Dennis Quaid has the right stuff to get through the quarantine.
“I’m an actor,” the 66-year-old star said last week from his home in Los Angeles. “I’m used to going months without work.”
Despite not being able to show up on set, Quaid is keeping busy these days, launching a new podcast, “The Dennissance,” in which he interviews famous friends like Billy Ray Cyrus and Billy Bush. In the process, he reveals a lot from his own life, including his battle with cocaine addiction.
“I feel like if I’m asking my guests to be personal, I have to do the same,” said Quaid, who also contributes a voice to the podcast “Bear and a Banjo,” a fictional journey through music history whose participants include Bob Dylan. “I give my guests complete editorial control. That way they can just relax. Talk shows can be nerve-racking. The first one I ever did was ‘The Merv Griffin Show.’ I was so nervous, I could barely put two words together.”
If just hearing Quaid’s voice isn’t enough to get you through these dark days, there are plenty of his films to re-watch or discover for the first time. The actor took time to comment on some movies tailor-made to help you get through the lockdown.
‘Breaking Away’ (1979)
In just his fifth credited film role, Quaid plays the coolest member in a pack of small-town outsiders who take on the college elite in a biking race. The movie would win the Golden Globe for best comedy and establish its breakout star as someone to watch.
“I just re-watched it a couple weeks ago. My fiancée had never seen it. So much of it still holds up. It really captures the heartland and the American dream. I’m hoping to get Lance Armstrong on the podcast.”
‘The Right Stuff’ (1983)
Tom Wolfe’s book roared to life in this Oscar-nominated epic about the space race. Quaid played Gordon Cooper, the youngest — and showiest — of the Mercury Seven.
“That’s my favorite film I’ve ever done. Growing up in Houston, the astronauts were idols of mine. I remember the television being wheeled into my first-grade class so we could watch Alan Shepard go into space. Before that, we all wanted to be cowboys or firefighters. After that, we wanted to be astronauts.
“When the book came out, I read it in a couple days. When they were casting the movie, I couldn’t believe I got the part. Then I discovered Cooper lived just three miles from me in L.A. I ended up getting my pilot’s license and now fly jets.
“That film really represents America at its best. It shows we can do anything when we’re united. That spirit is still with us. We’re like sleeping giants. Once awakened, nobody can pass us. When we get through this latest challenge, we’re going to be an even better country.”
‘The Big Easy’ (1986)
The marketing department played up the steamy sex scenes, but the crime thriller holds up because of its love affair with the city of New Orleans. The sultry soundtrack includes “Closer to You,” a ballad written and performed by Quaid.
“Research is my favorite part of acting. Before we even started filming, I rode around with New Orleans homicide detectives for two months. I got a real education in the underbelly of that world. I also got introduced to a lot of great people, like the Neville Brothers. I just loved it.”
This comedic version of “Fantastic Voyage” didn’t really take off until it came out on home video, where audiences came to appreciate the odd-couple pairing of Quaid and Martin Short.
“That turns out to be the film I’m most known for worldwide. I was in the outback of India and someone came up and said, ‘Innerspace.’ It was a very unique, fun movie. I got to hang out with Martin and I really got to know Meg Ryan. I ended up being married to her for 10 years.”
‘Great Balls of Fire!’ (1989)
The Jerry Lee Lewis biopic gave Quaid his best chance to show off his musical chops, something the Killer didn’t always appreciate.
“He’s one of the most interesting personalities I’ve ever met. As far the process goes, he could be incredibly generous. But he could also be kind of a bully. He was one of my piano teachers and I’m forever grateful for that, but he could be hard on me. He’d be hanging over my shoulder telling me I was doing it wrong. There’s a degree of excellence he’s always trying to reach. I think I have a little bit of that myself.”
‘The Rookie’ (2002)
Quaid had been suffering from a bit of a dry spell before portraying pitcher Jim Morris, who got a midlife chance to play in the big leagues. In 2006, the American Film Institute named it one of the 100 most inspiring films of all time.
“Good sports movies aren’t really about sports. ‘The Rookie’ was about second chances. Everyone loves stories of redemption. That theme happened to coincide with my career, which was sort of in a second or third act.
“That year, I also did ‘Far From Heaven,’ which was a very different role for me, this husband in the 1950s who was in the closet. I chose that for the same reason I did the podcast; it scared me. If a shiver goes up your spine, it’s probably something worth doing.”
‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ (2008)
Almost any highlight reel from this daytime talker includes the hidden-camera prank in which Quaid goes on a fake ego trip in a studio-lot Starbucks. Through an earpiece, DeGeneres instructed her accomplice to gargle water at the counter and bully the barista into singing “Day-O.” Quaid said it was the scariest acting challenge of his career.
“I had just finished being interviewed on the show and was getting into my car, when the producers came out and asked me if I’d be interested in being part of this skit. That fear went up my spine, so I thought, ‘Oh, why the hell not?’ It turned out be something really fun and helped me get over some obstacles I had put up.”