a made-for-TV movie/miniseries for his portrayal of former President Bill Clinton in the HBO telepic The Special Relationship. His competition includes his co-star Michael Sheen, and Al Pacino (You Don’t Know Jack), Jeff Bridges (A Dog Year), Ian McKellan (The Prisoner) and his Special Relationship co-star Michael Sheen. Quaid spoke with Ray Richmond for Deadline Hollywood about why he’s enjoying acting more than ever now.
Deadline Hollywood: How hard was it to get cast as Bill Clinton?
Dennis Quaid: Actually, just the opposite. I went to have a meeting on it and thought I was all wrong for the part. For one thing, I really don’t look anything like Clinton at all, and I didn’t know him that well. I was so shocked they wanted me for the part that I nearly turned it down. It’s a rather daunting thing to take on that role of this larger-than-life guy who’s still around.
DH: What finally convinced you to take it?
DQ: Ultimately, the fact I was afraid to do it convinced me it was worth doing. Fear is a great motivator.
DH: So how did you prepare for the role?
DQ: I gained 30 pounds. I could have worn padding, but I wanted to get my face fuller. I thought that was the most important thing from a resemblance perspective. I also had Clinton’s autobiography there with me all the time in my trailer, all 900 pages of it, detailing just about every day in the White House. I watched miles of footage on him and studied the way he walked, the way he talked, his mannerisms and all of that – which I had to learn and then really forget. You can’t just imitate or it’s simply mimicry and not your own.
DH: Did you hear from Clinton after the film premiered?
DQ: Nah, never did. Nor did I expect to.
DH: Were you surprised by the Emmy nomination?.
DQ: Yeah, it’s nice. It feels good. Not that I expect to win. You know, Pacino has to be the heavy favorite. But that’s all fine.
DH: Audiences have been watching you since you were in your mid-20s and did Breaking Away back in 1979. Do you still enjoy acting as much as you used to?
DQ: I actually enjoy acting more now than I did in my 20s and 30s. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody anymore. I just go in and really embrace whatever character it is I’m playing. I’ll tell you, being in my 50s is great. I know what I want. I know what I like. I had my head up my ass when I was young and spent my 40s pulling my head out of there. So my 50s are a good place to be.
DH: Do you want to do more TV? You haven’t done a lot.
DQ: If the right thing came along, sure. There could be a great series for me out there. I’m certainly open to the idea. But the truth is that I still have a great time doing movies for the big screen. I kind of feel like a hit man. I go in, play a different character, then go one to the next thing.