Dennis Quaid (London Sunday Times Magazine, December 2, 2018)
I meet Dennis Quaid in The Village recording studio, West LA. Every rock God from Tom Petty to Robert Plant seems to have made their greatest albums there. Quaid, 64, is recording his first album with his band The Sharks. He jokes, “The oldest rock band ever to make a debut album.”
Everybody says it but it’s true. He’s handsome. Tall, ripped, good cheekbones and good hair and inquiring eyes – the kind that make you feel he’s interested in what you have to say. He’s in skinny jeans and a dark tee.
He was born in Houston, Texas. Grew up wanting to be a cowboy or an astronaut. As an actor he could and was indeed both. His breakout leading role was in The Big Easy in 1986 famous for his sexy chemistry with Ellen Barkin. He was Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire (1989), played opposite Meryl Streep in Postcards from The Edge (1990) and was Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp (1994).
He disappeared for a while as a leading man but returned in a Globe winning performance as the closet gay in Todd Haynes Far From Heaven (2002). He was in last year’s super weepy surprise hit A Dog’s Purpose.
And he’s next up reprising his role in the Sci-Fi TV series Fortitude (Sky), set 400 miles from the North Pole – the safest place on earth that suddenly becomes violent, dangerous and spooky.
“I really loved it,” he says of the extreme temperature. “I’ve been colder in New York.” In the last series his character (Michael Lennox) went a little crazy. After obsessively trying to find a cure for his wife’s far too rapidly progressing wasting disease, she dies. He becomes undone with grief and starts drinking. “How about that…”
“I connected to my character because we’re both extremely bull headed.”
Astrologically he’s not a bull, he’s an Aries and I know this because he’s the same day as my dad and Hugh Hefner – April 9. He and Hef had a birthday party together once.
“It wasn’t really a joint birthday party. It was his party which I was at. It just happened to be my birthday.” He’s exactly the type who would never miss a Hef birthday bash.
“April 9th people are filled with adrenaline. They are tenacious and optimistic. They run before they think. They are comfortable in extremes. The middle ground is…” (he pulls a face) “we don’t want that.”
Quaid calls himself a romantic – has been married 3 times, divorced 3 times. The first to actress P J Soles (1978-1983), most famously to Meg Ryan (1991-2001), most recently to Texas real estate agent Kimberly Buffington (2004) and his divorce finalised just a few weeks ago.
“I think what divorce does is it takes away your identity. It’s like a death. Your identity is wrapped up in the relationship and if it’s not going to be there…” His eyes are searching, troubled. He finishes the sentence, “who are you?”
Isn’t it death of a family member and moving house that are supposed to cause the most stress to the human psyche?
“And then there’s divorce which is death and moving. The birth of a child is another stressful situation. Not just because things could go wrong (his ten-day old twins were given a thousand times stronger dosage of blood thinner by mistake and the babies nearly died) but also because you have to redefine who you are.”
Does he mean he was no longer Dennis but daddy? “Yes, my son Jack is 26 now. I was 38 when he was born and I realised my life was over. I could no longer have any guilt free experiences… I’m exaggerating but I am responsible for someone else in the world and that’s never going to go away. My mother (91) still worries about me.”
She texts him nearly every day. His mother Juanita was in real estate and his father William Rudy an electrician.
“He passed away when he was 63 in 1987 of a heart-attack. And I’m 64 so when I had my 63rd birthday it was a psychological moment – it definitely ran through my mind then I forgot about it until one night a few months ago I was having trouble sleeping and it hit me. My dad’s birthday was November 21st and he died on February 8th and I started adding up the days and I was exactly that age. Then the next day I realised I was older than he ever made. I made it past. I intend to live until I am 130.”
How did he redefine himself when he had the twins Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace born via a surrogate in 2007?
“It was very different. You have both of them coming at you at once. The good part is that they each have a playmate and the hard part is that you have to do everything double.” They are now 10.
Did having twins change the relationship with his then wife? “Having kids always changes your relationship.”
He says of Meg Ryan “We are friends.” I’m sure that wasn’t always the case. At the time of their separation in 2000 they were the biggest couple in Hollywood. They were at the peak of their careers. When they lost each-other they lost grasp on that, with only Quaid regaining acclaim and ratings. America’s sweetheart got puffy and pillow faced with fillers. Her currency redundant. Quaid stayed himself, determined, chiselled, handsome. He says he works out a lot because, “I’m vain. The industry’s vain.” Plus remember, he’s planning on living to 130
The most unusual place he had sex is in an elevator. “Is that really unusual?” he muses. “It was a slow elevator. It was in Quebec. It must be the French influence. It was the elevator going to my own apartment so it wasn’t like a public building.”
That makes it a little more boring. “Well, not for me.” But there wasn’t the excitement that someone could call the elevator and the doors would open. “It’s true. I knew the other floors were currently unoccupied and no one was coming in but she didn’t,” he laughs. Was this a while ago? “Not too long.” Out of politeness I stifle my giggle because in the next room is his girlfriend of 2 years, French-Canadian model Santa Auzina, 31. She’s tall, blonde, endless legs, tiny lycra shorts, tiny vest, smiles a lot like nothing bothers her. We all wish we had that smile. She’s documented their love, their soulmate status with many Instagram posts of their exotic holiday destinations as a couple.
I think Quaid enjoys talking about his mistakes. We start from the movies he turned down.
“I turned down Big. I hit myself over that. At the time there were three other movies with a similar storyline and Big was going to be second but it wasn’t. I should have taken Big.”
He also missed out on An Officer and a Gentleman. “I didn’t turn it down. I was on an around the world trip with my wife. In those days you could buy a ticket for $1000. My then wife PJ Soles and I were going around the world. We were literally half way round, in New Delhi, when my agent called and said, ‘The part is yours. You just have to come back. Taylor Hackford wants you’. We cut short the vacation. We flew back to LA and either they had decided while I was en route they wanted Richard Gere… I did not get the part.”
Did that contribute to his first divorce – cutting short the big vacay? “No, they even said they would send me back on my vacation if it didn’t work out. They didn’t.”
Curiously, he’s already played several presidents. Why does he think he’s such a good presidential candidate?
“You get to a certain age and you can play presidents if you have that trustworthy/untrustworthy look.”
So far, he’s been Clinton, Bush, and he’s just about to be Regan. “I was Bill Clinton in A Special Relationship (2010) when Michael Sheen was Tony Blair and a Bush like character (President Staton) in American Dreamz (2006). I was offered George W Bush for the Katrina film but I turned it down because of conflicts in schedule. Regan is a very interesting person. So many stories that people who were close to him didn’t really know him.”
He became friends with Clinton. “I spent a weekend at the White House when I was married to Meg. We went there when we were invited to the King of Spain’s state dinner.” (In a frighteningly convincing Clinton impersonation he continues) ‘You’ve got to stay, you’ve got to stay. We’re gonna play some golf.’”
“Meg went home, Hillary was out of town so it was just me and Bill. We played golf, we got in the Presidents Limousine and had a couple of Subway sandwiches. At the time I was better at golf but he would have been a much better golfer if he wasn’t President.
“He was the smartest guy I’ve ever met and very kind to me. When it was announced that Meg and I were getting a divorce he called me from Airforce One. He was over the Atlantic right after Palestinian talks had collapsed. I don’t know how he found me but he did. He just wanted to let me know he was thinking of me.”
The week after our interview he is off to Canada for a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose. He’s heard the stories that people who never cry dissolved during that movie. It’s sentimental, it’s about dogs who are devoted, who love you and then they die but the love goes on.
Quaid has always been a dog person. Grew up with them. At the moment he has a miniature English bulldog named Peaches.
“Just one. I had two French Bulldogs die in the same year. One natural causes as they say, he went into the kids bathroom which he never went into, lay down and had a stroke or heart attack. The other drowned in the pool. It was really hard to take. They weren’t brothers, they were two years apart but they loved each other.”
We wonder could the second one have thrown himself into the pool on purpose? He nods, “It could have been. If you’re going to have pets you’re going to have death.”
In the dog movie the dog is reincarnated and comes back several times as a different type of dog. Quaid has always been interested in various kinds of spiritual thinking – he doesn’t like organised religion.
“When I was 11 I was baptised into the Baptist church. Then I was re-baptised in the Ganges river by a friend of mine who was a preacher. When I went round the world my question was ‘Who is God to you?’ I’ve read the bible twice, the Koran, the Baghavad Gita. I’m a seeker. I used to call myself a Zen Baptist. Basically, I’m a Christian but everyone goes through a crisis of faith. I have crisis all the time… but some of them are champagne crisis meaning that’s a pretend crisis.”
The crisises in his life have been quite documented, especially the divorces and cocaine addiction, yet more recently he had a new addiction – the Swiffer.
“Yes, it’s true. I got obsessed with dusting with the Swiffer. It was right after the divorce in my single life. I would get into bed and my feet were just black from everything. I didn’t like that feeling so I discovered the Swiffer. It works quickly and it picks up all the dust. Doesn’t that say something about my champagne crisis?”
It says that he wasn’t comfortable without someone taking care of the home. It says that the dust in the apartment and the black feet symbolised that he was alone. He still drinks champagne and other forms of alcohol. He gave it up for 10 years as part of the process of giving up cocaine in the 90s.
“Then I started drinking again because alcohol was never my problem. I never liked the feeling of being drunk.”
Alcohol high and cocaine high are opposites.
“I would do coke and I would use alcohol to come down.”
What about doing coke so he didn’t feel drunk?
“That was the deal back then so I had to break the cycle.”
He reminisces. “I liked coke. I liked it to go out. I missed it for quite a while. I used to grind my teeth for four years. I was doing about 2 grams a day. I was lucky. I had one of those white light experiences where I saw myself being dead and losing everything I had worked for my whole life so I put myself in rehab. I had a band, basically Bonnie Raitt’s backing band and the night after we got a record deal we broke up. (Like in The Commitments) The next day I was in rehab.”
“I took anti-depressants back in the day around coming off cocaine because there’s a depression that goes on. It’s a temporary thing. I don’t think they were ever intended to be taken on a long-term basis.”
When he was coming off cocaine did he want to eat a lot? “Yes, I wanted to sleep too. I suddenly discovered sleeping.”
He does eat. I’ve just seen him bolt a giant sandwich down in less than 30 seconds. “I’ve always had a high metabolism. I get high from exercising. I really do. I think it does what all those anti-depressants are supposed to do.”
When he played Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp, he lost 44 pounds because the character was wasting away from tuberculosis.
“I went down to 138 pounds and it took me a year to put it back on because when you get into that compulsive obsessive behaviour of not eating it does strange things to your mind and it took me a while to get over that self-image of myself. I got over it and now I don’t follow any diet and I like cooking. My signature dish? A Louisiana seafood gumbo.”
“But I also like caviar. Would you like some? I’ve just bought some. It’s here in the studio fridge.” I decline to join the caviar party although any partying with Quaid has got to be fun. I am impressed with his self-confidence, his charisma. He has not had work done he has just worked on himself. For a minute I am confused but he reminds me, at my request, of some chronology. He was not doing drugs or alcohol went he met Ryan and they were married for 9 years.
“I was single for several years and I met Kimberly. We were married in 2005 and our divorce finally wound up a couple of months ago.” The divorce with Kimberly went on and off a few times and the only constant was his band.
He formed the Sharks 18 years ago. He tells me he was always a performer. Always a song writer.
“The Sharks are having a great time. We’ve done about 40 gigs this year. After this last divorce I’ve really got back into music again. I was going to be a musician before I was an actor.”
Has anyone famous ever recorded his songs? “No, that would be an ideal thing. I’ve been going to Nashville quite a lot recently. It’s my favourite city. It’s such a collegiate feeling. Everyone is there for each other.”
We talk about the possibility of living in Nashville. “I tried to move back to Texas (Austin) because I grew up in Houston. But when I moved back I found myself meandering around the house. I didn’t factor in that I’d already spent 35 years in Los Angeles and your friends and the places you haunt… so I moved back.”
“For 30 years I had a ranch in Montana. It was beautiful. I used to spend 4 months of the year there but then it dwindled down with work and whenever I’d go there I’d find for the first week I’d just be fixing things but I felt too guilty to go anywhere else so I decided to sell it.”
“I grew up wanting to be a cowboy but as I grew up in Houston – a space city and I wanted to be an astronaut. Gordo Cooper was my favourite astronaut because he was a bit rock n roll and had a cool name. Gordo is short for Gordon. I read his book and said if they’re ever making a movie I want to play him. And I did. I met him and he put me in touch with a flight instructor. I’ve got my pilots license so now I can fly jets. I’m learning to fly a helicopter. It’s like riding a magic carpet… I love to travel. I just hate to leave but it’s always really great to arrive.”
He does enjoy simple pleasures such as calf roping. “Calf roping is where you’re on a horse and another person is on the left and on the right the calf is let out of the chute. He runs, you catch the horns and the other person catches the foot. It was a skill learned when they gathered cows for branding but you get timed for it.
“Horses are such sweet animals. Such intimacy when you are on a horse, especially bareback. He can feel your heartbeat and you can feel his. They are very sensitive animals, not predators. They always look around for danger.”
He mimics a horse with eyes doing a panorama.
He shows me pictures of the Icelandic horses he encountered when filming Fortitude and teams of dogs pulling his sledge. He explains that the dogs are ranked fastest at the front and get competitive with one another and that the horses are climbers.
“About 3,000 people live there and 5,000 polar bears although I didn’t see a single one. It doesn’t snow the whole year but the snow blows around. They don’t have immigration or tariffs so it reminds you of the old West.”
So once again a dream come true – an Arctic cowboy. He enjoyed the extreme of Fortitude where they had 5 days of almost total darkness. “I don’t know if there will be another series. If you’re an actor in a series you want to keep it going but maybe the golden age of many seasons is over.”
He doesn’t seem to have the slightest insecurity about that.
Santa is patiently waiting in another room. I wonder was it a conflict with his recently ex-wife?
“No, it wasn’t a conflict. I met her very close after my ex and I were separated. I was just going to be single and that was just going to be it. I was going to be stone cold Steve Austin when it came to love and then Santa came along. It was like….”
She replaced the Swiffer?
“She’s better than a Swiffer, that’s for sure. She was not going to let it go. Couldn’t help it. So, I had to go with it. I am a romantic. I like being in a relationship, I really do. It’s fun to be single up to a point but I like being in a relationship. I also like having kids around, as annoying as they can be sometimes, I am a family orientated person.”
Is he planning more kids?
“I’m not planning kids. I don’t rule anything out.”
And that’s how Dennis Quaid gets to be Dennis Quaid… he works out every day and he doesn’t rule anything out.